Will the Real David Krejci Please Stand Up?

Bruins' Center David Krejci (Dan4th / Flickr)

With just one year remaining on the three-year, $11.25 million contract he signed following his breakout 2008-09 season, Boston Bruins’ center David Krejci is at a crossroads in his career. With 214 points in 298 games, he’s shown himself to be a decent playmaker and certainly worthy of every penny of the deal thus far. However, with another contract season approaching, the debate rages on as to whether DK can handle being the primary foci of an offense.

Despite accruing the most points of any Bruin over the past three seasons, Krejci hasn’t performed at an indisputable first-line level. After a breakout 2008-09 sophomore campaign where he grabbed 73 points in a tie for 28th in scoring, Krejci has disappointed somewhat with seasons of 52, and 62 points in 09-10 and 10-11 and averaging just 15 goals over those two years.

Part of the decline has to do with the quality of opponent he’s faced. In 08-09, Krejci was effectively Boston’s third-line center behind both Savard (who saw the best of the opposition’s defenses) and Bergeron (who saw the best of the opposition’s offenses) leading to his low even-strength Corsi Rel. QoC (opponents’ shot differential relative to their teammates and weighted by time-on-ice against … essentially indicative of the quality of a player’s competition). Effectively, he was playing easy minutes with linemates he meshed well with and had a justifiably good season.

David Krejci

David Krejci (Icon SMI)

The past two years, however, have seen him become the default No. 1 center due to injuries to Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron’s development defensively. As a result, his Corsi Rel. QoC shot up and his production took a nosedive. Even with the tougher minutes and greater responsibility, fifty-two points from a purported top-line center simply does not cut it.

However, there’s certainly no debating Krejci’s playoff production. At every level, from the QMJHL on up, he’s tallied stellar postseason numbers, capped off by his Stanley Cup Playoff-leading 23 in 2011. Whatever his regular-season stats may be – it’s hard to turn up your nose at his 19 goals and 44 points in 55 postseason games at the NHL level.

His playoff goal totals are also impressive – and would almost lead one to infer he’s a sniper. In grabbing more goals than assists during the past two playoff campaigns and almost equaling his regular-season goal total in 2010-11 during the postseason, he’s put the biscuit in the net at a rate of  a 30 goal scorer. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’d peg Krejci as a shoot-first type, though.

But when you look at the best centers from around the NHL … where would Krejci rank? He’s undoubtedly behind at least 10-15 of the NHL’s best – simply due to base production numbers – and there are arguments to be made that he wouldn’t deserve to crack the top 25 or 30, which really puts a dent in the “First-Line Center” argument.

His clutch, two-way play and consistent scoring are hard to ignore, but Krejci does little to “wow” you. As an average skater with a slightly above-average shot and modest physical play – some might say Krejci is nothing to write home about. However, Krejci’s “flash” comes from his almost Datsyukian puck-possession play, hockey acumen, elite vision, and passing. Very few players manage time and space like the B’s number 46.

With the depth of Boston’s offense being tested once again this year due to the departure of veterans Mark Recchi (retirement) and Michael Ryder (free agency), Krejci will need to show he’s capable of truly takings the reins of an offense. With his restricted free agency looming, DK will have to establish himself emphatically as more than just the Bruins’ de facto No. 1 to assure the Bruins throw hefty contract offers his way.

If Krejci had reached the market this season, one could imagine that he’d garner a pretty significant deal from talent-hungry organizations. I’d bet the Bruins would be loath to part with Krejci unless the price was ridiculously exorbitant, but stranger things have happened.

Much of what happens with Krejci’s future contract comes down to his play this season and the growth (and health) of Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. If Seguin has an offensive explosion in 2011-12, the B’s might feel less obligated to extend a big offer Krejci’s way – and you might see DK in even more trade rumors as the deadline approaches. Conversely, if Seguin struggles (or Bergeron gets hurt) the pressure will be on Chiarelli and Co. to get the Czech playmaker locked up before the offseason.

It certainly behooves Krejci to have the best season of his still very-young NHL career in 2011-12: With the inflated contracts of the ’11 offseason still in our memories, DK is likely to command a deal of worth more than $5 million annually for decent term (perhaps 4-6 years). With another barren UFA crop expected in 2012 the pressure to lock-up (or, in the case of other teams, trade for) a talent of his caliber will be high. A big season could see him push his new contract’s average annual value close to or beyond $6 million.

His contract situation notwithstanding, it’s time for Krejci to step up among hockey’s elite playmaking centers with a 75-80 point season. Can Krejci leap out of mediocrity – and into the company of Thornton, Richards and Getzlaf? If he does, David will silence his doubters and definitively earn the designation of “1C”.







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