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Torey Krug is out. Can Matt Grzelcyk fill his skates?

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Now is the time to shine for Grzelcyk.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After the recent injury to Torey Krug and the admirable replacement job done by Matt Grzelcyk in his absence, the future of both defensemen with the Bruins organization became a hot topic of conversation. With another Krug injury revealed today, that debate will surely start again.

As we all know, Torey Krug’s cap-friendly contract ($5.25mil AAV) ends at the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, and without a doubt, he is due for a big raise upon signing his next deal.

We also all know that the Bruins will have some significant decisions to make with guys like Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Grzelcyk, Jaroslav Halak, and possibly Zdeno Chara, all requiring new deals to play more years in Boston. However, the one arguably looking largest is what the Bruins should do with #47.

Enter Matt Grzelcyk. His play during Krug’s last injury (4 points, +3 rating in 5 games), had some wondering if Krug may be permanently replaceable. Torey Krug’s latest injury suffered at the hands of Tom Wilson may help to clarify what to do with Krug in the near future. Though Grzelcyk will also receive a pay raise in the off-season from his current $1.4mil AAV, he will definitely be a cheaper option than the aforementioned Krug.

At the same time, others like WEEI’s Matt Kalman, recently brought up the point that maybe now is the time to move Grzelcyk, if he continues to effectively cover for Krug.

Finally, with the cupboards full of AHL prospects, maybe the Bruins will move both Krug and Gryz at some point, which would make, say, Jake DeBrusk and Jaro Halak much easier.

To help us armchair GMs get a better understanding of this situation, let’s compare these two diminutive defenders:

Tale of the Tape

Defensive Attributes

The Tale of the Tape above clearly shows that neither Krug or Grzelcyk possess the physical attributes to be intimidating figures on the back end. As a result, both d-men have to rely heavily on their skating ability and defensive awareness to be effective in their own zone.

When both Krug and Gryz arrived in the NHL, the game was arguably much different than today. In the past being an undersized defender was extremely difficult, however over the past couple years, the speed of the play has increased rather significantly, so defenders like Krug and Gryz, who have the ability to skate themselves out of trouble, have become more important.

When comparing these two defensively, there are a couple things to keep in mind beforehand.

First, and most obvious: defensive partners. Krug has had the luxury of playing with Brandon Carlo for most of the year, while Grzelcyk basically plays with whoever is healthy on the 3rd pairing.

Next, the quality of competition must be considered as well. As you can see from the chart below, the quality of competition that Krug faces (0.084 (QoC rel Corsi For %) is higher than what Grzelcyk usually plays against (-0.192 (QoC rel Corsi For %).

This year Krug has played 675 minutes for an average TOI of 20:27, while Grzelcyk has averaged a TOI of 18:27 in 701 total minutes of hockey. During Krug’s total time on the ice, he is a +2, opponents have scored 28 times and the team’s oiSV% (on-ice save percentage) is a poor 87.1%.

On the other hand, Gryz is also a +2, opponents have also scored 24 times while he was on the ice, and the team’s oiSV was 91.9%

Perhaps one area that may indicate which player is defensively superior, at least in the mind of the Bruins’ coaching staff, is on the penalty kill. Matt Grzelcyk often kills penalties, averaging 1.14 minutes on the PK per game, while Krug rarely does, averaging only 6 seconds of PK TOI in 28 games this year.

While this may help to separate these two defensively, Krug’s lack of PK time could also be explained by his presence on the PP and more TOI in general.

Offensive Attributes

The Tale of the Tape above, advanced stats, and the eyeball test undoubtedly show Krug’s advantage in offensive skills. Not only is Krug more capable on the offensive end than Grzelcyk, he’s better than the majority of the defenders in the NHL in the O-zone.

You only need to look at his 30 PPP last year, his 15 PPP this year, or that among defenders this year, Krug is 7th in Total Point/60 at 2.31, 6th in PPP/60 has a CF% of 54.98.

Over the past 3 years Krug is also 7th in scoring among d-men with 138 point in 173 games. Stats aside, what really makes Krug elite, especially on the PP, is his vision on the ice. Don’t believe me, check out some of the vids below.

As far as shots go, neither really has a bomb from the back and both have had Bruins fans screaming for years, “Hit the net!”

But both possess accurate wrist shots and in Krug’s case, he seems to be using it far more this year to generate rebound scoring chances.

While it’s easy to assume Krug’s offensive abilities are greater than Grzelcyk’s based on past results, Gryz thus far in his career, has not been given the same opportunities on the PP or in offensive-zone starts. Grzelcyk showed some offensive promise on the PP during his time at Boston University and during brief stints in the AHL, so it is possible that if Gryz was given the chance, he may be able to develop the skills and confidence to become a solid play-maker in the NHL as well.

Other factors to consider

Before a decision can be made on both Krug and Grzelcyk, there will certainly be additional aspects to consider.

For example, can McAvoy run the power play in Krug’s absence? McAvoy, has clearly shown that he can handle the defensive side of the game, however his ability to generate offense from the back has not progressed at the same rate.

Also, where does Urho Vaakanainen fit in the Bruins defensive line-up next year, and the years to come? One has to believe that that Vaak will probably be taking the place of veterans like Zdeno Chara or John Moore on the Bruins next year or soon after.

Lastly, there’s always the unknown to outside observers for example: the relationships that both players have with the rest of the team and coaching staff. Based on what we see and hear in the media, both are very well-liked in the dressing room.

Also, if Krug were to be moved, what would happen to the rivalry he has with Brad Marchand? How would we ever really find out who’s taller?

At this point it is unclear how long Torey Krug will be out of action, but what is clear is that some of the Bruins’ other defenders are going to have to step up their game in his absence.

Matt Grzelcyk will be given the chance to shine during this period of games, and his play could very well determine how long Krug remains in a B’s uniform.