Torey Krug: The Top 2 Defenseman the Bruins Deserve

( Above Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports )

By: Spencer Fascetta                                          Twitter: @PuckNerdHockey

Much has been made of the Bruins’ depth when it comes to defensive prospects. Fans are constantly on the lookout for Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Urho Vaakanainen, not to mention less heralded prospects such as Matt Grzelcyk and Emil Johansson. Charlie McAvoy already looks like a Calder Trophy finalist, and Brandon Carlo has been a fantastic surprise since arriving early last season. But it is easy to overlook, and even criticize, the play of easily the Bruins’ best defenseman: Torey Krug.

Not only is Torey Krug the Bruins’ BEST defenseman, he actually is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL. **HOT TAKE ALERT** Yes, I’m aware. However, I have compiled some data to describe to you exactly what I mean. Krug is demonstrably a Top 5 defenseman in the league in terms of transitional ability, or the ability to move the puck from his own zone to the offensive zone effectively and efficiently on a consistent basis, and we all are well aware of his offensive capabilities.

Caption: Graphic courtesy of Andrew Berkshire, Sportsnet, and SportLogiq

As you can see, Krug is clearly an elite offensive defenseman. It may come as a surprise, however, that he is actually a better transitional defenseman per Andrew Berkshire’s metrics than an offensive defenseman. What is even MORE surprising, is that he is actually the 5th best transitional defenseman by these metrics. All four of the defensemen listed ahead of Krug are former Norris Trophy winners, and are consistently considered to be the crème de la crème of NHL defensemen. The major difference between Krug and them appears to be circumstance, pedigree, and size.

Caption: Graphic courtesy of Andrew Berkshire, Sportsnet, and SportLogiq

Krug is demonstrably better offensively than Keith, but the Blackhawks’ rearguard is better in his own end.

Caption: Graphic courtesy of Andrew Berkshire, Sportsnet, and SportLogiq

Again, Doughty is much better than Krug in his own zone and transitionally, but Krug has an absurd advantage offensively.

Caption: Graphic courtesy of Andrew Berkshire, Sportsnet, and SportLogiq

Caption: Graphic courtesy of Andrew Berkshire, Sportsnet, and SportLogiq

Subban and Karlsson are both significantly better than Krug in all three areas of focus. As they are considered the two best defensemen in the league, this is relatively expected.

Well, great. Krug looks good by one guy’s metric. Granted, he is one of the most respected names in hockey analytics, but what does that matter? Well, let’s compare him to each of them.

Caption: Hero Chart via ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

Although Doughty plays significantly more than Krug, Krug is actually a better shot generator on the back end and is a better producer of primary assists. Granted, Doughty is the superior shot suppressor, but that is not Krug’s game.

Caption: Hero Chart via ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

Subban is a better goal scorer than Krug, but Krug is the superior shot generator and primary assist generator. Most importantly, however, is that they are both similar in terms of shot suppression.

 

Caption: Hero Chart via ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

Erik Karlsson is far and away the best defenseman in the game. That is unquestionable. He obviously plays more than Krug and is a significantly better goal scorer. The two are quite similar in terms of shot generation and primary assists, but Krug is actually a BETTER shot suppressor.

Caption: Hero Chart via ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

Finally, the wily veteran of the group only scores better than Krug in terms of shot suppression. Krug is better in terms of goal scoring, primary assist scoring, and shot generation, and is significantly better than Keith in the latter two.

Well, I could have cherry-picked those four to compare to Krug in order to portray him in a favorable light. So, let’s compare him to a few archetypes.

Caption: Hero Chart via ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

Krug continues to play lower minutes than your typical #1 defenseman, but is better than a typical #1 defenseman in all metrics, save for shot suppression, where he compares quite similarly.

Caption: Hero Chart via ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

When compared to a typical #2 defenseman, Krug is far and away a better player, measuring almost dominant regarding shot generation and primary assists.

Caption: Hero Chart via ownthepuck.blogspot.ca

Krug and a typical 2nd Pairing Defenseman? Not even close.

So, according to everything presented above, Torey Krug is an elite, #1 defenseman in today’s NHL. So, why is he so underrated? Well, a large portion of his problem stems from his situation. Krug has had to drag his defensive partner around with him for the majority of his career. As you can see below, he has not been gifted with a stellar situation to maximize his abilities and has been paired with some of the least productive and effective defenseman the Bruins have rostered since he broke into the league in 2012-13. The first graphic compares the relative expected goals for percentage for each defenseman that has suited up for at least 1000 minutes in the black and gold in Krug’s career to the player’s relative CorsiFor Percentage, which is the percentage of time the player had a positive impact on puck possession while he was on the ice relative to the other players around him.

