Torey Krug and the Boston PMD Paradox

Alex Trautwig

Bruins fans clamor every year for the acquisition or emergence of a puck moving defenseman, but can't bear the risk their offense entails.

12:06 left in the third. The Bruins hold a two goal lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on the road. Retrieving the puck as both teams change out personnel, Torey Krug, under token forechecking pressure from Dave Bolland and thus unable to skate it out, surveys his options. Nobody available up the wall due to the change, d-to-d cut off, but a seemingly wide open Kaspars Daugavins pulls back from his rush in the neutral zone to create a passing lane. Krug saucers that pass, only to have it intercepted by Andrew Shaw. And we know the rest. The game is back within one, and defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory. Krug, benched for the duration of the third, is called out all over the blogosphere and twitterdrome and speculatively sat for game 2 by Boston's media.

No blame went to Seguin, who coming off the bench hadn't picked up his man and did a poor job of blocking the passing lane to Bolland. Nor did blame fall on McQuaid, backed into screening Rask by Rozsival, who posed zero threat as a pass option for Shaw having had that lane cut off by Krug's recovery. There's plenty of scrutiny due to both players' performances on this shift, but it's Krug's errant breakout pass - essentially the only available option under the circumstances - that gets the goat. No credit to Shaw for knocking it down in midair, no acknowledgement that a pass up the boards risked yet another bench minor in the line change shuffle.

Nope, Krug boned the Bruins. Hero against the Rangers falls back to zero.

I can't help but feel just a tinge of deja vu here. Insert in place of Krug's name the names Corvo, Kaberle, Kampfer, Hunwick or Wideman and the refrain is the same. All terrible players. Right?

Actually, Covro trailed only Chara in PP scoring and held a very healthy Corsi. Kaberle, admittedly with some sheltering, led the Bruins D in playoff production for their first Cup in 39 years. Kampfer? Surprisingly good in second unit minutes. Same for Hunwick. Wideman? Now he sucked, right? Oh, you mean the guy who was the only 50 point d-man we've had outside of Chara since Bourque. Not too shabby at keeping play going the right direction either. Only Joe Corvo and the 09/10 campaigns for Wideman and Hunwick saw any of these guys post a negative +/- Rel. IE, the goal differential was almost always better with them on the ice than when they weren't.

So why all the PMD hate?

The bottom line is that in offensive skill there is inherent risk. Those risks are far more visible than the positional mistakes of the stay-at-homers among the d corps, and blame amid a hemmed-in shooting galleries is often difficult to assign (outside of repeat patterns made visible in the recording of possession metrics that is). Krug has not been victim to too many of the latter thanks to his ability to get the puck up the ice and out of trouble efficiently. His +13 Corsi On in these playoffs, which was over 20 before Game 1's shelling, is indicative of the fact that we've been better off with him on the ice, generating more offense than that of our opponents.

Furthermore, that goal with 12 minutes remaining in his third series of play was the VERY FIRST goal against Krug in over 150 minutes of ice time. That's .4 per 60, which is a full goal and half less than any Bruins defenseman in the regular season. PER 60, not per game! Out of teams that lasted a round, only one player saw less rubber enter his own net. But yeah, the guy's such a defensive liability we should totally bench him for one play.

Meanwhile, Dougie Hamilton, he who leads the entire team in possession, holds the highest P/60 on the PP, and runs neck and neck with Krug for second on D scoring, remains scratched even as the Bruins struggled to exit the zone, getting slaughtered in shot differential by 50 shots directed on net on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Game 1 wasn't the first time this has happened either, being the third straight game the Bruins have lost the possession battle. Presumably, the risks in his offensive game are too great for the playoffs, though they were trusted for second unit minutes all year long, a rookie year in which he scored at a 32pt 82 game pace and lead the D in Corsi.

If the magnitude of the response to Krug's pass is any indication, Hamilton will be run out of town before his ELC ends. The Garden has become littered with the graves of puck moving defensemen over the past decade, some justified, most not. Our coaching staff benches their best offensive option and the fanbase wants to sit the second best - on the very first costly mistake in his big league career no less - in favor of "safe" options who are measurably inferior.

Among such "reliable" players, guys like Stuart, Ward, Hnidy, McQuaid and Boychuk attain fan favorite status for their physical prowess while we turn our eyes to the next available offensive defenseman. Each and every off-season, trade and free agent acquisition rumors feature at least one high profile, high scoring defensive target. The cast rotates but the play is the same: "Boston needs a puck mover." Here, we presently have two performing above and beyond the most optimistic of expectations, both dogged for mistakes that don't remotely reflect the value of their performance, which dwarfs that of those hitters held so dearly. And yet even this sturm and drang over perceived failings will pale in comparison to the clamor for Keith Yandle as soon as this season ends.

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