One of the shortcomings in the New York Islanders’ roster this season was the lack of a two-way defenseman. It held them back all season and made their power play one of the worst in the league, as they scored only 15.77 percent of their opportunities. Ultimately, the lack of a two-way defenseman was one of the significant factors that caused them to be eliminated in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes in six games.
Related: Islanders Have Options To Fill the Void on the Wing
This void makes Torey Krug an intriguing option for the Islanders to target in the offseason. He signed a seven-year contract with the St. Louis Blues in the 2020 offseason with the hopes of making them one of the best teams in the Western Conference. However, Krug and the Blues have declined in each of the past three years and it makes a trade a strong possibility this offseason.
The Islanders would have a lot of obstacles to overcome to acquire Krug and the move itself presents a number of risks. However, he is the player that can put the team over the top and make them favorites in the Eastern Conference.
Krug’s Decline & Contract Makes Him a Tough Addition
When the Blues signed Krug in the 2020 offseason, they were hoping to acquire one of the best two-way players in the game. In nine seasons with the Boston Bruins, he scored 67 goals and 270 assists while contributing 23.9 defensive point shares. Unfortunately, with the Blues, he’s failed to live up to those expectations.
In the past two seasons, he’s missed 37 regular-season games to injury and has started to decline as a skater and overall playmaker. In the 2022-23 season at 31 years old, Krug put together his worst season defensively in his career, contributing only 0.2 defensive point shares while averaging only 18:35 ice time. He’s no longer a top-pair option, and many of the skills that made him elite, specifically his skating and puck handling, have declined.
The Islanders would be taking a risk by acquiring an aging defenseman who is only continuing to decline and become a liability in the defensive zone. Additionally, Krug’s contract is $6.5 million for the next four seasons, making him a tough player to add and fit under the salary cap. The contract also has a no-trade clause, making him a difficult player for the Blues to move even as they stare at a possible rebuild.
For a trade to work, Krug would have to remove the no-trade clause, the Blues have to be willing to take on some of his salary, and the Islanders would still need to move at least one player to fit him onto the roster. All these steps point to a deal not only being unlikely but undesirable for everyone involved. That said, the Islanders have a lot to gain from adding a player of Krug’s caliber, especially if last year, where a lot went wrong for the entire Blues organization, was an outlier for the veteran defenseman.
A Bounce-Back Year Goes a Long Way For The Islanders
There’s a lot of evidence pointing to this season being an outlier for Krug, who has put together a respectable 12-year career. His production fell off a cliff, especially on the defensive end but in the first two seasons with the Blues, he was one of their best defensemen. In 2020-21, he led the unit with 32 points and was second on the team in defensive point shares with 3.2, trailing only Justin Faulk. Even as a limited skater this year, Krug has averaged 20:26 ice time with the Blues and has been a reliable contributor in even-strength and power-play situations. The past season was a disaster for the team across the board and it was hard for anyone to put together a strong season, making it easy to believe that a handful of players will bounce back next year.
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The Islanders would not only bet on him returning to form but they would be making a bet on their defensive unit with a Krug addition. They already have one of the best top pairings in the league with Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock leading the way. Noah Dobson, Sebastian Aho, and Alexander Romanov, who they acquired from the Montreal Canadiens during the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, are three young skaters continuing to improve and all add speed and energy to the blue line. Krug wouldn’t be asked to do much on this unit. He would likely play a second-pair role and operate the power play from the point to create scoring chances with his passing ability.
Krug would thrive in this role and put together a big year with the Islanders. He won’t replicate his 2017-18 season where he scored 14 goals and 45 assists, but he can still add 10 goals from the point while distributing 30 assists. His passing skill would particularly benefit the Islanders as he can start up the offense off of turnovers with outlet passes and effective zone entries. Additionally, under first-year head coach Lane Lambert, Krug would be given a lot of opportunities to make plays in the rush and in the offensive zone while being more aggressive. Lambert asked the defensemen to play a bigger role in the offense this season and it suits Krug’s skillset.
