BOSTON -- After Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask signed an eight-year, $56 million contract prior to the 2013-14 season, he said he wanted to earn every penny of his new deal.
He delivered on that promise in Year 1 and helped the Bruins to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s best regular-season team, and in the process won his first Vezina Trophy. But as a team, the Bruins came up excruciatingly short of their potential and lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Top-line center David Krejci this summer signed a six-year, $43.5 million extension that begins at the start of the 2015-16 season. Like Rask, Krejci seems motivated to earn his keep.
“I’m expecting the best year I’ve had so far,” he said after Thursday’s practice at TD Garden. “I’m just focusing on a good start, create some good chemistry and also have some fun with the guys because that’s really important. It’s really important to get along off the ice and that shouldn’t be any problem. We all know what the goal is here, but we have to get there first and a good start is really important, so that’s where my focus is at right now.”
Krejci is one of the best players in the NHL. He doesn’t get enough credit for his stealth-like ability. Until last season, however, he did not provide the type of consistent effort to complement his talents. Bruins coach Claude Julien had talked about that lack of consistency with the veteran forward.
Krejci supplied that effort for the entire 2013-14 regular season. Although he was held without a goal and had only four assists in the postseason, he still played a solid defensive game. During exit day, he blamed himself for the team’s premature exodus.
Now, with a new contract, Krejci vows to have the best season of his career.
“I’m not going to downplay it. It’s OK to say it. To me, I want to see those kinds of things,” Julien said of Krejci’s comments. “The contracts that these guys have, they’ve earned them from what they’ve done in the past, so they’ve earned that money. Now it’s an opportunity for them to continue to perform as well, and if better, then great.
“I’m not a big believer of guys putting pressure on their shoulders, feeling like they have to justify it more, because they deserved it and earned it. It’s more about continuing to play well. Every year, you’re trying to improve a little bit, but I don’t think players need to put that added pressure on their shoulders more than they have already with the pressure of performing every night. I think David did a great job last year, being a consistent player. I thought it was his most consistent year, so if he continues to do that he’ll be a good player for us.”
Part of the reason Krejci and longtime linemate Milan Lucic enjoyed their most consistent seasons was the presence of future Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla, who spent only one season with the Bruins.
Iginla signed with the Colorado Avalanche as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and not too soon after his exit from Boston, both Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and Julien discussed the possibility of putting Loui Eriksson on Krejci’s right side this season.
Boston’s top line the past few seasons has been built on a combination of talent, size, strength and speed. Lucic and Krejci have been mainstays, with Nathan Horton playing the right side before Iginla arrived.
With Eriksson, a talented two-way player, in the mix, that top line takes on an entirely different look.
One of Krejci’s goals for this season is to score more, and having a finesse winger on his right side should help him accomplish that. He posted 19 goals and 50 assists for 69 points in 80 games last season, while recording a league-leading plus-39 rating. If Krejci is motivated to score more, there’s no reason he can’t reach the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his career. The most he’s ever scored was 23 during the 2011-12 season.
“Hopefully we’ll click well,” Krejci said of playing with Eriksson. “He’s a smart player. He’s a playmaking right winger and not a power forward, so that’s going to be a little bit different for me, but I’m looking forward to it and maybe it means I’m going to get a little more scoring chances. He’s not a shoot-first guy, so I’m always going to have to be ready for him to pass it to me. I’m really excited and hopefully we’ll click well right off the bat.”
While Lucic and Krejci have created solid chemistry, it will take Eriksson some time to get acclimated with his new linemates and their tendencies on the ice.
“They’re such smart players -- Krech and Looch -- and they’ve been playing awhile together, so they know each other real well,” Eriksson said. “I’m just trying to adjust to their style and try to help them out.”
Only time will tell how they mesh, and Julien will use the exhibition schedule to find out if it’ll work.
“We saw Loui near the end of the year, what he was capable of doing,” Julien said. “Loui can make good plays in tight. He’s also a guy that does a pretty good job in tight around the net, so he’s a good player.”
If the new top line doesn’t work, Julien’s Plan B will consist of trying different combinations until something fits. One thing the coach likes is consistency.
At the start of camp, management and the coaching staff wanted to see how prospect Matt Fraser might work with Krejci and Eriksson. Fraser has looked comfortable on the left side, and even though he will not replace Lucic on that wing, Fraser does have the ability to switch sides and could be an interesting fit on the right if Eriksson doesn’t work out.
Meanwhile, Fraser is getting a firsthand look at Krejci’s talents.
“He’s unbelievable,” Fraser said. “Just how good he is with his vision and how much patience he has with the puck. It’s exciting to play with him and it’s exciting just because he’s such a good passer that you want to put yourself into a position to shoot the puck.”
During the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring, as he was held without a goal, Krejci guaranteed he would score in Game 6 against Montreal. He didn’t, and the Bruins were shut out. He did the same before Game 7 in Boston, but the Bruins lost that one too.
Now he’s saying a career season awaits. We’ll see if his prognostication skills improved as much as his bank account did.