Well its the day before pre-season camp officially opens for the Boston Bruins. Torey Krug and Reilly Smith still remain unsigned and missed their first official team function yesterday. Although it has no bearing on their commitment to the team by skipping their fund raising golf tournament, it's the first real sign that perhaps Krug and Smith are not even in the area the day before camp starts. It certainly would have cost them nothing to have participated in a fund raiser, but I'll give them a pass considering that it helped them avoid any publicity and questions about what's going on from their perspective.
That said, there were a few questions asked about their status and the past two days that have held some cryptic answers. Peter Chiarelli said on Tuesday that he wished that they would attend camp and hoped they could see that missing a portion of camp could negatively affect the team and their ability to be ready ready for the new season should that delay be significant. Coach Claude Julien said that the team has options and his planning for the new season would focus on the players available at camp. I believe Chiarelli was appealing to both players to have a little faith in the Bruins good intentions. I believe Julien was stating he was going to field the best team ready and available opening night and he'd work around their absence.
A couple of dangerous thoughts for both of them to consider if they decide to become intractable. First in regards to Smith; their are going to be two PTO's in camp in Simon Gagne and Ville Leino, both veterans who if signed even to minimum contracts before the start of the season to replace Smith, should consider that any money spent on either of them, will detract from funds available to Smith. Smith should also consider that their are 5-6 other forwards that are going to compete hard for his spot and might be able to have similar success with his line mates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. All of those options in players will come in cheaper than Smith can expect tp get paid. The Bruins as time moves on if pushed, may elect to just not sign Smith and may or may not decide to trade away his rights to another team that may also not have any more intention then the Bruins have about his current worth or cap space. Of the two, Smith can least afford to miss out on this season as many teams have players that meet or exceed his skill set that are signed. He should also consider the team chemistry that may or may not turn team mates feelings about him if he remains unsigned for a significant period of time, lets say just long enough for the Bruins to get a slow start out of the gate and/or a team that struggles if he returns and he has to get up to speed. Frequently forwards that get late starts due to contract issues seem to be prone to injuries by exceeding their abilities in the short term trying to force the game shape issue into reality too quickly. It's also possible that the Bruins will make personal choices and salary cap choices that squeeze out the option to sign Smith at all and wouldn't that be ashamed for everyone.
Torey Krug on the other hand has at least one known option that Smith doesn't have. Supposedly he has an offer to play in the KHL. Facing Krug is also the situation that the team already has nine signed Defensemen that can play in this league right now on this team. If the Bruins did nothing at all reference his contract, the Bruins can skate Matt Bartkowski in his spot or elect to elevate David Warsofski as his replacement. Eventually a team gets to a point where if your out of sight long enough, your also out of mind and the business side of hockey requires teams to move on. So far during the Chiarelli regime, he hasn't been forced to make decisions like this before and has been a GM that has been very fair with players and getting them their just desserts if they have played well and been patient. Should Krug hold out for a significant period of time and the Bruins elect to elevate Warsofski, that would almost assuredly make a spot for Linus Arnesson in Providence and mean more minutes for Joe Morrow in Warsofski absence. These players could come on like gangbusters in the development curve and make them ready and available sooner than currently predicted.
There is another factor that hasn't been discussed and an important person that has not been heard from as of yet who has the position, power and pushes the philosophy behind the Bruins team and culture. That's Cam Neely! There is a side to Neely that is take no prisoners and if he should become involved and more importantly disenfranchised with these two players, he could decide to take the pressure off Chiarelli's shoulders and become publicly responsible for what happens to them moving forward. Neely wants a culture on this team of focus and no distractions. He wants to win now and if he can't, he'll provide Chiarelli with options to do other things to improve the team.
Let's not forget that if two players from Providence move up, they come cheaper and help to preserve some cap space flexibility to the team moving forward. That would also quell some of the feelings and calls for trading currently signed players. It would also make choices on those players after this season easier and provide more money availability to sign players the Bruins might not want to deal elsewhere. As for Smith, he should sign a cheap bridge contract and prove that he can repeat his performance levels of last year. He stands to have the most to lose by being inactive. Krug's value offensively is a big upside, but his value defensively is questionable on a team committed to defense first and always. If someone asked me last season whom I could have chosen to be injured and sidelined during the playoffs; Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk or Torey Krug? I would have chosen Boychuk and Seidenberg over Krug everyday and twice on Sundays. Had Seidenberg been in the lineup over Krug against Montreal last season, I think the Bruins could have moved on and believe they could have beaten the Rangers as well. Having Krug in the lineup during the Montreal series put a lot of pressure on the other five defensemen because he wasn't played during some important situations because of those defensive liabilities. That brought some experience and defensive weaknesses to light about Bartkowski and Miller and they played extra minutes that Krug couldn't play.
The representatives of Krug and Smith I'm sure feel they have some good arguments to represent their higher values. But they should carefully consider that with no contracts 10% of zero is nothing and their future value may also be diminished.
Until Next Time!