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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