Will the 2014-15 season be David Krejci's last in Boston?
For all the worries that the current salary cap situation has put the Bruins in, there is one more stress-inducing discussion to throw into the fire: what to do with David Krejci.
Krejci is in the final year of a three-year, $15.75 million contract extension he signed back in December of 2011. The deal pays him an annual salary of $5.25 million, a number that makes Krejci the third-highest paid Bruins forward behind Patrice Bergeron ($6.5 million) and Milan Lucic ($6 million). With his contract up after this season, the Bruins will have a franchise-altering decision to make in regards to the 28-year-old Krejci.
Playing in coach Claude Julien's defensive-first system, David Krejci fits the bill as a #1 center in the NHL. He has all the tools needed to play the position, as he uses the perfect blend of a two-way responsible game to serve as the straw that stirs Boston's drink. His hockey IQ and overall intelligence is off the charts. His vision and playmaking ability is among some of the most creative and productive in the entire league. For as many goals he can create for his linemates through his shifty and inquisitive play, he can get back on defense and prevent a score the other way.
Then again, we also know where Krejci falls short in comparison to other premier centers in the game. He has never cracked the 75-point mark in his career, with his career-best output coming in at 73 points in '08-'09, his first full season in the NHL. He has only cracked the 70-point mark once in eight seasons as a pro. His career-high for goals came in '11-'12 when he netted 23 scores. At times, Krejci can experience prolonged scoring droughts, as he'll disappear from the ice surface and cease to be seen on the scoresheet.
We know what Krejci is as a player. We know what Krejci means to the Bruins when he is on his game. And maybe more importantly, we know what Krejci means to the Bruins when he's off his game. It should come as no shock to the Bruins faithful to look at the numbers the past four seasons when the games mean the most: in April and beyond.
In the 2011 Stanley Cup championship run, Krejci led the playoffs in both goals scored and total points, as the Czech native potted 12 goals and recorded 11 assists for 23 points in 25 games. In the 2013 postseason, Krejci again led the playoffs in scoring, as he recorded nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points in 22 games. Unsurprisingly enough, the Bruins once brought home the hardware and in the other year fell just short of capturing Lord Stanley for a seventh time.
Looking at the two seasons opposite 2011 and 2013, Krejci struggled to gain any sort of scoring traction in 2012 and 2014. In their first round exit to the Washington Capitals, Krejci netted just one goal and two assists for three points. In 12 games this past postseason, Krejci was shutout in the goal column and contributed just four assists to the cause. Boston struggled versus Detroit and Montreal to find the net, leading to their early exit from the tournament.
Which brings us to the present day. And the present day is filled with a cautious eye looking towards the future.
The market has been set when it comes to securing a franchise center in 2014. The Blackhawks just signed Jonathan Toews to an extension that will pay him $10.5 million for the next eight seasons. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel and Eric Staal are all payed $8 million or more on multi-year deals. Krejci's camp can easily make the argument that his game is at least equal to or better than Kessel ($8 million) or Staal ($8.25 million), with the starting number in negotiations potentially starting at $7 million flat.
If the Bruins are to keep their #1 center past the '14-'15 season, they will either have to clear significant money off the books between now or then or hope Krejci is willing to take a hometown discount akin to what Patrice Bergeron did two years ago in signing for $6.5 million, when he could have hit the market and demanded $8 million per year (and he would have gotten it easily).
So if Krejci walks, where does that leave the Bruins? The Bruins pride themselves on their strength down the middle of the ice. They will always have two All-Pro centerman no matter the scenario. If Krejci is to bolt out of town, they will need a more than serviceable replacement to step into his skates. Could the meteoric rise of Carl Soderberg place him on the top line as Boston's #1 center? Soderberg has continued to improve and blossom as he adapts to the NHL game, and after an impressive postseason in which he was one of the only Bruin players to perform, he is primed for a truly breakout season in 2014-15.
Whether or not Soderberg can discover his full potential may be most important factor in Krejci returning to Boston beyond this season. However, we know how much general manager Peter Chiarelli loves re-signing his own guys, often to a fault. No matter the salary cap constraints or the projections of the future, Chiarelli may have his mind set already on bringing Krejci back to Boston on a new deal.
As if dealing with the stress of salary cap hell right now wasn't bad enough, when taking a look down the road to next off-season, the B's will be facing a truckload of even more difficult decisions to make. What to do with David Krejci is tops on that list. In a move that will shape the direction of the team for years to come, Chiarelli and the rest of the Bruins brass will have the ultimate call to make in a year's time.