They’re entering their 15th season as Boston Bruins teammates and the two mainstays of the middle of Boston’s depth chart still might not have received the credit they’ve deserved.
They don’t have the Stanley Cup haul of Wayne Gretzky/Mark Messier or Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin or Joe Sakic/Peter Forsberg, but what general manager in the NHL in the past decade and a half wouldn’t have wanted to start his team with a 1-2 center punch of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci?
Bergeron and Krejci, though, may have reached their final act as a pair. As of right now, they’re on different tracks in terms of their own careers and where they fit into the Bruins’ plans.
Bergeron’s future is quite clear. He was named the Bruins’ 20th captain Thursday — a decision as obvious as the Bruins’ choice off Bobby Orr as the first player to have a statue out front TD Garden. Bergeron might have a statue out there someday too, but for now he’s going to be changing the A on his sweater to a C and continuing what the departed Zdeno Chara started 14 years ago when he turned the franchise from laughingstock to a marquis destination again.
“To me, it’s to be myself,” Bergeron said about his approach to being captain. “I think leadership is all about making sure you’re able to surround yourself with great people, which I am, and also being able to connect with guys and to speak from the heart when it’s needed, lead by example. I don’t think I’m going to change any of that stuff. And yeah, I think I’m going to try to communicate and make sure we connect as a team and create something special moving forward.
“But that being said, I think there’s a culture here that’s been established for many, many years. There’s been tremendous leaders and captains over the years. And Zee obviously was one of those guys. There’s been a culture that’s been in place and I’m just going to try to carry that on.”
There might not be a player in the NHL, or in all of pro sports, more secure in his job than Bergeron. He’s signed for this season and next at a tidy $6.875 million average annual value. There’s no way general manager Don Sweeney, having gone through the heart-wrenching process of letting Chara leave, is going to let Bergeron get anywhere near free agency. Even if he were to have a drop-off in production, his defense and smarts alone will keep him in the lineup for however much longer he wants to play. He’ll keep doing it in a Bruins sweater if the Jacobs family wants to avoid a modern-day Boston Tea Party.
Then there’s Krejci, who retained his alternate captain’s A. In an alternate universe, Krejci would’ve been the No. 1 center on any of two dozen other NHL teams. He would be ascending (or maybe would’ve already ascended) to a captaincy. He’d have contract comfort.
But it’s been Krejci’s lot in life, at least since Nathan Horton left town and Brad Marchand — as Bergeron’s permanent left wing — blossomed into one of the great goal-scorers in the word, to be the second banana. He’s had his share of injuries, sure, but he’s still produced at an amazing clip, even with the likes of Jimmy Hayes and Drew Stafford filing on and off his wing. He’s the Rodney Dangerfield to Bergeron’s Jerry Seinfeld.
Krejci’s contract expires this year and there have been no talks about an extension.
“I understand with COVID situation, there’s other things more important than me talking about an extension right now,” Krejci said Thursday.
We know that if he stays, Krejci will no longer be the Bruins’ highest-paid player — the rare sign of respect he’s been granted during his tenure in Boston — and will undoubtedly have to take a pay cut to make less than Bergeron and, at 35 (in April), probably less than Charlie Coyle’s $5.25 AAV. He might not get much more on the open market, but there are probably GMs out there that think Krejci can still be a great No. 1 or 2 center; they might be willing to outbid the Bruins and offer Krejci a better opportunity.
Letting Krejci walk might not be the worst thing for the Bruins. They have Jack Studnicka in the pros and Johnny Beecher in the pipeline. Coyle could combine with one of them to make a 2A and 2B on the Bruins’ second line. Especially in a flat-cap world, the Bruins are going to need funds to keep their young defensemen happy and sign two goaltenders next summer.
It’s unlikely, though, that any prospect will develop into another Krejci (or especially) Bergeron — never mind the minute odds the Bruins will ever enjoy another combination with the greatness on and off the ice as Bergeron/Krejci.
This could be the final chapter of what’s been a great tale of two centers. Enjoy it while you still can