The Islanders adding Krug would give them the two-way presence they need and especially help improve their offense. Moreover, if he returns to the form that he had with the Bruins, he could make the defensive unit, which is already one of the best in the league, an elite one.
Why The Blues Want to Move Krug
Aside from Krug’s possible decline, the Blues have already started to hit the reset button on their roster. At the 2023 Trade Deadline, they traded Vladimir Tarasenko, Ivan Barbashev, and Ryan O’Reilly, three veteran forwards who were integral to the team’s success. While the Blues have the ability to quickly turn things around and be a competitive team next season, the next moves to help them long-term are to trade away more veterans that are starting to decline. They have a young core of players to build around led by Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas, making it easy to move on from their older players knowing they have the right pieces in place.
Even if Krug still has a lot of great games left in him, he is the best player for the Blues to trade. He’s one of their older skaters and his cap hit makes it difficult for the front office to make any significant moves. While they won’t get a strong return for Krug, having a team take on his contract sets them up for success in the long term.
It seems like a lot of teams wouldn’t be interested in acquiring an aging defenseman but Krug is the type of skater that can make a good team a Cup contender. Furthermore, front offices can view last season as an outlier and expect the veteran defenseman to bounce back. Erik Karlsson, for example, had a big drop in production after signing an eight-year contract with the San Jose Sharks in 2019. He scored only 10 goals and 25 assists in the 2021-22 season while contributing only 2.3 defensive point shares. This season, he scored 25 goals and 76 assists while contributing 3.0 defensive point shares, making him one of the Norris Trophy finalists.
The Karlsson contract looked like an awful one until this season where he looked like one of the best defensemen in the league. He proved that after a bad year or multiple bad seasons, an elite defenseman can return to form and once again make a mark as an elite player. Krug isn’t on the same level as Karlsson, but he is a great player that can both rebound after a rough year and re-establish himself as one of the best in the game.
Krug Can Give the Islanders a “Burns Presence”
When the Hurricanes acquired Brent Burns, it was seen as a high-risk move. He was a 37-year-old declining skater that appeared to lose a step. However, Burns has been great for them and has been the two-way player that the defensive unit needed. The Hurricanes beat the Islanders in a six-game series and then the New Jersey Devils in five games to reach the Eastern Conference Final and a scoring presence at the point played a big role in each series.
Burns fits in with the Hurricanes because they already have the players in place. Jaccob Slavin, Brady Skjei, and Brett Pesce are three of the best, disciplined, gap-sound defensemen in the league, allowing Burns to join them and play an aggressive, offensive-minded style. Similarly, the Islanders have a defensive unit that can add a two-way player like Krug. They lack a skater that can open up the offense and need to add one defenseman that can take on that role.
Krug would round out the defense for the Islanders. He would create scoring chances off of turnovers with his passes and puck-handling ability while finding open skaters near the net with his vision and his speed will allow him to be reliable on the defensive end. While his defensive play declined last year, he’d be playing alongside good defensemen that can compensate for his errors, and goaltender Ilya Sorokin, who put together a Vezina Trophy-caliber season, would help him out in the net.
There’s an understandable skepticism when it comes to making a move for an aging defenseman. The Devils acquired P.K. Subban in the 2019 offseason from the Nashville Predators but the move never worked out as he struggled to keep up with the fast pace of the opposition. Similarly, the Islanders signed Zdeno Chara in the 2021 offseason hoping he’d round out the defensive unit, but he was a liability at 44 years old and set the team back. Krug brings up the same concerns but he’s not the same type of defenseman. He’s still a great skater and can make plays when he has the puck, which not only makes him valuable but allows him to succeed in the modern game.
The Islanders are good enough to make the playoffs but are missing the piece needed to win the Stanley Cup. Krug doesn’t seem like the player to acquire, but he could be the one that upgrades the defense and puts the team over the top. If he has a big year, the Islanders will go from being a playoff team to a Stanley Cup contender.