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Beyond the Numbers: Is the Krejci Deal a Smart One for the Bruins?

Yesterday it was announced that the Boston Bruins have come to terms with center David Krejci on a new 3 year deal that will carry an average cap hit of 5.25 per season beginning next season. The news has many fans rejoicing as the lack of news on the subjects over the past few months left many question marks. Did the Bruins see their point leader from the season before as still part of it's core going forward? Was what Krejci asking for above and beyond what he's proven he's worth? Did management believe that Seguin would be moving into that top line center slot sooner rather than later? Was Krejci expendable, especially with rumors that a certain Anaheim Duck might be available in a swap?

The news essentially squashed these questions. Krejci will be signed for another three seasons after this current one and will be paid comparably to Patrice Bergeron and along with that, be given a certain level of security in terms of staying in Boston as after next season an NMC will kick in and limit the Bruins options in trading him to six teams. At first glance the deal is reasonable and close to expectations. The question is though, is it the right deal for the Bruins to be making at this point?

To start, let's look at the comparable players: In Montreal we have likely the closest comparison in Tomas Plekanec. Plekanec's deal is similar to Krejci's in dollars but was originally twice as long. Since signing the deal he's become the main pivot for the Habs and has put up similar numbers in the regular season. Both have failed to make the jump to the point per game level in a season but make up for it by playing well in the other two zones.

Also in the five million dollar range, two Selke favorites, Patrice Bergeron and Ryan Kesler. Neither plays the same game as Krejci but both are equally effective offensively and are strong in the defensive and neutral zones. Additionally, both are more of the rugged North American build and thus less susceptible to nagging injuries that come with the wear and tear of an 82 game season + playoffs. Most notably about these players is that both are considered more reliable or rather, less streaky. Their contracts in comparison to Krejci's are
both less though Bergeron's was signed before last season and the cup run while Kesler's was signed with a much longer term (six years like Plekanec).

Looking beyond centers we find 3 wings who fall in the price range and have shown greater offensive upside: Bobby Ryan, Martin St Louis and of course, Phil Kessel. While Kessel would not likely be welcomed back in Boston and has large holes in his game (that he is working on) and St Louis is going towards the tail end of his career, Bobby Ryan is similar in age and offensive contributions. Ryan is a goal scoring wing who has potted 30+ in the past three seasons. He's strong, fast and epitomizes the wing Bruins fans have prayed for over the past decade.

Drop a price range and four names come up: Simon Gagne, Dustin Brown, Claude Giroux and Ales Hemsky. While two of these guys have had injury issues over the past seasons, both have proven they can contribute,
especially Gagne who has done so as well in the playoffs (as Bruins fans remember). Brown, while not as offensively gifted, brings a power forward's game to the ice, is a leader, and a key cog on the Kings. Giroux at 23 is the most impressive of this bunch and just signed a three year deal at 3.75 (Krejci's current deal). While he's young, his numbers this season are nothing to scoff at and in his 40 game playoff career he's put up 38 points while shining enough for the Flyers to pass the offensive reins over to him this season.

So from these comparisons what do we find? That Krejci is not necessarily overpaid but that there are a number of contracts that might have been better comparisons. The fact that he did help win the cup this past season though is something that most guys on this list can't boast of (or at least couldn't when resigned) and thus sets him apart. The question is though, has he, or rather can he, be consistent enough to warrant the value placed on him?

Beyond the simple comparison numbers game, the timing of this deal is rather questionable. While GM Peter Chiarelli is known for getting his contracts done early, Krejci's seemed to linger, likely due to discrepancies in dollar value. During this lingering window a number of things have unfolded:
1. Tyler Seguin has emerged as the top offensive presence on this team
2. David Krejci's offensive contributions have been lacking (with numbers leaving him 9th on the team in points and one of only three negative players)
3. A number of players have been shopped around the league by teams looking to add 1st/2nd line centers to their roster

These three events opened up the questions originally asked in this article:

Is David Krejci expected to be a core component of this team going forward when Tyler Seguin is making significant strides in his sophomore season and with Patrice Bergeron already signed (and to add to that, two guys capable of playing center in Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley contributing as they have)? If he's going to play second fiddle to Seguin offensively and if it's in the best interest of the club to have Seguin move to center, then why pay him 5.25, a value given usually to key components of a team and along with that, an NMC?

