BOSTON (CBS) — The big, bad Bruins mentality is all well and good. In Boston, people like their players to be great at the sport, but they also like them to be scary and mean. It’s fine, and it’s fun … but sometimes it can go too far.
Case and point: David Krejci reportedly signed a six-year contract extension worth $43.5 million, which comes out to an average annual value of $7.25 million. If you look around the league at players of similar caliber, you’ll see that the contract was very favorable to the Bruins. Krejci would have certainly made more money on the open market if he chose to become a free agent after the 2014-15 season. As contracts continue to get bigger each year, Krejci’s new deal still places him well below Evgeni Malkin ($9.5 million cap hit), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 million), Corey Perry ($8.625 million), Claude Giroux ($8.275 million), Eric Staal ($8.25 million) and Pavel Datsyuk ($7.5 million), and he’s just above Paul Stastny ($7 million) and teammate Patrice Bergeron ($6.5 million). In the wake of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane signing identical eight-year deals that each carry $10.5 million cap hits, having Krejci and Bergeron locked up for the prime of their careers for $7.25 million less than the Chicago duo should shed the most positive light as possible on the Krejci extension.
(Also, we’re living in an NHL world where Benoit Pouliot received a five-year, $20 million contract. If Benoit Pouliot is worth $4 million per year, then David Krejci might be worth $400 million.)
Yet surprisingly, after news of the extension broke (thanks to a Czech news source), I was surprised to scroll through Twitter and see that the signing was not met with unanimous approval — at least not from those that I saw opining on the Internet. Perhaps it was not the majority view (certainly, everyone who covers the team and sees Krejci perform on a nightly basis declared it a great deal), but nevertheless, it is important to set the record straight.
To put it simply, David Krejci is the only forward on the Bruins with elite offensive talent. He is a true playmaker on a team desperately lacking scoring options. He has almost singlehandedly made a viable first-line winger out of Milan Lucic, despite the bulky left winger lacking what they call “natural goal-scoring ability.”
In the two longest Bruins postseason runs of the past 20-plus years, David Krejci was the leading scorer. He scored 12 goals in the 2011 playoffs to lead the team, adding 11 assists to finish with three more points than Bergeron. In the 2013 playoffs, he had 17 assists, five more than anyone else on the roster, and his 26 points were seven more than any other Bruins player. (Tied for second, not coincidentally, were linemates Lucic and Nathan Horton. Bergeron was the second-leading scorer among forward with 15, which was 11 fewer than Krejci.)
Without David Krejci, there’s no Stanley Cup in 2011, and there’s no Cup Final appearance in 2013. That’s really not debatable.
So you’d think a move that ensures he’ll be on the roster for the next seven years — when Krejci’s aged 28-35, by the way — would be seen as nothing except a complete slam dunk by Peter Chiarelli. Alas, there are and will continue to be those who claim he’s overpaid. That’s typically how it’s gone whenever Chiarelli has signed a core player to one of these deals.
It’s not entirely surprising, considering Krejci has been underappreciated for his entire career. He’s played in the shadow of Patrice Bergeron since joining the team full time in the 07-08 season. That’s not to say that Bergeron doesn’t deserve the praise he receives (he’s basically a perfect hockey player), but it is to point out that, well, for as much as Bergeron is celebrated for his two-way play, offense is important too. As far as the scoreboard goes, goals are pretty important. And though Krejci isn’t always the one scoring them, he is typically the player displaying wizardry along the boards, stickhandling around the offensive zone before sending picture-perfect passes to set up goals. Lucic is a good player in a number of areas, but if you think Lucic would have scored 80 goals in the past three full seasons without having Krejci to set up most of them, you may be off your rocker.
And make no mistake: With no Krejci, you don’t lead the Eastern Conference in goals per game last season and you don’t have the league’s third-most effective power play. You don’t make the Finals twice in the past four seasons. You don’t win very often, really.
The only possible knock on Krejci is that he’s not a physical player. OK. But again, if you want to win games, you can’t have 12 brutes filling out your forward lines. You need some players who have more skill than strength. It is essential to fielding a successful hockey team. Not everyone can be Cam Neely. (In fact, only Cam Neely has ever been Cam Neely.) And to be honest, nobody on the team absorbs more big hits than Krejci, yet he’s missed just 16 games since 2008.
One other reason I can imagine there’s some negative vibes following the Krejci deal is the fact that Chiarelli and the Bruins are still very much stuck in a very ugly salary cap situation. Krejci’s new deal doesn’t affect the team until the 2015-16 season, but perhaps thanks to the current cap situation, the Bruins underwent what may have been the single most boring offseason any professional sports team has ever had. Re-signing an underappreciated forward doesn’t exactly get people firing up the duck boats in their minds.
But like with many Chiarelli deals of the past, the Krejci signing is one that will initially give some folks pause but as the cap continues to grow and contracts grow bigger and bigger every year, it will soon look like a bargain. It happened with Zdeno Chara, who signed a seven-year, $45 million deal one year before hitting free agency. It happened with Bergeron, who signed a three-year, $15 million deal in 2010, when the fear of him getting one final hit to end his career still existed. And it’s going to happen with Tuukka Rask, who won the Vezina last year yet makes $1.5 million less than Henrik Lundqvist and makes the same as Pekka Rinne. Unfortunately for Chiarelli, it’s not the case with Lucic’s $6 million cap hit, and it’s not really the case with Marchand at $4.5 million. If anything, those are the players who are moderately overpaid on the Bruins, but their contracts still weren’t prohibitive to Chiarelli managing to keep intact one of the game’s best one-two punch at center.
David Krejci may not be a big, bad Bruin, but he also possesses offensive talent that is incomparable to anyone else on the team. Krejci is just a half-step lower than the true elite centers in the NHL, but he nevertheless possesses a rare skill that is worth every penny for the Bruins.
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