Marcus Kruger (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Seven weeks after free agency opened, Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger is still without a new contract. The 25-year-old restricted free agent said he wants to get a deal done, but he’s not concerned about it yet. Signing Kruger will be incredibly important for the Blackhawks.
There’s patiently waiting for a new contract and then there’s Marcus Kruger.
The Chicago Blackhawks center became a restricted free agent on July 1, but still he is without a new deal. While it has been speculated that a new contract is coming soon for the 25-year-old, pen has yet to be put to paper and still, more than seven weeks later, Kruger remains unsigned.
Even though it has taken this long, though, Kruger is remaining calm about the ordeal and is seemingly remaining calm about his contract situation.
"I want to have it done,” Kruger told ESPN’s Scott Powers. “I think that's for everyone. But I don't feel too stressed out about it, yet at least. We have another month until training camp.”
Indeed, there is still a month until training camp opens, but if the Blackhawks and Kruger still haven’t come to a deal by that time, there’s going to be questions about when, or if, Chicago GM Stan Bowman will be locking up his third-line center.
The reason for the delay, of course, is the Blackhawks’ lack of salary cap space. Per General Fanager, Chicago currently has less than $240,000 to work with and they have yet to clear up additional space that could be used to lock up Kruger. It has been reported that Kruger wants a long-term contract, but a short-term deal might be the only thing that works for both the Blackhawks and their young center.
"We've discussed a lot of different options there," Kruger told Powers. "Whatever happens, it's going to be good for me and them."
If Bowman is looking to make cap space, there are a few moves he can make. Two such long rumored trades of either Kris Versteeg ($2.2 million cap hit) or Bryan Bickell ($4 million). Whatever has to happen to lock Kruger up, though, the Blackhawks likely can’t risk losing yet another restricted free agent after being forced to trade Brandon Saad earlier this off-season.
For the past four seasons, Kruger has been a crucial part of the Blackhawks’ roster. While he has yet to have a breakout offensive season — his career high was an eight-goal, 28-point season in 2013-14 — there are few players as relied upon defensively by coach Joel Quenneville as Kruger. It’s not hard to see why, either.
Of all players in the league to skate at least 750 minutes of 5-on-5 in 2014-15, only Kruger and Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks started more than 50 percent of their shifts in the defensive zone. There were 13 others who started at least 40 percent of their shifts in the defensive zone and, of those, none posted a better shot attempts for rate than Kruger’s 52.4 percent mark.
Not only that, Kruger has been a key contributor to the Blackhawks’ penalty kill and was an important piece of Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup victories. Locking him up could help solidify the Blackhawks down the middle for several seasons.