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Tavares pursuit may not be last time tensions rise between Bruins, Krejci

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Sports often inspire a callous “what have you done for me lately?” attitude toward players, something that must cut deeper for players who’ve been with one team for a long time.

With that in mind, it’s not shocking that David Krejci admitted that it hurt when the Boston Bruins made a failed bid to sign John Tavares. Krejci recently opened up to NBC Boston’s Joe Haggerty about his experiences. From what he said, it sounds like being in the dark and being badgered by certain Bruins fans bothered him the most.

“I had no idea what was going on. My agent didn’t tell my [anything] because he said he didn’t know anything. I didn’t get any phone calls from anyone from the Bruins,” Krejci said. “So I was just getting those Instargram messages [telling me to request a trade] in my inbox. I know that I have a no-trade so they would have to call me [if they did end up signing Tavares].

“Yeah, that wasn’t kind of something I enjoyed. But it was over pretty quick. It was a quick couple of weeks. It is what it is.”

Krejci is correct about that being a quick process, as most will probably forget that the Bruins were even – tangentially – in the mix for Tavares.

It’s tough to shake the feeling that this won’t be the last tense moment between the Bruins and Krejci as the team tries to balance attempts at improving with salary cap management. With that in mind, this Tavares situation could reverberate. After all, if you’re Krejci, are you that excited to waive your no-trade clause for a management group that didn’t seem to make even a token gesture toward communicating during the Tavares sweepstakes? And, as much as Krejci appreciates the majority of fans, should he bow to a trade request after getting nasty messages, even if they came from just a few bad apples?

“I have a lot of fans, which is great,” Krejci said. “I think it’s a common thing where people say ‘Awesome, awesome…great job’ and you appreciate it. But if there’s a bad comment it sticks in your head. So that wasn’t nice.”

Impressive accomplishments

It’s not nice for a player who’s meant a lot to the Bruins, even if Krejci’s work hasn’t always been as heralded as it maybe should have been.

Most memorably, Krejci topped all playoff scorers in 2012-13 (26 points, seven more than anyone else) and 2010-11 (23), helping the Bruins win that 2011 Stanley Cup. Since that championship season, Krejci’s scored 418 points, the third-best mark for Boston after Brad Marchand (458) and Patrice Bergeron (454).

Of course, it’s understandable for someone to cringe while scanning the Bruins’ Cap Friendly page, considering that Krejci carries the team’s highest cap hit at $7.25M, and cringe that the 32-year-old’s contract lasts three more seasons. His contract isn’t the worst on the books, yet it’s a lot easier to imagine the Bruins landing a good trade return for Krejci instead of a banged-up, rapidly declining David Backes. And so, that opens the door for social media cruelty.

Gas left in the tank

Beyond being mean, it’s far too easy to dismiss that Krejci still brings value as a player, even if it’s debatable if he’s worth $7.25M.

(He’s not worth more than David Pastrnak, Marchand, or Bergeron, but all three of those guys are being paid less than they’d make on the open market anyway, and probably by a massive margin.)

Bruins fans might grumble at Krejci finishing the 2017-18 regular season with 17 goals and 44 points, yet he did so while struggling through injuries (just 64 games played). You could argue that Krejci sputtered against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the bottom line is that he generated 10 points in 12 games during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Krejci deserves ample credit for helping Jake DeBrusk take his game up a notch, even if things didn’t go as swimmingly with Rick Nash.

Krejci also generated solid possession stats, although you can dock him a bit for also enjoying cushy offensive zone starts. There are even some ways where Krejci meets or exceeds Tavares, as you can see from this comparison via Bill Comeau’s SKATR tool.

Those are far from “run this guy out of town” numbers, right?

Will he have a long memory?

Still, one can understand why the Bruins might want to trade Krejci. With Krejci likely to decline further considering he’s 32, the Bruins would probably choose Torey Krug instead, and looming raises for young players (most prominently Charlie McAvoy, who’s about to enter a contract year) might force such a decision.

According to Cap Friendly, Krejci has a no-movement clause for 2018-19 and a modified version in 2019-20 and 2020-21. During those latter years, he’d be asked to provide a list of teams he’d accept a trade to, which would amount to half of the NHL (which would be 15, as the clause states that you’d round down). One could see a scenario where he’d feel pressure to OK a trade that entail going to a cellar-dweller, or a place he wouldn’t want to play.

