According to CapGeek.com, the Boston Bruins are currently $809,000 over the salary cap for the 2014-15 season. That number flips from an $800k overage to $3.2 million worth of wiggle room once Marc Savard’s placed on LTIR, but it does not include pending offers to Torey Krug, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser, nor any moves the Bruins may make prior to rosters becoming official on the cusp of the new season.
It also consists of $4,779,500 in bonus payments that were pushed into 2014-15, mostly from Jarome Iginla’s cap-friendly contract from last season. Looking at the projections for 2015-16 on CapGeek.com, the Bruins will have just over $22 million in cap space.
This may sound like a lot of money, but the list of UFAs and RFAs they will have to consider signing at that juncture is expansive. That list is below, and you will see some names that should make you take pause:
Unrestricted Free Agents
- Matt Bartkowski
- Johnny Boychuk
- Gregory Campbell
- David Krejci
- Adam McQuaid
- Daniel Paille
- Carl Soderberg
Restricted Free Agents
- Jordan Caron
- Justin Florek
- Dougie Hamilton
- Niklas Svedberg
There will also be 13 players on two-way deals with the Providence Bruins who will hit restricted free agency. To pile on, the Bruins will see the following players hit unrestricted free agency the following year for the 2016-17 season:
- Loui Eriksson
- Chris Kelly
- Milan Lucic
- Kevan Miller
It is clear that Peter Chiarelli will have his work cut out for him over the next few seasons, not only to keep the Bruins competitive, but also cap-compliant. A question the Bruins will be asking themselves is who will be a part of the core of the team moving forward and does that make them worth investing a large portion of their cap space into a contract? If not, then does it make sense to move that person in a trade to get value rather than lose them without compensation in free agency?
It is my opinion that David Krejci is the skater the Bruins need to scrutinize the most with these questions.
Since the conclusion of his entry-level deal, Krejci has been signed to two three-year contracts, most recently at $5.25 million — a pay raise of $1.5 million from his previous non-entry-level NHL contract. Krejci earned his current contract after leading the league in goals and points during the playoffs when the Bruins won their 2011 Stanley Cup. When the Bruins won the East again in 2013, Krejci once again led the league in playoff points, and this time led in assists as well.
Krejci has never cracked the top 10 in points for a centerman during the regular season, but he has proven to be an elite offensive center during the playoffs. The Bruins owe their playoff success over the past few seasons to the play of Krejci and what he has brought out of his linemates. With the disappointing performance the Bruins gave in last year’s playoffs, Krejci’s name comes up as shouldering some of the blame.
With such dominant performances in 2011 and 2013, Krejci was surprisingly invisible in 2014, notching only four points — all of them assists. Krejci contributed to only four of the 30 goals the Bruins scored over their 12 games played. Part of this is surely game planning; any team which didn’t focus their defense against Krejci’s line with Iginla and Lucic was playing a fool’s game. The Bruins were hindered greatly when the trio was stifled and frustrated.
Though Krejci can’t completely control the opportunities he gets to score, you expect your second highest-paid center to contribute more than eight percent of the team’s 52 total assists. This is especially true after he came off a 69-point season — his best total since 2008-09 — on a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy, all while finishing a goal shy of becoming the sixth Bruin to hit the 20-goal mark that season — a group that included both of his linemates.
Noting that third-line center Carl Soderberg outperformed Krejci in the playoffs — while making $4 million less — is unfair due to the quality of competition each faces, but it does illustrate the depth the Bruins have at center.
Looking into the Providence Bruins, Ryan Spooner and Alex Khokhlachev played at 0.94 and 0.88 points per game respectively last season and could be poised to see additional NHL time. Spooner saw 23 games of NHL action during the 2013-14 season and notched 11 points, though he didn’t score any goals.
Having players bordering on being NHL-ready puts pressure on the Bruins to create roster space or deal them in order to have their value working for them. Both Spooner and Khokhlachev had been named in several trade rumors over the past few seasons, and that may be the path Chiarelli decides to take, but their cheap salaries may become more attractive to the Bruins as they look to deal with their cap situation.
So what does this all mean for Krejci’s future with the Bruins?
He has been a key component of Boston’s roster in some form since he was signed in 2006 and has only become a stronger part of the team over the past eight seasons. The Bruins’ biggest need may not be retaining and paying for a top-line center, but building right wing depth.
Could the Bruins trade Krejci to get an NHL-ready right winger and bring up cheaper centermen who are ready for NHL action with lower cap hits? This could give Chiarelli the ability to not only retain someone else from the free agents the Bruins will have, but he could also go elsewhere in the market or have space to make additional trades — something the Bruins have been unable to do this offseason.
As someone who enjoys the subtle-but-effective game Krejci plays it pains me to say the Bruins may be better off long-term by trading him.
The Bruins would continue to build around Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask as their long-term core, while trying to maximize the remaining window they can get from Zdeno Chara and developing Dougie Hamilton as the future leader of the defense. Letting Bergeron and Soderberg shoulder more of the centering responsibilities, while strengthening and giving them additional speed on the right side, could change how the team is able to compete in an Atlantic Division that appears to be getting faster.
The Bruins certainly would have an elite player, should they re-sign Krejci, but they may force themselves out of being able to add the pieces necessary to make a complete team.
One can’t ignore the fact that it’d be a gamble to put some of the responsibility on unproven players that could be coming up from the AHL. However, having the space and ability to make moves to strengthen your team — think Marian Gaborik for the Los Angeles Kings — can be extremely valuable in a league that is constantly becoming more competitive — and one that’s annually conquered by teams with nary any weaknesses.
Trading Krejci and freeing up the precious cap space to be able to address their identified weaknesses could make the bold move worth the risk.