Damn those Blackhawks.
One year they go and cost the Bruins another Stanley Cup, the next they just might have decided the fate of one of their best players.
That gasp you might have heard Wednesday in the general vicinity of the TD Garden wasn’t from local residents discovering that Aaron Hernandez was getting his transfer to the Nashua Street jail. It was from Peter Chiarelli’s front office after learning that Chicago locked up forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to identical eight-year, $84 million extensions, the sort of deals that makes fellow NHL general managers scan their own rosters for players due money and moan. The dynamic duo scored a combined 57 goals last season for the Blackhawks, and another 37 points over the course of 19 postseason games last spring. Beginning next season, they’ll both average $10.5 million per season through 2023, which isn’t a bad haul if you can get it.
David Krejci can, which is why he’s - per usual - smiling politely.
What are the Bruins going to do with Krejci? The 28-year-old driving center is an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season and in line for a payday similar to the one teammate Patrice Bergeron got with the Bruins last year, an eight-year, $52 million extension. That simply doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough to keep Krejci in Black and Gold for the better part of the next decade. Krejci will make $5.25 million this season and will command much more a year from now, if the Bruins don’t intend to sign him to a long-term deal before then.
It's no revelation that the Bruins truly have put themselves in a cap situation that’s going to be difficult to wriggle out of. Their payroll for 2014-15 sits at about $67.6 million right now, just up against the $69 million cap, one of the many reasons why 30-goal scorer Jarome Iginla will play in Colorado the next three seasons. Next offseason, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Carl Soderberg, Adam McQuaid, and Johnny Boychuk are coming off the books, all joining Krejci in unrestricted free agency. Chiarelli will need to work out a way to keep Soderberg, face the reality that he might not be able to afford Boychuk, and wave farewell to the other pieces as well. As long as he wants to keep Krejci for the long term, that is.
As much as Bruins fans don’t want to acknowledge it, trading Krejci this summer would solve a lot of the Bruins’ headaches going forward, but in no way does that mean it's the logical avenue. If it were though, Chiarelli could more easily sign Soderberg and Boychuk to long-term deals, as well as give the likes of Reilly Smith, Torey Krug (restricted free agents), and Dougie Hamilton (RFA next summer) the paydays they’re due.
In 2013-14, Krejci had his strongest regular-season campaign since the 2008-09 season, scoring 19 goals to go with his team-leading 50 assists. But he uncharacteristically disappeared in the playoffs, tallying only four assists as the Bruins lost in the second round to the Montreal Canadiens, despite heading into the second season with a big, shiny President’s Trophy.
Nobody is clamoring to ship Krejci out based on his poor postseason, and there is certainly a general knowledge that the center is the straw that stirs the Bruins' drink. But if Chiarelli and the Bruins want to remain steadfast in their philosophy of maintaining depth across the roster, don't be surprised if it's something they might explore, if they haven't already.
True, the cap will go up in time for next season but by how much? As it is, the Bruins had to be less than pleased about the current, $69 million reality, leading to both their inability to re-sign Iginla as well as what it means to keeping the current core intact. The biggest dilemma is this though: Does surrendering Krejci give the Bruins enough leeway that they can move forward with this same group with fewer cap issues (yes) and does it mean they've created a crater where their best playmaker once resided (yes)?
Essentially, what's more important to the Bruins? Winning the Stanley Cup next season or having financial freedom to remain a contender for the long term?
That's a difficult question to answer with no right or wrong response. Dealing Krejci for perhaps unequal value would have to put the ultimate faith in the future of players like Soderberg and Ryan Spooner, the center who spent most of last season in Providence (17 goals, 40 assists) who the Bruins seem loathe to shift to a wing slot for whatever reason, even if Chiarelli did mention him last week as one possibility for the team’s need in the absence of Iginla. And if you think the Bruins' cap issues have limited what they can do in the present, how much worse might they be with Krejci - at big dollars - going forward? True, the Blackhawks' deals with Kane and Toews may also strap them in regards to the salary cap going forward, but the longer you commit, the more assurance teams can have in that number going up annually.
Is that enough? Can the Bruins put faith in the system in order to keep Krejci around? That’s a tough call, one only perhaps only exacerbated by the Blackhawks’ latest moves.
On the flip side, we are no longer talking about whether or not the Bruins want to pay one of their more important players but whether they can. But that sort of refreshment doesn’t make things any easier when building your team for the long haul. The bet here is that the Bruins and Krejci agree to a long-term deal by the time training camp ends, ending speculation that has been brewing for some time now.
But at what cost? Both now and later?
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