Bruins Lose Franchise Cornerstone and Essential Piece in Krejci

After 15 years in the NHL, David Krejci is returning to his home country of the Czech Republic. The 35-year-old had the following to say about his decision to go home.

“Since the end of the season, as I have thought about my future, it has become clear that I need to make a difficult decision for my family and I. At this point in my career and life, I need to return to the Czech Republic and play in front of my family, who sacrificed so much to help me achieve my NHL dreams,” Krejci said in a statement Friday. “I want to play in front of my parents, brother and friends. I want my children to live where I grew up.”

Wyshynski, Greg. “Longtime Boston Bruins center David Krejci returning to native Czech Republic.” ESPN. July 30, 2021.

For over a decade, Boston Bruins fans have become accustomed to Krejci centering either the first or second line. From the iconic grouping of him, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton, to his success last season with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, he has been a reliable presence in the black and gold. 

The on-ice loss is pretty obvious. Even with a rotating cast of wings in recent seasons, Krejci hardly lost a step, even as he’s reached his mid-thirties. This past season, though he only had eight goals, he still had 36 assists for 44 total points in 51 games. He’s been essential on the powerplay and “Playoff Krejci” will go down as one of the most clutch Bruins in history. 

But the off-ice loss is also something that needs to be taken into consideration. Krejci served as an alternate captain since 2013, following the departure of Andrew Ference (another tremendous leader). He brought a calm and steady maturity to the locker room that will be missed as the Bruins turn their focus to getting younger in the next few seasons.

Krejci leaves a remarkable legacy in North American hockey, in Bruins history, and the team will have a real adjustment period without him. As he heads back across the Atlantic, it’s a good time to look back at his career in the black and gold. 

Quiet Beginnings

The 2004 NHL Entry Level Draft was highlighted by some big names, and memorable for the fact that it was the last draft before the lost 2004 – 2005 season due to a lockout. Alexander Ovechkin was the first overall selection, followed by Evgeni Malkin, and both have had what one might consider good NHL careers. Other notable selections were Blake Wheeler (a former Bruin) at number five, goaltender Devan Dubnyk at 14, Travis Zajac at 20, Cory Schneider at 26, and Mike Green at 29. 

The Bruins did not have a first-round pick in that draft due to a trade that sent Sergei Gonchar to Boston from the Washington Capitals. Krejci was their first selection of the 2004 Entry Level Draft at pick No. 63, which they received in a trade from the San Jose Sharks

Many players fly under the radar if they aren’t selected in the first round, and that was definitely a good way to describe a lot of Krejci’s career, particularly the early years. 

David Krejci had modest beginnings before appearing in the NHL. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After playing for HC Olomouc U18, HC Ocelari Trinec (both U18 and U20), and HC Kladno U20 in the Czech Republic, Krejci made the transition to North American hockey in the 2004-05 season. He played for the Gatineau Olympiques in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In that first season, he had 63 points in 62 games and 10 points in 12 playoff games. 

After two seasons in the QMJHL, Krejci made his NHL debut on Jan. 30, 2007 against the Buffalo Sabres. The Bruins lost that game, but they won on Oct. 6, 2007 when he notched his first career point: an assist on a goal from Marco Sturm.

His first career goal came in 2008 on Feb. 26 in a 4-0 win over the Ottawa Senators. Two months later, he made his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut. In those first years he was good, but it wasn’t yet obvious what was to come.

It took a few years to find his footing in the NHL, and finally Krejci had his breakout year in the 2008-09 season. He had his first career hat trick that season against the Toronto Maple Leafs and ended with 22 goals and 73 total points. At the end of the season, he was awarded NESN’s Seventh Player Award.

Road to a Stanley Cup

While it’s hard to know what exactly he will be remembered for years down the line, Krejci’s playoff performances were something quite remarkable. In particular though, his 2011 playoffs performance will be remembered, and not just because it ended with Boston lifting the Cup.

After a breakthrough 2008-09 season, Krejci took a slight step back in the ensuing seasons. After scoring 22 goals, he followed it up with only 17 and 13 in 2009-10 and 2010-11, respectively. He also saw dips in his plus/minus and shooting percentage. 

His 2011 playoff performance was a game changer for his NHL career. After having his 2010 playoffs cut short due to a wrist injury during the disastrous Philadelphia Flyers series that saw them up 3-0 in the series and then lose the next four games. Taking center stage as the first line center with Horton and Lucic, he elevated his game to the next level. In 23 playoff games, he had 12 goals, nearly matching his 13 from his 75 regular season games. Four of those were game winners.

