FOXBORO (CBS) — If you think Bruins rookie general manager Don Sweeney has been busy this summer, just wait until next summer.
With Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot and Kevan Miller up for unrestricted free agency, Sweeney will have money to spend under the salary-cap ceiling and roster spots to fill.
Another potential dilemma for Sweeney will be how to retain the services of defenseman Torey Krug, who will be a restricted free agent again after playing this season; his second straight one-year deal.
Krug signed his current extension toward the end of last season with the thought that he’d be able to cash in bigger down the road.
That’s still the plan for the 24-year-old.
“I’m a very determined individual,” Krug said after the Winter Classic press conference at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday. “I obviously want to be here and I want to play for this team. Being a Boston Bruin is very important to me. That’s one of the reasons I chose to come here, the organization and everything that comes with it. For me, it’s about this year, showing your worth, your value. Obviously the main is to win the Stanley Cup. If you win a Stanley Cup then that helps prove to everybody what you’re worth, what your value is.
“It’s a big year for me. I want the stability for my family and obviously for my mental sake, sanity and everything. It would be great. But I’m very determined.”
Krug has already backed up his words about wanting to remain in Boston. As we’ve learned this summer, sometimes a restricted free agent can pressure a team’s hand and force his way out of town.
Krug signed a one-year contract before the 2014-15 season after a long negotiation the Bruins, and then he signed his extension in the spring.
He’s even spent most of his summer in the Boston area this year. He’s the anti-Dougie Hamilton.
The next trick for the Bruins will be to determine how much Krug is worth both based on his performance and his place in the lineup and within their budget.
He’s improved his all-around play every season and continued to be the type of dynamic offensive player from the blue line that teams pay top dollar to employ.
Last season, he had 12 goals and 39 points in 78 games despite playing most of the season with a busted finger and in a defense corps depleted by injuries and the Bruins’ inability to put together six NHL-level defensemen. He averaged a career-high 19:36 of ice time.
Krug’s profile around the hockey world grew this summer, when he was acknowledged by USA Hockey for the first time and was selected to play for the U.S. in the 2015 IIHF World Championship. He had two goals and five points in 10 games while achieving a lifelong dream to wear the American colors.
“Yeah, that was the best feeling for me because for so many years now you kind of get passed over and you wonder if you’re ever going to have the opportunity to compete for your country and to wear those colors,” he said.
“So for me, putting on that jersey for the first time, all the gear and everything, is a great experience, something that I’ll remember forever. And I’ll get that jersey hung up in my basement someday.”
The 5-foot-9 Krug has always had the same tag: too small. The Bruins looked beyond his size when he came out of Michigan State and signed him as a free agent.
The next season he saved their rear ends in the playoffs and helped the Bruins make the Stanley Cup finals.
He’s grown into a reliable third-pair defenseman who can play in the top four against certain matchups. His leadership was invaluable last season when the Bruins’ roster got younger.
Some of those snubs from USA Hockey kept a fire lit under Krug to prove people wrong.
“I had the feeling where you know you’re better than a player. Obviously opportunity is a big part of it and I just wasn’t given that opportunity,” he said. “Maybe I didn’t earn it but I was always told I was too small. So I wasn’t bitter toward the players, I was bitter toward how things panned out. But I used it for motivation.
“If that happens, there’s a lot of players on those teams that aren’t in my position today. So maybe if I did get those opportunities, maybe I’m not standing here.”
Krug will make $3.4 million this season. If he continues to improve his stats and his defensive play, there will be teams waiting in the weeds to pay him even more.
If it’s not an offer sheet next summer, they’ll wait until he finally hits unrestricted free agency.
The Bruins should have the necessary salary flexibility to give Krug the riches and security he needs and make sure the open bidding on Krug’s services starts.
Assuming Krug’s part of their long-term plans, the Bruins would be wise not to bet against Krug increasing his value because that type of challenge is what driven him this far into breakthrough NHL career.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.