Data provided by Evolving-Hockey.com or self-tracked
Torey Krug has one year remaining on the four-year, $21 million contract he signed June 30, 2016. In the time since, Krug is 5th among defensemen in regular season points at 163. While he’s expressed his interest in returning, until pen touches paper on a new contract, he will be the center of media speculation in Boston. Every move he makes will be analyzed, down to the number of times he tweets Marchand.
Moneyball is one of my favorite movies. It brought us a lot of great scenes and quotes. While the 2002 Oakland A’s could not afford Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon because the team was poor, the speculation is that the Bruins might struggle to keep Torey Krug because of cap concerns with Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle’s contracts being up after the 2019-20 season as well. The question that Peter Brand poses to Billy Bean when they first met is what we are going to explore today. Where do Torey Krug’s goals come from?
When I say goals, I’m not talking about his goal total, but rather his offensive contributions. How is he helping contribute to the Bruins scoring more goals? There are many different ways beyond points to measure offensive effectiveness. Controlled breakouts, zone entries, and cycling the puck are all examples of offensive contributions that can’t be measured by points. Players are stronger in certain aspects of the game than others, and understanding how you get to 163 points, or the Bruins goals Krug has been on the ice for, is important. When you go to buy a house with a budget of $400k, you’re not going to buy the first house at that price. The number of bedrooms, the yard, and other characteristics of that house matter. For NHL teams, these things matter for filling out roles and designing systems.
It is no secret the Torey Krug is one of the most effective players in the league on the powerplay. According to Evolving Hockey, Krug’s 11.2 powerplay goals above replacement are second among defensemen over the last three seasons. In other words, the value that Krug brings on the man advantage is not easily replaced. But you already know that. The real question is, how does he do it?
At the moment, every NHL team runs the 1-3-1 powerplay in some regard. The Bruins are no different. Torey Krug is the “point man” on the Bruins first powerplay unit. What makes Torey Krug so unique is his activation on his off wing. Below is a visualization of his powerplay shots since 2016. Take note of the strip down the right side.
There are two distinct advantages of activating down the right side. The first advantage is that Krug will have an easier time taking one-timers. Krug took 6.85 one-timers per 60 minutes at 5v4 last season, good enough for third on the Bruins and first among left-handed Bruins.
Krug’s goal scoring isn’t the most valuable asset he brings to the Bruins’ powerplay, but he is a slightly more efficient shooter than other comparable players. Of the 100 defensemen who’ve played 150 minutes at 5v4 over the last 3 seasons, Krug ranks 22nd in goals per hour despite ranking 35th in shot attempts per hour.
The second advantage of activating down the right side is that it can create passing lanes. A primary shot assist is the last pass completed before a shot. This will be used later on in the article. Torey Krug had 96 of them at 5v4 over the course of the 2018-19 season, second on the team behind Marchand. Of those 10 crossed the royal road (see below) from the right side.
Shots that come from these shot assists are very dangerous. In fact, 3 of those 10 shot assists turned into goals.
In the clip above, Krug and Marchand switch, creating confusion among the forward penalty killers. This creates a small gap between the defensemen and the forwards. Before the penalty killers can react, Krug finds Pastrnak for a one-time goal. Had Krug stopped on the half-wall, the Flyers penalty killers would have sealed the gap.
Krug ranks 5th among defensemen who’ve played 150 5v4 minutes over the last three seasons in primary assists per hour. His mobility and awareness allow him to create dangerous shots and passes leading to goals.
At even strength, specifically 5v5, Krug uses his skill set quite differently than on the man advantage. Rather than trying to use his mobility and creativity to create high-quality chances, at 5v5 Krug becomes a transitional, puck-moving defenseman who is a volume shooter.
In the 2018-19 season, Torey Krug took 3.76 more shot attempts per hour than Charlie McAvoy at 5v5. However, McAvoy scored 0.31 goals per hour while Krug only scored at a rate of 0.17 per hour.
Since 2016, Krug ranks 15th out of 236 defensemen to play 1,000 5v5 minutes in shot attempts per hour, however, he falls to 105th in goals per hour due to the low-quality shots he takes. His 2.1% unblocked shooting percentage ranks him 159th out of the same group.
Krug is a lot more glued to the point than you’d expect out of a defenseman of his caliber. A good approximation for this is the percentage of time he redistributes the puck after receiving a pass at the point. Of the top seven Bruins defensemen in time on ice this season, they collectively pass the puck after receiving a pass at the point 25% of the time. Krug is slightly below average at 22%. Compare that to McAvoy who redistributed the puck 42% of the time and the picture becomes clearer. This certainly contributed to McAvoy having a 9.7% on-ice shooting percentage while Krug sat at 7.6%.
When it comes to exiting the defensive zone and entering the offensive zone, Torey Krug is probably the best Bruins defensemen. Below is a visualization of build ups for Bruins defensemen. These are the second and third pass completed prior to a shot.
Torey Krug contributes to about one more shot in transition from build ups than the next defenseman. Transition build ups are a strong indication of who is starting the transition from the neutral or defensive zone, into the offensive zone for a shot. Furthermore, he is the shooter or the last player to pass the puck on 4.21 shots in transition per hour. While Matt Grzelyck is probably a better overall player in transition, Krug has a lot to offer with the puck.
Perhaps one of the most undervalued aspects of players’ games is their ability to draw and not take penalties. Since 2016, Krug ranks 12th among defensemen in goals above replacement in this area. At even strength he has drawn 40 minor penalties while only taking 33. Given that Krug is a great powerplay player for the Bruins, his ability to send the Bruins to the powerplay more often than the penalty kill amplifies his value.
Krug is a polarizing figure in Boston. Some people love him and his offensive skills. Some hate him because he is small and isn’t a great defender. This article focused on one side of the game, and asked how, instead of how many. I hope this was an informative article, no matter where you stand on the Krug spectrum or what his future holds.