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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