COLOGNE, Germany — Marcus Kruger doesn’t want to think about the question yet. The sting of the Blackhawks being swept out of the playoffs is still fresh in his mind.
In fact, Kruger came to the IIHF World Championship to play for Sweden and not think about what happened or what it might mean for his NHL career.
“It felt like it was way too short there in Chicago this season,” said Kruger, who is centering Sweden’s second line during preliminary-round play. “This was just a chance to play some more hockey because that’s what we all love to do. It wasn’t -really hard to decide to come here when they asked.”
The hard part is what might happen this summer, when Kruger and his $3.08 million salary-cap hit could be the next to go in the Hawks’ annual cap-related payroll purge.
They already traded goalie Scott Darling, who could’ve become an unrestricted free agent, and they might move Kruger if he isn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft June 21.
Either way, the gritty shutdown center might’ve played his last game in a Hawks uniform after filling a significant role on two Stanley Cup champions (2013 and 2015).
“We all know what happens in the summer, and there’s going to be a new team coming in and all of that stuff,” Kruger said. “We have a history, too, of not being able to keep players. That’s part of the business side of things, but I don’t put too many thoughts into that. Right now I’m here, so I’m focused on [this], but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens in the summer.”
Kruger likely will be exposed in the expansion draft. The Hawks have too many players with no-movement clauses in their contracts that preclude them from being selected without their permission.
Kruger, who has two years left on his deal, doesn’t have a no-movement clause and doesn’t gain a partial no-trade clause until next season. His cap hit is also a strain on the Hawks’ salary situation, which will be another offseason puzzle for general manager Stan Bowman to decipher.
Kruger hopes to remain with the Hawks, but if he has played his last game with them, so be it. He already has banked a lot of championship memories.
“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, but that’s nothing that I’m thinking about right now. Now I’m here, and we’ll see whatever happens in the summer.”
In the meantime, Kruger is intent on helping Sweden earn a medal.
The Swedes entered Saturday in second place in Group A with 10 points, one fewer than Russia. They have two games left to solidify a spot in the quarterfinals next week.
A run to a medal or championship wouldn’t entirely erase the bitter taste of being swept by the Nashville Predators, but it would help.
“We were hoping for more,” Kruger said. “We weren’t happy at all with how it ended this season, so this gives you a chance to end the season on a better note.”
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