Bruins

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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New additions Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase prove they'll help Bruins

New additions Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase prove they'll help Bruins

BOSTON — Both newly traded players got into the Bruins lineup on Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, and it looked pretty darn encouraging for the Black and Gold with the new pieces fitting nicely with the rest of the lineup.

Hulking left winger Nick Ritchie scored his first goal in a Bruins uniform amidst a two-point effort and Ondrej Kase showed speed and skill along with a decent two-way game while finishing with two shots on net in 15:16 of ice time.

Both wingers showed instant chemistry with David Krejci on the second line in the 4-3 win at TD Garden, and Ritchie showed smooth hands for a big man playing the give-and-go game with David Pastrnak on the game-winner in the third period.

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There were some that believed the Bruins' moves at the trade deadline were as much about opening salary cap space as they were about actually improving the team, but Ritchie particularly showed he’s got some game in a win that pushed the B’s to a seven-point lead in the division over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I think Nick [Ritchie] was much better than the other night, a little more into the game,” said Bruce Cassidy on Ritchie, who was okay in his B’s debut on Tuesday after flying cross-country from California to hop into the lineup. “[The] puck was finding him. We knew that would happen. I just thought it was unfair the other night.

“You fly in, it’s a lot of newness going on. He’s had a couple of days to acclimate a little bit. Listen, I’m not going to say he’s going to get two points every night, but he’ll probably be somewhere in between there and that’s what we expect out of him. [He’s] a bigger body, especially in this type of game I thought. They’re a heavy team, they finish checks and you’ve got to work to get to the net. I thought he did a real good job with that.”

The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder showed exactly what he’ll bring to the table and, perhaps more importantly, displayed the skill to hang in a top-6 role after teaming up with Pastrnak on the scoring play in the third period. There will be more opportunities for the big winger to throw his weight around and really set a physical tone once he begins getting comfortable in Boston, but there’s every reason to think he’s exactly the kind of player Boston needed going into the trade deadline.

Certainly, Ritchie was more noticeable in one win on Thursday night than Danton Heinen had been in the last few months of a season where his subtle qualities didn’t exactly amount to anything significant on the ice.

“It was good. It was nice to score. It was nice to win,” said Ritchie. “My energy levels were higher and I definitely felt better with my legs. I definitely played a better game and the team played better as well. It was just a simple shot, but whenever it goes in, it obviously feels really good.

“Early on [as a line] we played a lot together and we had some good shifts, and we really got in on the fore-check. It was good.”

As for Kase, he showed on his very first shift of the game that he’s got speed to burn on the second line and flashed some slick offensive instincts as things went along. It didn’t add to any offensive production with Krejci in his first game back from injury, but it’s also the first time Kase has played at all since early February with a suspected concussion.

So now it’s about the Bruins keeping the right winger healthy and letting him build up his game in Boston.

“[Nick] Ritchie with [David] Krejci, I think could go somewhere as long as they have some chemistry, as long as there’s some pace on the other side. That could be Ondrej [Kase], if we drop Pasta [David Pastrnak] down at times,” said Cassidy. “But as long as there’s some pace [from the right wing]. I’ll look at pairs. [Jake] DeBrusk, [Charlie] Coyle, I think, like I said, I like the way they’ve played together [on the third line]. Even Anders [Bjork] when he’s over there. I thought our fourth line was contributing again tonight. Unfortunately, Wags [Chris Wagner] got hurt there in that scuffle, but I thought they did a good job as well.”

Clearly the forward combinations are in flux as a passive Anders Bjork spent most of the second period nailed to the Bruins bench, and the fourth line may be switched around now that Wagner is banged up with an upper body injury.

But Ritchie showed he’s got the talent to fill the Bruins' need for a big, physical winger with some skill and Kase gave indications he’ll be a player who can create some 5-on-5 offense for a B’s team that doesn’t do enough of that in crunch time.

For those with questions about how much improvement the Bruins made with their deadline moves, the win over the Stars showed strong indications that Ritchie and Kase are both going to play roles in making the Bruins a tougher group to defend in the postseason.

Why winning NHL Presidents' Trophy may not be in Bruins' best interest

Why winning NHL Presidents' Trophy may not be in Bruins' best interest

First, a disclaimer: The Boston Bruins should try to win their remaining games. The better your team is playing, the better it is for everyone in the dressing room.

But if the Tampa Bay Lightning overtake the Bruins in the Atlantic Division and secure the Presidents' Trophy for the NHL's best record?

Well ... that wouldn't be the worst development.

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Here's the first reason: Whether you're superstitious or not, the Presidents' Trophy has been a death knell for its recipients. The last club to finish with the NHL's best regular-season record and win the Stanley Cup was the Chicago Blackhawks (at the Bruins' expense) in 2013.

Here's how the next six Presidents' Trophy winners fared:

2014 Bruins: Lost in second round
2015 New York Rangers: Lost in Eastern Conference Final
2016 Washington Capitals: Lost in second round
2017 Capitals: Lost in second round
2018 Nashville Predators: Lost in second round
2019 Lightning: Lost in first round

Since the NHL adopted its current playoff format for the 2013-14 season, only one Presidents' Trophy winner has made it out of the second round. The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Lightning clean out of the first round in 2019.

There's more than just bad karma at play here. In the current format, each division winner plays a Wild Card team in the first round, while the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in each division face off.

Guess how many division winners beat their Wild Card opponents in last year's playoffs? Zero.

That's a bit of an aberration, but it's not far from the norm in the topsy-turvy Stanley Cup Playoffs. Aside from the 2013 Blackhawks, the 2018 Capitals are the only other team in the last 12 years to win the Stanley Cup after winning their division (and they had the Eastern Conference's third-best record).

Playoff trends aside, there's a more simple reason why Boston shouldn't mind losing out on the Presidents' Trophy.

If the playoffs started now, the Bruins would face the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have won both of their matchups with Boston this season -- including a 3-0 shutout on Jan. 14 -- and took the B's to six games in the second round last year.

If the Bruins slip to the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic, they'll likely face the Toronto Maple Leafs -- who haven't beaten Boston in a playoff series since 1959.

Bruce Cassidy's club currently stands seven points clear of the Lightning (92 to 85) with 17 games remaining. The St. Louis Blues (86 points) and Capitals (84) points also are in the Presidents' Trophy conversation.

The B's want to be playing well entering the postseason, and finishing with the NHL's best record obviously would be proof of that. If they happen to take their foot off the gas, though, they could wind up in better position to win the Cup race.