David Krejci has scored three goals and 14 points in 23 games this season. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)
A hair over the quarter mark of the season, you can probably count the nights that David Krejci has looked like, well, David Krejci, on one hand. You might even only need a couple of fingers to do it, actually.
With three goals and 14 points through 23 games this season, Krejci is currently paced for an 11-goal, 50-point season. Both those figures would finish as Krejci’s lowest totals in any full season (years excluding injury or lockout shortened campaigns) since a six-goal, 27-point rookie season in Claude Julien’s first year behind the bench in 2007.
Those projections assume that Krejci stays healthy and fails to miss any time this season, too. That’s proven to be pretty difficult in these last couple of seasons, with 35 games missed in 2014-15, 10 games missed a year ago, and an offseason hip surgery forcing Krejci out of action for the Czech Republic in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey this fall.
The surgery — Krejci’s second hip procedure since the 2009 offseason — was a likely reason for a slow start that featured just three assists in the first nine games of the season. For the record, Krejci refused to let it become an excuse.
“I wouldn’t be playing if I was [still] hurt,” Krejci said back then.
It also didn’t help that Krejci’s linemates were what they were at the beginning of the season, which was both a revolving door and a staunch change from the norm he had become accustomed to in town. With Patrice Bergeron on the shelf to begin the season, Krejci’s projected go-to winger on the second line, David Backes, was moved to the middle of the club’s first line. That left Krejci with Ryan Spooner and Danton Heinen on his wings. One was a center and the other was jumping from the NCAA to the NHL. Overall, Krejci skated with over four different line combination in the opening 10 games of the season, so could he really be blamed for failing to develop any meaningful chemistry? And in fact, Krejci’s first impactful presence on his line didn’t come ’til Oct. 26, when the Bruins recalled Austin Czarnik — another natural center — up to his wing because they simply had to.
In just three years, Krejci went from having top-tier talents such as Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton or Jarome Iginla on his wing to Loui Eriksson (a departure he was pretty vocal about this past summer given the chemistry he felt the duo had) to Czarnik, Spooner, and Heinen. Perhaps his frustration — and dip in production — was understandable, to say the least.
(Backes, by the way, is finally with Krejci on a second line with Tim Schaller moved up to the left side of the line.)
And though the chemistry developed between Backes and Krejci has appeared laborious at times since being united on the same line, Krejci has finally found results with points in seven of his last 10 games (two goals and nine points overall).
But there’s been no greater performance from No. 46 than his effort in Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Flyers.
Behind a season-high eight shots on goal, Krejci scored his third goal of the season and one that kickstarted the Bruins’ comeback that earned the club a much needed point, and nearly struck for the overtime winner in the waning moments of the three-on-three. Krejci was also a monster possession wise, with an 81.3 CF%, with 26 shot attempts for and just six against at five-on-five play (and on the road against a Philly club that’s been a pretty solid five-on-five team this season, too).
What stuck out about Krejci’s night, though, was the number of shots he put on goal. Krejci alone attempted 14 of the Bruins’ 80 total attempts on Steve Mason on a night in which Mason stopped all but two of 47 shots on net (and then eight of nine of the B’s shootout attempts, including one by Krejci in the bottom of the sixth round). And through 23 games this season, Krejci has put 52 shots on goal and is currently paced for a 190-shot or so season. That would be a new career-high by about 30 shots, too.
This does seem somewhat telling.
With his go-to shooters out of town, Krejci has appeared to put more onus on himself to shoot the puck and create opportunities. That makes sense when the best presence on your wing is a front-of-the-net rebounder like Backes, of course, but it also speaks to the do-it-yourself mindset that No. 46 could have now forced upon himself given the thinned out goal scoring ability on the B’s wings. I mean, the Bruins currently have three natural centers — four if you care to include Backes though I believe the Bruins have always envisioned him as more of a winger-by-design, center-by-necessity type of talent — playing out of position and on the wings. Part of that is because they’re down Frank Vatrano, but also because the club lost so many wingers this past offseason, and of course, all three have skated with Krejci at various points this season, including his current left wing, Schaller.
The so-called fancy stats back this theory up, too, as Krejci is averaging 6.26 five-on-five shots per 60 minutes through 23 games this year after back-to-back seasons in which Krejci averaged just under five shots per game in such a category. In fact, this 6.26 mark is his highest mark there since he averaged the same exact figure in 2013-14, which was perhaps his most consistent year. (Krejci finished that season with 19 goals and 69 points in 80 games and had just two streaks of five games without a point.)
And not for nothing, at $7.25 million per season, it’s sorta what you’d expect.
One of the harsh realities Krejci has been forced to cope with in recent years is the fact that the Bruins can’t keep everybody. Even if they’re his linemates or there’s chemistry to his right or left. Even if they wanted to, too. Part of the reason that’s the case is because Krejci is making over $7 million per season. Krejci is one of only 19 active NHL forwards counting for at least $7.25 million against his team’s cap and all of those teams are either budget teams (like Bobby Ryan’s Senators) or have been forced to move on from players they really liked at one point or another. Hell, you could make a whole roster out of the players the Blackhawks have been forced to move on from to pay the likes of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and even Vladimir Tarasenko’s Blues have been forced to make tough decisions (it might be the only reason the B’s landed Backes last summer).
That said, you obviously can’t fault Krejci for accepting that much money from the B’s front office in Sept. 2014 (I’d probably go do just about anything if you offered me $7 million dollars for the next seven years), but it’s a real thing that’s hurt the Bruins.
But it might be something that Krejci has finally accepted as an inevitability in a tight salary cap world.
If that acceptance leads to more nights like Tuesday in Philly, where Krejci realized that it’s on him — not the castoffs he was close to in the past — to make his line a dominant force, then that $7.25 million cap hit will return to its status as money well spent.