The Chicago Blackhawks and forward Marcus Kruger have agreed to a three-year contract extension, the team announced Tuesday. The deal runs through the 2018-19 season and is worth $9.25 million, according to TSN's Darren Dreger. That's an annual cap hit of $3.08 million.
Kruger, 25, was set to become a restricted free agent for the second consecutive offseason. Last summer, he had to wait until August before settling for a one-year, $1.5 million contract. This time around, the Hawks are leaving no doubt about his future with the franchise.
An annual cap hit of over $3 million might seem hefty for a fourth-liner who doesn't score often, but it shows what Kruger means to the Hawks' identity, especially on defense. Joel Quenneville often calls on Kruger's line to shut down opponents defensively, and over the past few years, every grouping led by the Swedish center has excelled in that area. Clearly, the Hawks had no interest in trying to recreate that kind of success with different players.
Kruger is currently sitting out due to a left wrist injury but is expected to return by the start of the postseason. In 33 games this season, he's recorded one assist. However, he's also taken a mind-boggling 86.2 percent of his zone starts in the defensive end, which reflects his status as one of Chicago's defensive anchors in the forward corps.
One sign that Kruger was likely to stick around came before the trade deadline when the team dealt young center Phillip Danault. Many considered Danault, a former first-round pick, to be the heir apparent to Kruger's role as a defensive stopper on the fourth line. Instead, the Hawks traded Danault to Montreal as part of a deadline deal, which probably cemented Kruger's place in his longtime role.
As we noted in our 2016-17 salary cap breakdown, the Blackhawks already have massive salary cap commitments going into next season. With Kruger's $3.08 million cap hit added to the books, we estimate Chicago will have roughly $66.85 million committed to 16 players for next season. Once again, filling out the remainder of the roster is going to be a challenge.