In that moment, Bruins fans and management could be breathing down Krejci’s neck. Don’t blame Krejci if he does what’s best for him then, especially after what happened during that brief (but telling?) push for Tavares.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Team Previews: Examining past, present, future

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Throughout the month of August we examined different aspects of all 31 NHL teams. We looked back at their 2017-18 season, took a dip in their prospect pool, pointed out a player/coach/executive under pressure, highlighted a player coming off a breakthrough season, and asked questions about the future.

Thanks for reading and for the feedback on each post. Below are links to every team day post from the last month to get you ready for the 2018-19 campaign. Training camps open in two weeks!

2017-18 REVIEW
Anaheim Ducks
Arizona Coyotes
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks 
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota Wild
Montreal Canadiens
Nashville Predators
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Vegas Golden Knights
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

UNDER PRESSURE
Jake Allen
Mike Babcock
Jim Benning
Bruce Boudreau
Scott Darling
Pierre Dorion
John Gibson
Connor Hellebuyck
Mike Hoffman

Carter Hutton
Jack Johnson
Evander Kane

Jarmo Kekalainen
Ilya Kovalchuk
Dylan Larkin
Robin Lehner
Nathan MacKinnon
Joel Quenneville
Carey Price
Antti Raanta
Tuukka Rask
Todd Reirden
Pekka Rinne
Cory Schneider
Tyler Seguin
Kevin Shattenkirk
Cam Talbot
Tomas Tatar
Brad Treliving
James van Riemsdyk
Steve Yzerman

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BUILDING OFF A BREAKTHROUGH
Mathew Barzal
Brock Boeser
Pavel Buchnevich
Thomas Chabot
Kyle Connor
Evgenii Dadonov

Alex DeBrincat
Jake DeBrusk
Travis Dermott
Pierre-Luc Dubois
Matt Dumba

Vince Dunn
Radek Faksa
Kevin Fiala

Brendan Gallagher
Noah Hanifin
Nico Hischier
William Karlsson
Ondrej Kase
Clayton Keller
Adrian Kempe
Travis Konecny
Anthony Mantha
Timo Meier
Darnell Nurse
Jamie Oleksiak
Brayden Point
Mikko Rantanen
Sam Reinhart
Teuvo Teravainen
Tom Wilson

THREE QUESTIONS
Anaheim Ducks
Arizona Coyotes
Boston Bruins
Buffalo Sabres
Calgary Flames
Carolina Hurricanes
Chicago Blackhawks
Colorado Avalanche
Columbus Blue Jackets
Dallas Stars
Detroit Red Wings
Edmonton Oilers
Florida Panthers
Los Angeles Kings
Minnesota Wild
Montreal Canadiens
Nashville Predators
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
New York Rangers
Ottawa Senators
Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins
San Jose Sharks
St. Louis Blues
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Vancouver Canucks
Vegas Golden Knights
Washington Capitals
Winnipeg Jets

MORE:
Where should Jonathan Toews rank among NHL’s top centers?
Q&A: Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar
Back issue makes Henrik Zetterberg’s future ‘real unknown’
Panthers do one thing about as well as anyone in the NHL
Expect huge year from Max Pacioretty no matter where he plays
Rangers could once again be active in trade market
Will Sidney Crosby win another scoring title in his career?
Sabres’ Eichel focuses on keeping fiery emotions in check
• Maple Leafs should be NHL’s best offensive team

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Three questions facing Boston Bruins

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future.

Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

If three questions aren’t enough:

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Building Off a Breakthrough]

1. Will the aging curve send them into a brick wall?

Here’s a confession: my expectation was that the Bruins would look like an old team, at least at the top, during the 2017-18 season.

Instead, the Bruins went from a good (if frustrating) team under Claude Julien into a frequently scary (in a good way) squad with Bruce Cassidy running the ship. The top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak flat-out abused opponents with their skill and puck possession, to the point that the machine kept humming even when a key piece was on the shelf due to injuries. Zdeno Chara may or may not own a personal Lazarus Pit, as he remained fantastic at 40. Boston ultimately succumbed to Tampa Bay during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet B’s fans could be forgiven for picturing scenarios in which a deeper run was quite plausible.

With that in mind, the bar will likely be set higher in 2018-19.

What if Father Time merely strikes a year later?

Chara is 41. Bergeron’s 33, and some of those years have been tough (remember all of the ailments he dealt with in 2013, and how much concussions threatened the early phases of his career?). David Krejci is 32 and slipping, while David Backes‘ style isn’t necessarily friendly to a 34-year-old. Tuukka Rask is already 31, and Marchand is 30.

Ideally, the Bruins’ veteran bests will age out just in time for their youngsters to take over. Whether it’s 2018-19 or a little later, there’s also the possibility that the Bruins might suffer if that transition ends up being bumpy.

2. Will young players make more strides forward?

Hockey fans (and sports fans in general) have a habit of daydreaming young players to stardom, yet sometimes the siren call of potential can be quite misleading. Such a phenomenon explains why, if you need to send a star player away in a trade, it’s often wise to get a first-rounder (even if its from a good team who will leave you pretty close to round two).

While the Bruins passed up on Mathew Barzal (read more about that in this larger piece about promising forward Jake DeBrusk), Don Sweeney & Co. have gone on to find some pretty fantastic young talent. It’s easier said than done to replenish your reserves when your team is trading away premium picks and/or rarely drafting at the top of the first round, yet the Bruins rank among the best at doing just that.

David Pastrnak is the young stud among the aging stars at top, and sometimes you need to shake your head at the fact that he’s still just 22. Delightfully for the Bruins, 20-year-old defensive blue chip Charlie McAvoy provides Pastrnak with a rival in the “Who’s the best under-25 Bruin?” debate.

Most of the time, when you’re drafting outside of the lottery spots, you’re not going to find superstars that often. The Bruins have also supplemented talent with useful supporting cast members including DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork.

The Bruins’ impressive fleet of reinforcements present interesting sub-questions. Will they at least be as effective as they were last season? Beyond an obvious choice like McAvoy, could DeBrusk and especially Donato offer a lot more as they continue to gain Cassidy’s trust?

Earlier in this post, there was the fearful scenario where older veterans fade before up-and-comers rise. On the flip side, the Bergerons and Marchands could sustain their all-world work while young players give the Bruins the sort of depth that true contenders relish.

3. Will the Atlantic simply be too tough?

The Washington Capitals provide evidence that NHL franchises don’t always know, for sure, when their best “windows” to win might be. Unfortunately, for most teams, being wrong doesn’t mean winning the Stanley Cup after you took what seemed to be your best shots.

This Bruins team could, conceivably, be as good or better than the 2017-18 edition and still get smoked in the first round.

We already saw the Bruins fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team brimming with prime-age talent that might find another gear (or perhaps make a bold addition like landing Erik Karlsson?) next season. The Maple Leafs pushed the Bruins to a Game 7 without John Tavares; if all of Toronto’s pieces fit together, the Lightning might not even be Boston’s biggest worry.

It would be foolish to totally dismiss the Florida Panthers’ chances of making a big step forward, too, considering their summer improvements, talent at the top end, and their imposing finish to 2017-18.

The NHL’s current playoff system dictates that second round can sometimes present a larger hurdle than overcoming the conference final. A lot can change between early August and the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet right now, the Bruins don’t exactly seem like the favorites in a top-heavy division.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Building off a breakthrough: Jake DeBrusk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

It’s a decision – or maybe three decisions? – that could haunt the Boston Bruins for more than a decade.

A new management group received a golden opportunity to build for the future with picks 13, 14, and 15 in the 2015 NHL Draft. History will probably argue that those were more like three strikes, as the Bruins decided not to draft Mathew Barzal, whom the New York Islanders jumped on immediately afterward with pick 16.

As of this moment, Barzal’s scored almost twice as many points (85) as the Bruins’ three combined picks (43), while appearing in several additional games (84 to 70). Barzal’s highlight-reel skills are often used to lampoon the Oilers for sending the Islanders the picks to grab the 2018 Calder Trophy winner, yet Bruins fans may also be tormented by what could have been.

The 2017-18 season didn’t just rub salt in the wounds regarding that pick, though.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Three questions ]

While the other two picks (Jakub Zboril at 13, Zachary Senyshyn at 15) have yet to appear in an NHL game, Jake DeBrusk represents all of the stats in the aforementioned comparison: he scored 16 goals and 43 points in 70 games to enjoy a very promising rookie season.

DeBrusk also enjoyed a taste of playoff success, something Barzal may not experience for some time if the Isles can’t get it together. During the Bruins’ up-and-down run, DeBrusk scored eight points in 12 playoff contests, including the Game 7 tally that stood as the clincher against Toronto.

Such composed play against Toronto drew plenty of praise:

While DeBrusk, 21, enjoyed cushy offensive zone starts that undoubtedly helped him achieve strong possession stats, it’s worth noting that he scored at a very nice clip despite averaging just 14:22 TOI per game in 2017-18.

Stanley Cup of Chowder notes how well DeBrusk checks out under Evolving Wild’s evolving metrics, as just one example. It remains to be seen if he’s a high-end talent or “just” a very nice supporting cast member for the Bruins, but either way, the scorer’s ascent is a fabulous plus.

DeBrusk presents something for old-school fans, not just analytics-types, as he already authored something of a “warrior” shift. It’s the sort of stuff that might make your old man fight back tears.

Considering DeBrusk’s ability to make the most of his reps so far, not to mention the chemistry he already developed with David Krejci, it would only make sense for the Bruins to lean far more heavily upon the young forward more in 2018-19.

(Amusingly, in the backdrop of almost unavoidable criticisms of that draft-day approach in passing on Barzal, the Bruins’ knack for otherwise shrewd draft and development may provide DeBrusk with competition for more lucrative opportunities.)

Yes, it’s unlikely that DeBrusk will surpass Barzal over the long haul. Even if it’s close, grumpy types will note that the Bruins could have drafted them both.

Nonetheless, a youth movement really injected renewed vigor into a Bruins franchise that seemed to show signs of decline late in Claude Julien’s run. Part of that might come down to Bruce Cassidy being more willing to let wet-behind-the-ears players show that they can produce beyond their years. The rest can be chalked up to emerging talent, and DeBrusk stands among the better examples of the gems management unearthed.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

It’s Boston Bruins day at PHT

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

2017-18

50-20-12, 112 pts. (2nd, Atlantic Division; 2nd, Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-1 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, second round

IN:

Jaroslav Halak
John Moore
Joakim Nordstrom
Chris Wagner
Cody Goloubef

OUT:

Riley Nash
Rick Nash
Brian Gionta
Tommy Wingels
Nick Holden
Anton Khudobin
Austin Czarnik
Tim Schaller
Paul Postma

RE-SIGNED:

Zdeno Chara
Sean Kuraly
Matt Grzelcyk

The Bruins got off to a decent start in 2017-18, but they took off near the beginning of December, as they went 10-2-2 that month, 8-1-2 in January, 9-4 in February and 11-2-3 in March. At one point, they even managed to pass the Tampa Bay Lightning for top spot in the division, but a mediocre finish led to the Bolts reclaiming the crown.

Many expected the Bruins to be competitive, but the fact that they were that dominant for a long stretch of time was kind of surprising. The future looks bright in Boston. Even though they have some older, established players on the roster, they also have youngsters like David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato and a few others.

One of the reasons they were able to so dominate was because of the play of their top line. Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have morphed into one of the best lines in hockey. They’re chemistry is superb and they seem to be a threat to score every time they’re on the ice together. Marchand led the team in points (85 points in just 68 games), Pastrnak finished second (80 points in 82 games) and Bergeron finished third (63 points in 64 games).

The Bruins didn’t really make a significant splash in free agency, which means GM Don Sweeney is hoping to see some of the younger players on the roster take a significant step forward.

In goal, Tuukka Rask went through some ups and downs last season, but he also had a dominant stretch where he just couldn’t lose. The 31-year-old finished 2017-18 with a 34-14-5 record, a 2.36 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. His numbers dipped in the playoffs (2.88 goals-against-average, .903 save percentage), but he’s the go-to guy again.

It’ll be interesting to see how this roster handles these expectations. Last year, they surprised everyone. This year, they’re expected to compete for the Eastern Conference crown.

Prospect Pool:

• Ryan Donato, C, 22, Harvard/Boston Bruins – 2014 second-round pick

After completing his third season at Harvard, Donato made the leap straight to the Bruins and he didn’t look out of place. He suited up in 12 games regular season games and scored five goals and nine points. Not bad for a guy fresh out of college. Unfortunately the on-ice success didn’t carry into the playoffs, as he only played in three games. Heading into next season, expectations will be high for Donato. Look for him to play a significant role for Boston.

• Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, C, 21, Providence Bruins – 2015 second-round pick

Forsbacka-Karlsson spent two full years at Boston University before jumping to the professional ranks in 2017-18. He put together a solid AHL season last year, as he accumulated 15 goals and 32 points in 58 contests with Providence. He might not play much of a scoring role in Boston this season, but he could definitely contribute as a bottom-six forward if he makes the team.

• Trent Frederic, C, 20, University of Wisconsin – 2016 first-round pick

Frederic decided to sign his entry-level contract with the Bruins after two years at Wisconsin. He put together a couple of strong seasons in college (33 points in 30 games as a freshman, 32 points in 36 games as a sophomore). He also helped lead Team USA to a World Junior bronze medal last winter. Frederic finished the season with AHL Providence where he put up eight points in 13 contests. He’ll probably start the year in the minors, but he could get a promotion at some point during the season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.