David Krejci

Bruins summer series: David Krejci coming off a great year, isn't going anywhere

Bruins summer series: David Krejci coming off a great year, isn't going anywhere

Today’s piece on David Krejci is the sixth in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run. 

It was a tale of two seasons for David Krejci. The 33-year-old center had one of his very best seasons potting 20 goals and tying his regular season-best with 73 points while suiting up for 81 games when some were wondering if he was beginning to slow down in his mid-30’s.

Krejci looked healthy, strong and productive from beginning to end, and did it while dealing with a revolving door of right-wingers when the Bruins never really provided him with the established top-6 winger that he’s been accustomed to on his line. Some of it was about staying healthy and coming to training camp in extraordinarily good shape, and perhaps adjusting to some of the challenges that Father Time can provide.

Some of it might have even been about motivation after seeing the Bruins chase after John Tavares in free agency a year ago, a scenario that would have left Krejci on the trade block or as the third line center.

Either way, Krejci was as good as he’s been in probably five years and was a big reason behind Boston’s success during the regular season.

Unfortunately, the same success didn’t follow Krejci into the playoffs as it has in the past.

The four goals and 16 points in 24 playoff games wasn’t a terrible body of work for Krejci all things considered.

But it was far off the numbers he posted in leading the NHL in playoff scoring in both 2011 and 2013 in Boston’s other two Stanley Cup Final seasons. It was a combination of things, of course. Some of it was about the slumping Jake DeBrusk and his underwhelming playoff performance, and the carousel of right wings that included mostly David Backes and Karson Kuhlman.

But there were also times when Krejci had chances to score and he wasn’t able to finish off those plays like he was doing during the regular season. He has improved his shot tremendously over the last few seasons given the chances he gets to shoot the puck on the power play, and that makes him more able to create his own offense rather than constantly fill the role of playmaker where he’s obviously most comfortable.

Perhaps because of that Krejci’s name has popped up in trade whispers among the Bruins fan base this summer. It’s nothing new based on his team-highest $7.25 million salary cap hit and the fact that his no-trade protection is no longer as bulletproof as it once was based on his contractual season that began on July 1.

At 33 years old, Krejci’s value will probably never be higher again than it was after a stupendous regular season.

But there’s a problem to all this.

If the Bruins dealt away Krejci, they would immediately have a gaping hole at the No. 2 center spot behind Patrice Bergeron.

It doesn’t appear that Charlie Coyle is a good fit offensively for a center spot where the Bruins need top-notch production, and young centers like Jack Studnicka and Trent Frederic need more development before they could even be considered for that kind of role.

That’s why Cam Neely spelled out why it doesn’t make much sense to deal Krejci away even if it would solve some of their current cap snafus.

“I thought David had a fantastic year. He had a really strong year. I think he’s a guy that’s generally been a playoff performer, and wants to be known as a playoff player…not just a regular-season player,” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston. “To your point, I think we’ve got some centermen in our pipeline. But to step up to be a No. 2 in the National Hockey League, they are not quite there yet. And David is filling that role quite nicely for us.”

That does not sound like a NHL Club President on the verge of dealing away a top-6 center that’s been with the team for over a decade. So perhaps that will quell some of the whispers about Krejci’s future with the Bruins, even if the cap hit has overshadowed the actual performance during his current contract with the Black and Gold.

Key stat: 73 – The number of points for Krejci this past season, which tied his all-time season-high set back in 2008-09 during his first full season at the NHL level. Krejci also hit 20 goals for just the second time in his last seven seasons.  

Krejci in his own words: “It felt like it was right there for us. In the first period I thought we outplayed them and [outshot] them maybe 15-to-3 or something like that. Two or three scoring chances and we couldn’t get a goal. Obviously, it would have been nice to score a goal and to play with the lead, but it just wasn’t our night.”

The biggest question he faces: Can Krejci duplicate his 2018-19 regular season this coming year when he’ll turn 34 years old in April? Perhaps an even better question is whether the Bruins can provide him with more stability at right wing like he had in the days when players like Nathan Horton, Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson regularly played there. But it’s also a true statement that, as the team’s highest-paid player, Krejci needs to make players around him better rather than the other way around at this point in his career.

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Bruins won't break up 2011 core: 'They've got some good hockey left'

Bruins won't break up 2011 core: 'They've got some good hockey left'

If you are one of the futurist Bruins fans looking for the Bruins to get younger after falling short during this spring’s Stanley Cup Final, then you may be disappointed by the words from B’s management this week. If you are a fan of familiar faces on the Bruins roster and the past glory of the Black and Gold, then it was a little more encouraging.

While admitting that things are “winding down” for the Bruins core group that won the Cup eight years ago in 2011, Bruins President Cam Neely said he still believes that Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask are capable of winning another Stanley Cup before riding off into the Boston sunset.

“When we hired Don [General Manager Don Sweeney] that was certainly a conversation about how to do we take this core that won in ‘11 and give them another opportunity to win while they’re still somewhat in their prime. We still look at it that way,” said Neely. “We know, you know, our players are now one year older, and we’re another year removed from winning in ’11.

“So we certainly have recognized what we have coming, what we need to have coming, and who – you know, we’re talking pretty big shoes to fill. We’re certainly aware of that, and we recognize that. We still think they’ve got some good hockey left in them, but we certainly know that it’s winding down, so to speak.”