While the NMC doesn't technically kick in until the 13-14 season, it's hard to believe that the Bruins will move Krejci before then. As he's just signed this deal if they were to move him before the season end the backlash of the move would be significant. Players looking at Boston for their new home could become wary as the perceived stability would be minimal. More importantly, guys currently on the team looking to stay would be less inclined to take 'hometown discounts' and instead elect to make sure they got what they could as the chance they could end up elsewhere would be in the front of their heads.

Trading Krejci next season would also be unlikely. A trade during that time frame would likely indicate that the Bruins had a log jam that needed clearing and potentially, a salary cap issue looming over them requiring resolution. In such a situation they would be trading as the underhanded team and the value they would receive in return would be much less than what they could potentially receive at this point in time (unless of course Krejci turned into a point a game player but at that point, it would not be him leaving the team most
likely). Anything beyond next season would then be limited by the NMC which would make things even worse.

So with that said, the timing of this deal is rather suspect. Krejci has been behind in play this season, the uncertainty around him being a key core player is in the air, and by signing him now, the Bruins have made it extremely difficult in potentially moving him (if the need is to arise). His status as an RFA makes it so that even if they did go to the off season without resigning him he couldn't simply just walk away and sign elsewhere. Of course the threat of an offer sheet is always there but at his current price the cost to the prospective team would be a 1st, 2nd and 3rd (certainly worth it). The Bruins could match the offer and likely offer additional years or considerations to make it easier for David to stay than go. So there hasn't necessarily been the need to have this deal done unless of course you're Peter Chiarelli and are thinking that it's too much of a weight on David's shoulders and getting it done means he'll finally start producing consistently like he did Wednesday against the Leafs.

The troubling aspect of this is the potential issues this sets up over the next few seasons. Specifically, how will Chiarelli handle the negotiations of Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin? Both have performed to a higher level than Krejci, could be considered more important to this team in coming seasons and could potentially go into the negotiations performing better than David Krejci (or at least let's hope so). At what ceiling can their requests be stayed? Will the need to be the highest paid guys on the team (or at least highest paid forwards) play into the talks and if so, will it result in either the forming of a top heavy team or a change in what the front lines of the team looks like?

If Krejci's numbers were held at 4.5 million then future talks would be simple: we're a team, all the guys that want to be here can be here and we'll get paid fairly well while doing really well. If he was stayed at 5 million then it still would be easy- we have a value we give to our top centers and leaders on this team while our upper tier guys are given slightly less and we still end up with enough to have depth. Giving Krejci more than other forwards though may or may not play out into other scenarios that lead to inflations in contracts. On the other hand it could easily be that increases in cap space will dictate that depending on when you sign a level of inflation will be taken into account and what you get is close and essentially comparable.

In any case we'll be left to wonder what if's as outsiders viewing this transaction. Could the Bruins have done better in the long run by packaging Krejci with prospects and maybe a defenseman to make a run at Ryan? Would it have been better off accepting an offer sheet for Krejci and then giving his money (and a bit more) to land that American Hero of a wing playing just south of Boston? Could Seguin slide into that #1 center role here and now and allow Krejci's money and value to be used to solidify our defensive corps that many find
shaky for another playoff run? We may never know the answers to these as Krejci is almost certainly here for the rest of this season and the following three, but for now, they'll be stuck in the minds of many.

At the end of the day though, even with these questions it's hard to say this wasn't the smartest move to make. Krejci is what this team knows and they've proven they can win with him here. The money and
terms aren't horrible and while we may have to make concessions in the future the more important thing to focus on at this point is the present and the present looks great. The team just came out of a November for the history books, we have depth up front, solid defense and what is likely the best goalie in the game (along with a not too shabby backup). The question marks are ones the team can take and worry about later on. For now they can once again focus on what's truly important- repeating last spring's miracle run.