I have highlighted Krug and the best/worst of the group. The size of the bubble for each player corresponds to the percent of the time on ice each player played relative to the total minutes he was dressed for. Based on that, you can see that players like Colin Miller (surprise, surprise) and Zach Trotman (legitimate surprise) were heavily underutilized in their Bruins’ careers, while Dennis Seidenberg, Kevan Miller, and Matt Bartkowski have been relied on to do far more than they are capable of. Brandon Carlo looks lonely down there with a negative relative CorsiFor Percentage, but a fairly good relative expected goals for percentage.

Caption: Data courtesy of Corsica.hockey, graphic by Spencer Fascetta

For some perspective, here is the distribution of relative expected goals for percentage and relative CorsiFor Percentage for the specific defense pairings Krug has been a part of since breaking into the league. He has played with 11 different partners in that timeframe. This time, games played is the size of the bubble. As you can see, a majority of his partners have created very low numbers, and are clustered near the zeros of each axis, with the ill-fated Seidenberg/Krug pairing the only one falling fully in the negative (and far into the negative at that). One only wishes that the Colin Miller/Krug pairing could have been given more time together, because they were far and away the most effective pair, and were nearly dominant on the ice when together.

The other important tidbit to note in this graphic is the size of the bubbles. As stated above, these are relative to the number of games Krug played with each partner. The largest bubbles all exist in the lower left of the graph, with poor relative CorsiFor Percentage and relative expected goals for percentage, and they get smaller as the metric get better. This further illustrates Krug’s plight on the back end, as he has very rarely been put in a position to be successful.

Caption: Data courtesy of Corsica.hockey, graphic by Spencer Fascetta

Finally, how does Krug match up league-wide in this sense? Well, I took the same measurements, expected goals for percentage and relative CorsiFor Percentage, and applied a 3000 minutes time on ice limit on the data to only look at players that played a significant amount of time for their team(s) over the past 6 years. I also added the condition of the quality of competition each player played against per that time on ice. This is what creates the bubble size. I highlighted Krug, as well as the four we discussed above – Keith, Subban, Karlsson, and Doughty. I also highlighted Mark Giordano, who is pretty close to perfect in this analysis, as well as former Bruins Andrew Ference (yet another guy who was not very good but got plenty of ice time to work with, and Dougie Hamilton. Dan Girardi is the plight of all analytics people (Kris Russell is a close second), so I have highlighted him for context as well.

Caption: Data courtesy of Corsica.hockey, graphic by Spencer Fascetta

As you can see, although Krug plays against slightly weaker competition, he still is among the upper echelon of defensemen in this league and compares very favorably to names like Doughty and Keith. If only we found a way to keep Dougie…

So, is Torey Krug a #1 defenseman in this league? Unequivocably yes. Why is he underrated? Well, the hockey community loves to hate in Boston, he was an undrafted college free agent signing, and, to be frank, he’s small. But he never shies away from physicality, he has been known to drop the gloves when necessary (see Andrew Shaw for both).

Oh, and in case you forgot, he can do things like this…

Many thanks to Corsica for providing the data used to create my own Viz for this piece, to OwnThePuck.blogspot.ca for the use of their excellent Hero Charts, and a special thanks to Andrew Berkshire for allowing the use of his personal graphics from a piece he wrote earlier this year for Sportsnet on the Top 23 Defenseman in the NHL. He also goes into an incredible amount of detail on the specifics of these metrics, how they are comprised and calculated, and the way in which he aggregated each numerical value in order to reach the broad and encompassing values used in the graphics themselves. Please take a minute to follow him on Twitter @AndrewBerkshire, and check out his work at Sportsnet as well. He is an excellent source for hockey analytics analysis and news.

Please follow ME on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey, find me on YouTube @PuckNerd for hockey news, analysis, and my newest creation, BFR or Bruins Fan Reactions after nearly every B’s game. Looking forward to your feedback!

About PuckNerd

Just a crazy college kid who loves math, loves hockey even more, and feels the need to write about it sometimes. I am currently developing my own hockey statistic. You can follow me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey, and check out my YouTube channel, PuckNerd, where I discuss hockey statistics, news, and Bruins' related content!
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