Marcus Kruger did the Blackhawks a big favor last summer by taking a lowballed, one-year contract extension on the eve of training camp in September. On Tuesday, the Hawks rewarded him for his loyalty — as well as his stellar defensive play — with a three-year contract extension worth a total of $9.25 million.
Kruger’s contribution has never been as high-profile as those of his fellow multi-time champion teammates. But the Hawks have never taken the defensive center and penalty-killing specialist for granted. The fact that the Hawks’ penalty-kill — a strength for years — has fallen to the 22nd-ranked unit in the league with Kruger having missed nearly three months with a wrist injury goes to show how valuable the two-time Stanley Cup champion is.
The Hawks’ difficult salary-cap situation forced the one-year extension last summer. Kruger essentially took one for the team by taking a short-term deal worth less than he could have earned on the open market.
“I knew the deal from the beginning,” Kruger said earlier in the season. “I’ve got a one-year deal and I’ll try to do my best in the future to get another deal.”
Kruger’s contract means the Hawks have 16 forwards under contract for next season, carrying a cap hit of more than $65 million. This year’s salary cap is $71.4 million, and the struggling Canadian dollar could leave the cap relatively flat. With Artemi Panarin on the verge of hitting up to $2.5 million in bonuses that would count against next year’s cap, the Hawks will have to fill out their roster with cheap, mostly entry-level contracts.
Andrew Shaw is now the most significant pending restricted free agent on the roster, and his fate likely will be tied to how much the cap goes up — or doesn’t.
Kruger had just one assist in 33 games before undergoing wrist surgery in December.