Phil Stacey column: Krejci's career deserves appreciation and thanks

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Jul. 31—On Hockey

Phil Stacey

It wasn't in David Krejci's personality to ever be the Face of the Franchise.

With the Boston Bruins, he never had to be. During his 14-year NHL career, all of it spent as a center with the Boston Bruins, Krejci was surrounded by future Hall of Famers (Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron), dynamic personalities (Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton) or superstars-to-be (Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, David Pastrnak) who drew more of the spotlight's glare.

None of that ever bothered Krejci, who announced Friday what had been speculated for months — he's heading back to his native Czech Republic to finish out his playing days.

'Beloved' wouldn't be the right word when it came to Bruins' fans relationship with the smooth and steady pivot; 'respected' would be the much more accurate word. When he was healthy, you always knew what you were getting from No. 46: world class on-ice vision and passing ability, a strong skater and playmaker, a presence in all three zones, a dependable faceoff man.

He also led the NHL in plus-minus twice, a stat that the Corsi and Fenwick crowd might scoff at but is still a viable indication of how the Bruins produced offense when he was on the ice.

Most importantly, his ability to come through in the postseason is what most endeared him to Boston fans (hence the moniker 'Playoff Krech'). It's not as if he was a stiff from October to early April, producing .759 points per game. But as the stakes shot up exponentially in the postseason, the checking got much tighter and each shift was pressure packed, Krejci delivered to the tune of .795 a night, and he led the entire league in playoff scoring twice (2011 and '13).

If this is it for him in Boston, he'll finish seventh on the team's postseason goal list (42).

Understand, Krejci was not a natural goal scorer; it took him 42 games before he first put the puck past a goaltender, and he only eclipsed 20 goals three times. But collecting assists were seemingly as easy to him as picking up pucks following a pre-game skate.

He had 50 or more assists three times and 49 one other season while finishing with 515 in 962 games, which is even more impressive when you consider the defensive systems he played in.

If it feels like Krejci played with more wings than you'll find at your run-of-the-mill beer and finger food joint, you'd be right. The linemates he found the most chemistry with were Milan Lucic on his left and Nathan Horton on the right, two big bodies who cleared a lot of space in the offensive zone, could finish off his tape-to-tape passes and also find him the slot for scoring opportunities of his own.

Krejci also had lots of success when paired with other elite players, such as the short time Rick Nash was on his portside; same with Taylor Hall after the latter was traded here from Buffalo last spring.

But he was, at times, also saddled with offensively challenged linemates such as Peter Schaefer, Chuck Kobasew, Seth Griffith, Joonas Kemppainen and Ryan Spooner, to name but a few. Think of all the potential points he lost playing with a rotating cast of has-beens, never-weres and guys who just weren't top six NHL forwards.

Less than a year ago, the Bruins still had their Big 5 left over from their 2011 Stanley Cup championship team: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, goalie Tuukka Rask, Chara and Krejci. They currently are down to two, with Chara having played for the Capitals last season and Rask in limbo as a 34-year-old unrestricted free agent undergoing hip surgery that'll keep him out until at least February.

Will the Hockey Hall of Fame eventually come calling for Krejci? Probably not. He never won an individual trophy, never made an all-star team, and he missed the equivalent of more than a full season (96 games of regular and postseason play) with various injuries and ailments.

But that doesn't take away from what Krejci meant to the the Bruins' organization the last 14 years. Guys with his level of skill and lack of hubris who spend their entire careers with one NHL team are as rare as 5-goal games, and for this we should always appreciate what the 63rd overall pick in the 2004 draft gave to the Bruins.

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Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN