Only a substantial sacrifice elsewhere on the roster would permit the Boston Bruins to retain David Krejci for another contract. If the parties in question pull that off, that still will not signal a career-long alliance.
That is why the likes of Alexander Khokhlachev, Carl Soderberg and Ryan Spooner will warrant extra scrutiny in 2014-15. Whether or not any of those pivots pick up traction as potential successors could sway Boston’s level of urgency to reserve cap space for Krejci.
Per CapGeek, the 28-year-old will rake in $5,250,000 for the third consecutive year as his third contract winds down. Given his recent performances as the first-line center, he is sure to command nothing less ahead of next summer’s free agency.
Krejci has plenty of company among Bruins currently without a contract beyond this season. He has six fellow unrestricted free agents in Matt Bartkowski, Johnny Boychuk, Gregory Campbell, Adam McQuaid, Daniel Paille and Soderberg.
Elsewhere, defensive prodigy Dougie Hamilton juts out as Boston’s top restricted free agent for 2015. The rest have an ambiguous long-term status with the franchise, although Spooner is currently one of the club’s “non-roster” RFAs.
Hamilton and Spooner are approaching the end of their entry-level pacts, while the late-blooming Soderberg will soon seek his second NHL deal. Assuming all three return to the Bruins, they figure to command the highest raises outside of, or perhaps including, Krejci.
Backup goaltender Niklas Svedberg, who is making $600,000 on a one-year deal this year, could also earn an uptick if he re-signs next summer.
Pending renewals for two current RFAs, namely Torey Krug and Reilly Smith, the Bruins are already looking at a long-term cap crunch. They have just 10 contracts locked in for 2015-16 and less than one-third of the projected space still open.
Take Marc Savard out of that equation and they have only nine players in place for that season. Based on the current CapGeek projection, that means working with barely $26 million to secure the services of 13 other players. That is if they want the traditional quorum of four full lines, three defensive pairings and two netminders plus a pair of spare skaters.
Simply put, banking on an average cap hit of $2 million for those 13 additives is an impossible proposition. Boychuk, Hamilton, Spooner and Soderberg are all bound to gross above that threshold.
Krejci? He figures to garner a new deal that would put him no lower than the range between $6 million and $7 million.
The Bruins already have four players imposing a cap hit in the range. Milan Lucic is consuming $6 million of space for the next two years. Patrice Bergeron’s pact comes with a $6.5 million hit until 2021-22. Zdeno Chara will continue to cost $6,916,667 for another three years while Tuukka Rask leads the team with a $7 million hit until 2021.
The fact that those team’s collective cap hits are tamer than Boston’s doubly underscores the trickiness of Krejci’s long-term destiny.
This does not, however, cement the coming season as Krejci’s Spoked-B swan song. A multitude of initiatives and developments can help the Bruins clear enough congestion as early as this fall or winter.
The team’s oft-mentioned overstock of centers has more than just Khokhlachev and Spooner facing temporary employment on the wings. The same goes for veteran Chris Kelly, whose injury plague enabled Soderberg to nab the middle third-line slot in 2013-14.
The 33-year-old Kelly, who is one of the 10 Bruins locked in for 2015-16, is taking $3 million in cap space for the next two years. If he establishes consistent health this season, a trade to a team looking for a veteran depth pivot is thoroughly plausible.
An ostensibly bolder move would be to dangle winger Brad Marchand, whose contract runs through 2016-17 and takes $4.5 million in cap room.
The lower likelihood of that scenario stems from general manager Peter Chiarelli’s proclamation in June that Marchand is not on the block. But that could always change around midseason if Marchand is in another toe-curling funk and there is a more cost-effective option to fill the second-line left wing.
With defense being Boston’s other quantitative positional surplus, exporting Boychuk and his $3,366,667 cap hit is another possibility.
Granted, that would do nothing to directly free up space on the 2015-16 payroll projection. It would, however, preempt one round of contract renewal talks and may land the Bruins a worthwhile return piece.
Still, from a sheer on-ice make-up standpoint, a Boychuk break-up is hardly a desirable proposition. Between Chara’s noticeable aging and Kevan Miller all but rendering the oft-injured McQuaid obsolete, Boston needs Boychuk for his proven stamina and stay-at-home proficiency.
Then again, would shedding Boychuk be any less desirable than the prospect of parting with Krejci?
The answer depends on how soon and how closely the Bruins could replace either one of those key cogs.
When it is visible, as it generally is, Krejci’s playmaking prowess speaks for itself. His 50 assists in 2013-14 fell one shy of his career high of 51 from 2008-09 and resembled his 2010-11 output of 49 regular-season helpers.
Although his postseasons have followed a hit-and-miss pattern in this decade, 2011 and 2013 are about as high as the bar can go.
For all of their potential, Khokhlachev and Spooner are not likely to reach that bar as early as the 2016 playoffs.
There may be a chance that Soderberg makes strides toward first-line-caliber play, especially if proven partner Loui Eriksson is moving up. The Swedish strikers at times performed beyond their third-line billing this past spring, though the sample size is hardly reliable at this stage.
That is why every shift the potential replacements take down the middle in 2014-15 should count toward drawing the Bruins blueprint for future seasons. Chiarelli can only gauge Krejci’s expendability if Soderberg, or even one of the rookies, earns and pounces on momentary promotions over the next regular season.
Anything short of a convincing breakout by another natural center ought to bring other space-saving options into play. Krejci’s assets and tenure with the club (he has been a regular since the middle of 2007-08) render the other short-term choices overwhelmingly unattractive.
Only an unlikely Red Sox-like regression would make Krejci logical trade bait before the 2015 deadline. His export, more than that of any other less-than-untouchable member of the Bruins roster, would risk too many internal shockwaves ahead of the postseason.
A deadline deal might surface as a means of lessening the odds of Krejci later going to a divisional or conference rival via free agency, but it's just as likely that a trade partner would take him as a rental before leaving him open to any of the NHL’s other 28 teams.
Boston’s best bet is to keep Krejci throughout 2014-15, but keep its head on a swivel for safety nets to take effect afterward. If Chiarelli cannot convince anyone to take Kelly, or he cannot bring himself to discharge Boychuk, then he can count on Krejci sporting a new crest this time next year.
Unless otherwise indicated all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.