By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
(Welcome to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s The Weekend Wraparound — or just The Wraparound, WW, Wrap, or whatever you care to call it. I’m not big on names. But here’s what you should know about it: It’s a weekly column that will run every Saturday in addition to our complete coverage of the Boston Bruins, with or without ice available.)
If the Boston Bruins make a move to upgrade their top-six’s scoring punch, it will not involve second-line center David Krejci.
On the surface, this seems obvious. But it’s something that still feels worth mentioning as an already-limited trade and free agent market gets worse by the day, and with people still thinking that Krejci is among those that should be in play. Of course, should versus would is a different argument on its own. But the 32-year-old has never truly been on the block this offseason. Not when the Bruins were in hot pursuit of free agent John Tavares, and certainly not now with No. 91 in Toronto.
Now, there was almost no way that the Bruins could have made a long-term, big money commitment to Tavares — which they were more than prepared to do — while also keeping Krejci around. That goes without saying. But in the Bruins’ heads, I believe they had legitimate hopes of rolling with a one-two-three punch of Patrice Bergeron, Tavares, and Krejci for at least one season. (A three-headed monster down the middle has always been of significant interest to B’s GM Don Sweeney, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why they tripped over themselves to give David Backes $30 million in 2016. Little did they know that Backes was pretty much cooked as a full-time center, especially when the Bruins switched from Julien to Cassidy.)
I know, I know, I know. That’s crazy talk.
But looking at Boston’s cap structure entering free agency, this star-studded trio down the middle was likely attainable by moving just Backes (something that the Bruins explored — and explored heavily — prior to the start of free agency) and perhaps one of their defenseman off the books. Having this become a reality would have also meant that the Bruins stayed away from free agent defenseman John Moore, and signed somebody (a lot) cheaper than Jaroslav Halak as their backup. Players like Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner, meanwhile, would have been players the B’s hoped were still kicking around in August, ensuring that they would have signed them for around half the price they’re paying them now.
This was all very doable.
Again, having Krejci and Tavares on the same roster would not have made sense (or even been possible) for the B’s beyond one season, or two at the very most; Charlie McAvoy’s first real money contract is looming over the club for 2019, and fellow restricted free agents Brandon Carlo, Ryan Donato, and Danton Heinen will need new deals then, too, meaning this was likely just a one-year ride for the Black and Gold. But, again, they definitely could have gotten away with it for that one year.
In essence, if Krejci was going to be moved, it was going to be with Tavares here, and likely with at least one year in town under Tavares’ belt (which would coincide with Krejci’s no-movement clause becoming a limited no-trade clause).
I still think this slim hope came back to a greater point though: The Bruins were not interested in moving Krejci right now.
Their involvement in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweeps spoke to this theory, as that was a would-have-been move that the Bruins targeted to help Krejci’s overall productivity. Whether that meant lining Kovalchuk up on his right wing or putting the veteran Russian with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, which would have allowed Krejci to reunite with David Pastrnak, was irrelevant. Both options were dynamite, and came with similar expected results. Like picking between slush or a freeze-pop on a hot day.
It was all with a focus on not only bolstering the Bruins’ top two lines, but finding a way to push No. 46 back towards the past. You know, back to when he was this club’s most productive and offensively-gifted pivot (especially when it mattered most in the postseason), which is what earned him his money as the club’s highest-paid forward in the first place.
Battling through a ‘considerable’ injury in the early half of the year, Krejci put up 17 goals and 44 points in 64 games. The biggest positive you could take from Krejci’s game was his chemistry developed with Jake DeBrusk, who has the makings of a legitimate player for this team, and with expectations that he’ll contribute 25 goals next year. That’s an expectation that comes with the assumption that it’s Krejci doing the dishing, too, which would only help his stat-line pull off a throwback.
But those 44 points last year were Krejci’s lowest total in any season that saw him suit up for at least 60 games, and his point-per-game rate (0.69) was his fourth-lowest figure of the last 10 seasons. His second-lowest point-per-game production, for what it’s worth, was the 0.66 pace he produced at during a turbulent up-and-down 2016-17 season.
That’s back-to-back years with Krejci — now with two major hip surgeries to his name (and a knee operation added to the list last offseason) — producing near career-lows. And while his revolving door of linemates has probably played a factor here, there’s something that’s always stunk about a $7.25 million player needing certain linemates to perform up to his pay.
So, no, you’re not going to find me trying to talk you down from the idea that Krejci is a player that the Bruins either need more from regardless of linemates or need to consider parting with before it truly becomes too late in terms of moving him. (Sweeney was smart to get ahead of this with Milan Lucic, though those circumstances were obviously different, as Lucic was heading into a contract year wanting to get his major payday whereas Krejci is already locked into his own jackpot. Lucic has since become Edmonton’s problem with a downright immovable contract that pays him $6 million a year ’til 2023.)
But ask yourself a simple question: Do the Bruins have a legitimate in-house candidate to replace Krejci right now? Of course not. This is a team that’s downright praying that they can find a viable third-line center candidate out of a prospect collection featuring the promise of Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka this fall. If that indeed happens, the Bruins are going to rely on Krejci for even harder minutes — d-zone draws, penalty-killing, etc. — next year. Donato and Sean Kuraly may even get looks at center simply because that’s where this franchise is at in terms of their NHL-ready center depth.
For an alleged Cup contender in the Atlantic Division, that’s concerning.
Just consider what the Bruins are going against in the first two rounds of the playoffs alone now: You’re talking about a Toronto team with Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Nazem Kadri down the middle. And then a Tampa Bay team featuring Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, and Brayden Point at center. Manage to get through that and you’re likely to have a date with a Crosby-Malkin or Kuznetsov-Backstrom punch.
Such a path only reinforces the idea that the Bruins need a healthy and productive Krejci in their lineup in the now infinitely more than any asset they’d receive in exchange for trading him.
So if the Bruins pull the trigger on a trade for the Blue Jackets’ Artemi Panarin, know that it’s to plug Panarin next to Krejci and see if they can be an assist factory that passes pucks into the net. Same for if they enter the sweepstakes for Carolina’s Jeff Skinner (though price-matching could be an issue given each team’s surplus and what the B’s don’t want to move). Or if the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds becomes the newest power forward the Bruins choose to acquire at the exact wrong time.
That’s because without the veteran Krejci along for the ride with those players, those ‘upgrades’ to the roster become mere lateral moves in a futile attempt to make up for a summer strikeout that the Bruins did everything they could to avoid.
Loose pucks: Does Jarome Iginla retire as the greatest NHL player to have never won a Stanley Cup? It’s entirely possible. He has some considerable competition — Mats Sundin, Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontaine, and Marcel Dionne just to name a few — but has a great case for such an ‘honor.’ Ultimately, though, I think that’s a title that will go to Henrik Lundqvist at the end of his NHL career. Barring a crazy reversal of fortune on Broadway or move to a new city, of course… Looking to buy a new condo? Ask Zdeno Chara. The towering captain of the Bruins has always had an interest in real estate, and is likely going to jump into that as an interest of sorts once he finally hangs his skates up. But I wouldn’t anticipate him using it real soon… My unofficial over/under on goals for Ryan Donato next year: 19.5 goals. Am I crazy for thinking he can a lot score more than 19?
One of just a few people never given a chance to be Krejci’s winger, Ty Anderson is now a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.