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Exit Interviews: Marcus Kruger And Ben Smith

If anyone needs a break...

If anyone needs a break…

Figured we’d follow yesterday with the two players who carried that albatross all year and made him look at least in the same country code as an NHL player. We’ll start with the middle of the Human Shield Line.

Marcus Kruger

Regular Season: 81 games, 8 goals, 20 assists, 28 points, +6, -0.38 Behind The Net Rating, 3.63 Corsi per 60 (-11 Corsi Relative per 60) Playoffs: 19 games, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, -1, -0.35 Behind The Net, -6.51 Corsi per 60 (-5.7 Corsi Relative per 60) What We Liked: The first thing that jumps out about Kruger is how he went from a detriment in the faceoff circle to one of the better ones in the league. Kruger finished 7th in the league with a 56.7%, only a couple decimals behind teammate Jonathan Toews. Maybe faceoffs don’t matter as much as we talk about, but considering where Kruger was starting every shift winning the draw was more paramount for him than others. The next thing is that Kruger started just over half his shifts in the defensive zone, and only 20% in the offensive. He did that while seeing generally the most difficult competition behind the top line, and basically kept the world from caving in. 28 points is actually a career-high for Kruger, and every so often he would show really nifty hands from in close, which is not a skill that’s all that easy to find in players. And he remained one of the better penalty killers, or at least most used, during the season. What We Didn’t Like: There’s not much here. Still, when I watch Kruger around the opponent’s net I wonder why he doesn’t score a little more than he does. But considering the way he was deployed it’s an utter miracle that he had as many points as he did. Could have used a couple more goals chipped in during the playoffs which he did in 2013. But in the playoffs when his linemates were basically benched he was the one playing with everyone. In fact, whatever prism you view Kruger through this year it’s colored by his one-dimensional use. Certainly he’d be way down the list of complains, if he’s even on it at all. He was also part of the penalty kill’s struggles, but some of that was his inability to constantly cover for the monolith he was paired with. What Is It, You Would Say, You Do Here: While most eyes will be on the defense and changes there, I’m sort of curious as to how Kruger will be affected by whatever the Hawks do to address down the middle. If they do nothing and give the 2C keys to Teuvo, or if they sign a veteran in the Vern Fiddler/Manny Malhotra fashion to man the 4th line, Kruger most likely bumps up to the 3rd line where he will get main checking assignments and be asked to chip in more scoring. If the Hawks hunt bigger to move Teuvo down or to the wing, Kruger will be pretty much asked to do what he did this year and be a checking center from the 4-hole. Still, when I watch Kruger I can’t escape the feeling that there’s more offense there to be let out. I think we begin to see it next season either way.

Ben Smith

Regular Season: 14 goals, 12 assists, 26 points, +3, -0.43 Behind The Net Rating, 2.11 Corsi per 60 (-13.0 Corsi Relative per 60) Playoffs: 19 games, 4 goals, 2 assists, 6 points, +5, 1.66 Behind the Net Rating, -10.2 Corsi per 60 (-10.1 Corsi Relative per 60) What We Liked: Hey remember early in the season when Smith was a healthy scratch for Nordstrom or for Kostka to play forward? Yeah, that’s funny now. Anyway, Smith’s production can almost be viewed in the same way as Kruger’s as he was buried shift-wise as well. But unlike Kruger Smith got to moonlight on higher lines when injuries or ineffectiveness was a problem for others, and he made it count. Smith just never stops moving which makes up for being one of the slower Hawks. He’s got just about the best instincts on the team, which is why he has a knack for big goals (Game 5 against St. Louis, Games 5 and 6 against L.A. pop into mind). Defensively sound, very strong on the puck, can play just about anywhere, and whisper this but I still think he’s better in front of the opponent’s net than Shaw is and would be better on the power play. What We Didn’t Like: Um… the fact that Bollig’s extension means that Smith should probably be making $5 million a year? What Is It, You Would Say, You Do Here: First he has to be re-signed. His late-season surge in scoring makes him a little more expensive, but his RFA status and mostly being on the 4th line is not going to see him break the bank. If Shaw makes $2 million than Smith can look for $1.5-1.8 I would guess. From there, it’s about use. Ideally, Smith still mans your fourth line, possibly at center, but remains the utility knife that you can plug in anywhere in the lineup when needs must. Depending on players like Smith on the 2nd line or even your third means you’re probably short somewhere. You can get away with him as a third line winger, but you shouldn’t have to. It’s like Michael Frolik. He’s better than a fourth liner, but if he’s on your fourth line you’re almost certainly really good.

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