Chicago Blackhawks’ Marcus Kruger Celebrates His Golden Birthday
By Gail Kauchak
It’s May 27th, and Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger turns 27-years old today; which means he’s celebrating his golden birthday.
Well, it certainly has been the week of birthdays for the Chicago Blackhawks. On Tuesday, we wished a happy day to Brian Campbell, who is the ripe old age of 38. Wednesday saw us bid Artem Anisimov well on turning 29-years old. We keep on getting younger, as today Kruger is 27 on the 27th.
Every time I think about Marcus Kruger, the first thing that comes to mind is that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. This is the man that has played the underdog role for so many years. Although always on the periphery, Kruger’s been through thick and thin with the Chicago Blackhawks. He was drafted by the Hawks in the 2009 NHL Draft in the fifth round, 149th overall. His first full season with the club was in 2011-12. This means he’s been on the roster for six full seasons, including two Stanley Cups in 2013 and 2015.
He’s never been a star. Krugs has almost always centered the third or four line, being asked to play the shutdown role for the team. It’s not his job to score goals. It’s his job to keep the other team’s top lines from scoring goals, and to flip the ice back in the offensive direction for his team. He also plays a very important role on the penalty kill. Kruger’s contributions don’t show up on the stat sheets; they are only appreciated if you make the effort to recognize them.
Remember 17 seconds? This is when the Chicago Blackhawks scored twice in 17 seconds to win the Stanley Cup in 2013 against the Boston Bruins. Take a gander at the video below (trust me, you won’t be disappointed). As it turns out, it’s Kruger that shovels the puck back to Johnny Oduya, whose ensuing shot gets everything started in scoring that infamous game-winning goal. Like I said, always on the periphery.
In March of 2016, Kruger and the Chicago Blackhawks agreed to a three-year contract extension for $9.25 million, meaning he would be a cap hit of just over $3 million a year. This was after he had to wait until August the previous year before signing a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Krugs was patient, and signed a one-year deal to stay with the team. Most likely this came with the promise that he would eventually be given a longer-term deal. Hence the most recent three-year extension.
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The irony is that this very contract is what will probably be his undoing as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks next season. Unlike many of the core players, Kruger’s contract doesn’t have a no-movement clause. In an effort to gain cap space, the Hawks are likely to expose Kruger to the expansion draft this summer on June 21st. They are hoping to get his $3 million salary off the books. It appears they feel he can be replaced with someone less expensive. That someone looks to be Tanner Kero, who just completed a successful rookie season with the Hawks. Kero will only cost the Hawks $750,000 against the cap in the upcoming 2017-18 season.
Brian Hedger of the Chicago Sun-Times recently wrote a piece about Kruger’s situation with the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as his playing in the recent IIHF World Championship for Sweden. He talks about the possibility that he might have seen his last days with the Hawks. “If that happens, I’ll deal with it then, but obviously winning two Cups is special,” Kruger said. “Playing my first game in the NHL with the Blackhawks [in 2011] was also special…”
As it turns out, Kruger and Team Sweden won the gold medal at the Worlds’ tournament this past week. Kruger contributed with three assists. That’s a pretty good way to start out your birthday week!
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But all good things must end. As much as I have respected Krugs and appreciated his role with the Chicago Blackhawks, the correct business decision is to let him go. Although he will be missed, it’s time for Kruger to move on to the next chapter in his hockey career. With the kind of player he is, I’ll bet he’ll play an important role wherever he ends up. For now, let’s wish Krugs a happy birthday, and the best of luck in his future endeavors!