The “sunset” day may be coming a little sooner for some than others with 42-year-old Chara showing some signs of age this season while also showing he’s the ultimate warrior while playing through a fractured jaw in the Stanley Cup Final. Both Bergeron and Krejci will be 34 years old at some point next season, and even Marchand and Rask are on the wrong side of 30 years old at this point in their NHL careers.

It’s at the point in some of their careers where the status quo is going to be unreasonable to assume where injuries and lowered production could be a fact of life. More will be expected out of the younger generation of Bruins players, and workload management becomes a real issue for guys like Bergeron, Krejci and Chara in the twilight of their NHL careers.

It’s also unlikely that the pathway to the Stanley Cup Final is ever going to open up as wide as it did for the Bruins last season when all four top divisional seeds lost in the first round of the playoffs, and Tampa Bay, Washington and Pittsburgh all were out early in the postseason.

Still, the Bruins are clearly a playoff team in the Eastern Conference and it’s a tough sell to bust up an aging, proven nucleus that made it all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final before falling woefully short against a group of first-timers in the St. Louis Blues. It all amounts to a difficult decision for guys like Neely and Sweeney this summer, but it sounds like their minds are already made up that the Bruins are going to push forward with the remaining core members of the 2011 Cup team intact.

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The pitfalls and potential of Bruins trading away David Krejci this summer

The pitfalls and potential of Bruins trading away David Krejci this summer

If there is one key position on their roster where the Bruins are getting older at a rapid pace, it would be the center position. More specifically top-6 centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci were both 33 years old this season while putting up excellent regular season campaigns, and Bergeron will actually turn 34 years old this summer ahead of his 16th NHL season.

As good as Bergeron and Krejci were during the regular season, however, both players were well below their standard during the Stanley Cup Final. Bergeron finished with one goal, four points and a minus-4 in the seven-game series while battling through a groin injury, and Krejci had just a pair of assists in the seven games against the St. Louis Blues.

It was a quiet end for a pair of centers that are the linchpin of Boston’s roster design, and it’s unfortunately part of the reason that the Bruins ended up falling to the Blues in seven games. It’s also borderline fantasy land to expect both Krejci and Bergeron to repeat last year’s success given that both players are in now in their mid-30’s at a time when workloads are getting reduced and responsibilities abdicated.

Given all of that and the undeniable power of Father Time when it comes to NHL players after they hit the age of 30 years old, it would be fair to wonder if now is the right time to explore trading Krejci and his $7.25 million cap hit. Krejci is on the heels of a 20-goal, 73-point season that was his best and healthiest in years, and his potential trade value will never again be as high as this summer given his age and production.

The Bruins could get good value for Krejci in a trade with teams that need clear help at the center position, and they could get out from under the final two seasons of a contract that still sees Krejci as the highest paid forward on the Boston roster.

Adding an interesting wrinkle is the change in Krejci’s no-trade clause entering this season where he can now be dealt to 50 percent of the teams in the NHL after more of an iron-clad no-movement clause in previous seasons.

The real issue with trading Krejci at this point is the inability of the organization to find a suitable, productive replacement on the second line. Sure Charlie Coyle could be bumped up to second line center, but he’s proven to be more of an ideal fit as the third line guy with limits to his offensive ability. Talented youngsters like Jack Studnicka or Trent Frederic should be in Boston’s future plans at the center position, but it doesn’t feel like either of them is anywhere close to taking on top-6 center responsibilities right now for a playoff team and Stanley Cup hopeful.

That’s a real rub when it comes to discussing moving the aging No. 46 and his weighty contract.

So what do the Bruins think about all this?

Well, Don Sweeney made it clear in speaking to the media this week that Krejci is still in the future plans for the Bruins. It’s also clear that whether it’s David Pastrnak, moving Charlie Coyle to the wing, re-signing Marcus Johansson or promoting a young player like Anders Bjork to that spot, the Bruins are back to square one trying to find more of a permanent solution at right wing for Krejci for next season.

“In a perfect world we would identify a guy and plug him in there [on the second line] and David [Krejci] would return to 70 points, and the line would be prolific. We hope we have that internal option. He spoke to a couple guys that he had a chance to play with, so that might be the route we go. Or we look outside the organization,” said Sweeney. “That’s what we’re trying to identify to help us and balance us, and that’s what we’ll do. I don’t think I can sit here today and say we have the absolute perfect identity player

“But that doesn’t mean we won’t find him between now and then. I think we’re good with the options we have. We’re bringing back a pretty damn good hockey club, and David [Krejci] is a part of that.”

Furthermore, Bruins President Cam Neely mentioned one of the club’s big needs is to find a shoot-first, goal-scoring right winger to the second line that can finish off the plays that Krejci is creating with his play-making ability.

“I think David Krejci can still drive the line,” said Neely. “He is such a great playmaker and we just need to find the right player to play with a guy like David.

“David likes to hang onto the puck and he wants to distribute the puck and you need to have someone willing to shoot the puck. For some reason nowadays there are more pass-first guys than there are shooters. That’s hard for me to understand because I was a shooter and all my assists were rebounds.”

Clearly, it sounds like the Bruins don’t yet feel like they are getting too long in the tooth down the middle when it comes to Bergeron and Krejci. Both will be the top-6 centers for the Black and Gold again next season in their mid-30’s, but it remains to be seen if they will ever again be as productive, as healthy and as effective again as they were with strong seasons this year.

If they aren’t, this June’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final might be their last for a while until they can find some younger, high-end talent at the center position.

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