Bruins Have Options if Krejci Leaves in Free Agency

The month of July is one that is going to be big for the Boston Bruins between the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, the Entry Draft, and free agency. In his six seasons on the job, this could be viewed as the biggest offseason in Don Sweeney’s tenure as general manager as he assembles the 2021-22 roster.

At their end of the season final media availability after the Bruins were eliminated by the New York Islanders in the second round of the playoffs, Sweeney and team President Cam Neely both expressed the desire to build a roster for next season that competes for a Stanley Cup championship for the team’s veteran core players.

There are some decisions that the Bruins are going to have to make in regards to their own free agents. There are some veteran players that are eligible to hit the open market that would be key in retaining for next season. One of those players is second-line center, David Krejci. One of the two Bruins’ alternate captains this season, Krejci has spent 15 seasons in Boston, and his six-year, $43.5 million contract that had a cap hit of $7.25 million expires this summer.

David Krejci Boston Bruins
David Krejci, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If the Bruins are intending to build a roster to compete for a championship next season, then Krejci is one of the free agents they need to bring back. If he does come back, it certainly would have to be on a deal that is less than what he made last season. Krejci left following the postseason elimination uncertain if he is going to return to the Black and Gold or go to the Czech Republic to finish his career.

If Krejci does not come back, that leaves the Bruins with a depth chart of Charlie Coyle, Jack Studnicka, and Curtis Lazar up the middle behind Patrice Bergeron. Boston might have to look through free agency to fill his spot and if they do, here are two options.

Mikael Granlund

Granlund had a good season for the Nashville Predators with 13 goals and 14 assists centering the second line. A left-shot, he had six power play points this season, but the 29-year-old, who was drafted ninth overall in the 2010 Entry Draft by the Minnesota Wild, had two 20-goal seasons with the Wild in 2016-17 and 2017-18. In the playoffs, Granlund had two goals and three assists in the Predators’ first-round series they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in six games.

Mikael Granlund Nashville Predators
Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Two stats that would be concerning is the drop Granlund had in his Corsi for (CF%) and Fenwick for (FF%) from the 2019-20 season to this past season. In 2019-20, he had a 55.9 CF% and a 56.4 FF%, but in the 2020-21 shortened, his CF% dropped to 49.1% and FF% dropped to 49%. Despite the drop in numbers, Granlund is in line for a pay raise from his one-year, $3.75 million contract he signed last offseason with Nashville after being traded there by Minnesota in February of 2019. A three-year deal with a cap hit of $4.5 million would be cheaper than what Krejci would require to re-sign and in the Bruins price range.

Phillip Danault

Danault may not be the flashy name as an unrestricted free agent center, but he would be perfect for the Bruins should Krejci leave. Danault, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks 26th overall in 2011, was traded from Chicago to the Montreal Canadiens in February of 2016 and has become a key center in Montreal. During the Canadiens run to the Stanley Cup Final, he averaged 18:56 a night.

Phillip Danault, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What the Bruins would be losing in Krejci as a play-maker, they would be making up for it with Danault. In 2018-19, he had a career-high 41 assists and followed that up with 34 in 2019-20. He scored 25 goals combined in those two seasons. In the 56-game 2020-21 regular season, Danault had five goals and 19 assists.

Danault carried a cap hit of $3.083,333 million on the final year of a three-year, $9.25 million contract. A left-handed shot, he turned down a long-term deal with the Canadiens prior to the 2020-21 season, which is allowing him to hit free agency on July 28. There is no doubt that he will see a raise in salary in his next contract this summer, but if Krejci leaves, Danault could be a $5 million yearly cap hit replacement on the second line for the remaining championship window with the Bruins’ veteran core.

Krejci’s Decision Will Dictate What’s Done

If Krejci takes a pay cut to come back, then there’s no reason Sweeney and Bruins would not re-sign him. If he leaves, there will be a cause for concern as to what things would look like on the second line at center. Coyle’s inconsistency and injury history is a red flag, as well is the lack of experience from Studnicka. There’s a good chance that if Krejci leaves, the Black and Gold will be left filling his departure through free agency, and Granlund and Danault are good starting points.