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Chicago Blackhawks: Kruger Re-Signs For 1 Year

By Matt Barbato
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Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman moves quickly. Just minutes after shipping Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom to the Carolina Hurricanes for defensive prospects and a draft pick, the Blackhawks announced they have signed forward Marcus Kruger to a one-year contract extension.

Kruger was a restricted free agent this offseason and has been dragged through the mud as the Blackhawks gutted their 2015 Stanley Cup championship roster. There’s no word on the financial details of Kruger’s deal, but it likely won’t be more than $2.5 million as the Blackhawks hardly have that in cap space.

The Blackhawks dumped Versteeg’s $2.2 million salary for the 2015-16 season and got essentially nothing in return from the Hurricanes for the purpose of signing Kruger.

Kruger, 25, plays an instrumental role as Chicago’s top defensive center. He’s an essential fourth-liner who can go up against the top competition. He scored seven goals and tallied 10 assists in 81 games last season. He also scored the game-winning goal in Chicago’s 3-2 win in triple overtime in Game 2 against the Anaheim Ducks during the 2015 Western Conference finals.

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The Blackhawks have been trying all offseason to get Kruger inked to a long-term extension. However, the ’Hawks were not able to get rid of enough salary when trading players like Patrick Sharp and Versteeg. The ’Hawks took back some decent cap hits in Artem Anisimov’s, Trevor Daley’s and Ryan Garbutt’s contracts, but these will be necessary players that will help retool Chicago’s roster.

Kruger’s return allows the Blackhawks to keep their grit on the fourth line and gives Chicago some of the best center depth it has had during the franchise’s revitalization. Jonathan Toews, Anisimov, Teuvo Teravainen, Kruger and possibly Marko Dano are all options at center. Kruger will likely see time alongside Andrew Desjardins, Garbutt and Andrew Shaw on the fourth line.

The Blackhawks have plenty of options for their depth lines, but Kruger was the key cog in the machine. He can win in the faceoff dot, and head coach Joel Quenneville relies on Kruger often for defensive-zone draws against the opponent’s top line.

Kruger is back for now, but the question remains whether the Blackhawks can keep him long term. Chicago clearly would like to do that. The Blackhawks had leverage this time because they could match any offer sheet for Kruger, but when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, the tables could turn. Kruger is the kind of player that championship teams need to have, and the ’Hawks will need to find a way to lock him up at a good price for the future.

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