When it mattered the most, Krejci knew how to bring it and that was essential in them winning the franchise’s sixth Stanley Cup. Even Horton’s concussion during the playoffs failed to slow his momentum. While he wasn’t the most flashy player on the ice, he always managed to come up big when they needed him the most. It was that reliability to deliver in the moment that cemented him as a cornerstone of this franchise, one that won’t soon be forgotten.

The Legend of Playoff Krejci

It wasn’t just the 2011 playoffs that saw Krejci taking his play to the next level. Every time the Bruins made it to the postseason, he was a player to keep an eye on, because even if he had a relatively quiet regular season, playoff Krejci was just waiting to come out and play. 

In the 2013 playoffs on the Bruins road to another Stanley Cup Final appearance, Krejci managed to have an even more impressive postseason. In 22 games he had 26 points and was a plus-13. His regular season numbers of 33 points in 47 games weren’t bad either, but they paled in comparison to what he did when the pressure ramps up. 

It truly is a special kind of athlete that is able to thrive under the pressure. In Boston, when thinking of athletes who play their best when the spotlight is the brightest, one usually thinks of Tom Brady first. But, Krejci has a similar skill, though in a game like hockey it doesn’t usually go quite as noticed. 

David Krejci Boston Bruins
David Krejci was stellar for the Bruins in the playoffs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Bruins made playoff appearances in 12 out of his 15 seasons, meaning we were lucky to be able to see so much of Playoff Krejci. The 2014 postseason is the only one that sticks out as a poor performance, with four assists in 12 games, but that Bruins team realistically wasn’t going to win the Stanley Cup. Even in his first playoff appearance in 2008 he had five points in seven games. 

Krejci finishes his playoff career with 124 points in 156 career playoff games. This is good for fifth amongst active players since he debuted in the 2006-07 season. Ahead of him are what you could say are familiar names: Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin, Malkin, and Patrick Kane. He’s second on the Bruins’ list of all-time points leaders in the playoffs, behind Ray Bourque and right ahead of teammates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Late Career Highs and Lows

In the last few seasons, the Bruins have lacked depth and it has been most glaring on Krejci’s right wing. After some consistency early in his career, he has had a rotating cast on his wings for the second half. At one point or another, he’s played with almost every wing that has come through the system.

Still, Krejci has managed his consistency, largely due to his excellent power-play presence. He had 44 points in 64 games in 2017-18, an extraordinary 73 points in 81 games in 2018-19, and another 44 points in 64 games in the 2019-20 season that came to an abrupt end due to the pandemic. 

Krejci’s last contract was signed on Sept. 7, 2014, a year removed from his tremendous playoff performance, It was a six-year, $43.5 million deal that gave him an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $7.25 million. He’s been the highest paid Bruin for the past few seasons, which has drawn some criticism when the second line struggled to produce, particularly this past season when Jake DeBrusk hit a rough patch and he only scored eight goals.

David Krejci David Pastrnak Boston Bruins
David Krejci and David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Even with inconsistent wings that prevented him from being as effective as he probably could have been, he still managed great numbers throughout his whole career, even at the end. At 35, he would still be the best center option for the Bruins, which is why it’s so hard to see him go.

A Franchise Player

What Krejci has achieved in his years as a Bruin is extraordinary. He finishes with 730 total points in 962 games. He’s currently eighth on the all-time leaderboard for the Bruins in points. His 515 career assists are seventh on the team’s all-time assists leaderboard.

He may not have the individual awards of some of his teammates, but at the end of the day, that wasn’t really his style. He was always a quiet contributor who put his emphasis on the success of the team. He was the perfect locker room guy and from all accounts, a terrific teammate. 

Boston Bruins David Krejci
David Krejci was a franchise player for the Bruins. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Krejci will be missed next season, especially since the Bruins have no one currently signed or in the system that looks like a sure replacement. Then again, he isn’t an easily replaceable player. As it’s already been mentioned, there aren’t many players who are able to flip the switch when it comes to playoff time like he can. 

There is of course, always a chance that he could return. Both Krejci and the Bruins are leaving the door open to a potential return somewhere down the line. For now, He has signed with HC Olomouc of the Czech Extraliga, giving him the chance to play in front of his family and fellow countrymen. But it is only a one-year contract, so you never know. We may see Krejci in the black and gold again.

But if this is truly the end, kudos to him for going out on his terms and ending his career on a high note. Oftentimes we see players continue on long past their primes, becoming a shell of their former selves. Krejci is leaving on a positive note, and will be remembered as an essential franchise player and instrumental in a Stanley Cup win for years to come.

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