The Bruins and general manager Peter Chiarelli are in what some would categorize as a salary cap pickle. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, Chiarelli has worked diligently to keep many of the faces that were integral to that championship run in the spoked-B. Newest to that list of holdovers is David Krejci, who reportedly inked a six-year extension on Wednesday, as Chiarelli continued to keep the band together by locking up the center long-term.
Krejci was set to hit free agency next summer, and Chiarelli was ultimately put in a very difficult position. While keeping Krejci was an obvious conclusion, for the money and term it will cost the Bruins, the price was wrong.
The Krejci extension will kick in after he finishes out the final year of his current deal this season. By that time, Krejci will be 29-years-old, and will be under contract in Boston through age 35. That alone isn’t worrisome, but the fact that his new deal will pay him north of $7 million all the way through is.
It isn’t anything about Krejci’s current play, or his role on the team that causes immediate concern, simply the fact that, should Krejci’s production dip as he enters his mid-30’s (as so is the trend for many players), and the Bruins will still be paying a gaudy salary for his services.
There’s also the matter of paying Krejci based on a defined role or title. He’s good enough to be a number one center in this league, although, regardless of how Claude Julien or any pundit chooses to label it, Patrice Bergeron is the Bruins top center. The Bergeron line consistently faces top competition, and does the heavy lifting among Boston’s forward groups.
And therein lies another issue: Krejci is the Bruins No. 2 center, making top dollar. The Bruins saw this past summer just how crippling the cap ceiling can be, as the front office was forced to sit and watch as other teams were movers. Having a player of Krejci’s skill level as your No. 2 center is the opposite of a problem, until you crunch the numbers, and take into account the total sum Boston is allocating to a player who amounts to its number two.
The problem is, had Chiarelli allowed Krejci to go unsigned and charged ahead without him, and the outcry would have most likely been negative. The free agent market for centers next summer is very thin, and Krejci represented the best option among would-be available players. And of course, the money the Bruins paid Krejci in early September is equal to or less than what a team on the open market would have shelled out for him in July. But you don’t operate based on what the market would pay, especially when you’re head is practically bumping into the cap ceiling.
As it stands, the Bruins have a shade under $54 million in committed salaries next season, with the cap reportedly set to increase yet again. That $54 million though is locked up between 11 players, and it’s important to note that includes Marc Savard, and the $4 million figure he carries. There will be plenty of cap for Chiarelli and co. to play with, but also over half a roster to fill. And among those who will need contracts next summer are Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid (although the likelihood one of those players isn’t moved decreases by the day), Carl Soderberg, and potentially Torey Krug and Reilly Smith.
All of this adds up to more difficult decisions ahead for Chiarelli. However he chooses to navigate next summer, sans the money spent on Krejci, and the summer of 2016 will see both Milan Lucic and Loui Eriksson in need of new deals. No single contract is unilateral in a capped system. The center depth the Bruins keep with Krejci could mean a sacrifice or two in the coming years.
And above all, there’s the matter of the unknown. Krejci’s per-year payout will make him one of the richest centers in all of hockey, although, NHL contracts continue to swell as revenue increases. It’s why comparing Krejci’s contract to that of Bergeron is apples-to-oranges. But that doesn’t fully eliminate the risk of Chiarelli’s latest move, while the value of $7 million in the NHL in 2019 could be dramatically different, and yet could still be more than what Krejci’s worth. And the question remains how much of the Bruins future flexibility Chiarelli mortgaged in doling out the big bucks for Krejci.