David Krejci sat in his postgame press conference with the brim of his hat resting above his eyebrows. You could barely see his eyes on camera. In some ways, it foreshadowed his demeanor.
He doesn’t normally say much when seated next to a teammate in a media availability and after Game 5 was no different — Krejci would be keeping a low profile.
But he was asked a question about Torey Krug and his impact on the Bruins and how much the team wanted him back.
It led to the most candid, open and telling soundbite from a player who’s not normally known for providing these kinds of moments.
“Torey is a great player,” Krejci said following the Bruins 3-2 double overtime loss in Game 5. “He always has your back. We definitely don’t want to see him leave. A great friend. I can’t say enough about that guy. But at the same time, it just kind of hit me after the game that the core group, a few of us, we have one or two, three years left. With the pandemic going on, you never know what’s going to happen. So, it’s just kind of – I just got a little sad right now.
“At the same time, I don’t regret coming into this bubble and fighting for the Stanley Cup. If I would have to do it again, I would.”
Obviously the Bruins want Krug back next season. That’s a definite.
But what is so telling to hear is Krejci acknowledge that not only does this core group of Bruins veterans have a limited number of tries at the Stanley Cup left — they may not have any.
“It’s definitely something that crossed my mind,” Patrice Bergeron said of the core getting much older. “You never want this to happen and obviously, see what happens I guess going forward. Obviously, wish that everyone is coming back and we can have another chance at it. It’s always a pleasure and a treat when you’re going out there with guys that you’ve been around for 10 plus years. You’d like to keep that and carry that, and keep going. Keep going with them. Obviously, lots of very great young players as well that are on the rise and we should be excited about. But you’re right that it’s a fact.”
Since Don Sweeney took over as general manager, the Bruins have put a premium on being a team with a blend of veterans and young talent. It’s a balance they’ve been good at keeping. There’s that next wave of David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Jack Studnicka.
But the straw that stirs the drink is the veteran core of Bergeron, Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand. Throw Tuukka Rask in that group as well.
For the first time ever, there’s a real chance at least one pillar of that group isn’t in Boston next year. There’s even the potential for two.
The story after Game 5 was the future of Zdeno Chara. The 43-year-old doesn’t have a contract yet for next season and as he went through the handshake line, Doc Emrick seemed to know something we didn’t. Chara was asked after the game if he’d made up his mind on what he’d do next season.
“I haven’t made that decision,” Chara said after Game 5. “I obviously just finished the game and I’m going to be open minded.”
While they both acknowledged they didn’t know what his future plans were, Bruce Cassidy and Marchand sure talked about Chara after the game as if retirement was the next step.
“Grateful to have an opportunity to coach Zee,” Cassidy said of Chara. “It was early in my NHL career so to speak, later in his playing career, so he helped me a lot…you almost feel like Zee probably helped me more than I’ve helped him.”
“He’s an icon in Boston and it’s been – who knows what’s going to happen but it’s a pleasure to go the rink with him every day and see the dedication he has to the game and has had to the game for so long,” Marchand said of Chara. “It’s difficult to do what he’s done, day in and day out. The way he prepares and the way he still cares so much and he’s one of the most, if not the most, driven person I’ve ever met. And he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.”
See? It sounds like retirement for the captain.
Past Chara, there’s questions surrounding Rask after he left the Toronto bubble midway through the first round. He left for a perfectly good reason — a family emergency — but many have wondered if that caused any issues in his relationship with the Bruins. Rask has a year left on his current deal. Could he retire? Could he go finish his career out in Europe? Both of those are more likely than him requesting a trade or the team outright sending him elsewhere.
Sweeney did mention after Rask headed home that “he’ll be the same player when we get up and running again next year.”
This offseason will likely see Krug walk in free agency. The team’s power play quarterback is looking to cash in and due to the Bruins only having roughly $15 million in cap space, the offensive dynamo staying put feels like a reach.
It’s hard to imagine a Rask-less Bruins next season. It’s not when it comes to Chara and Krug.
The reason it’s all hitting Krejci now is because he has a year left on his current deal. He’s 34 and he’s repeatedly said in the past he’d like to finish his career out at home in the Czech Republic. That’s likely to come sooner rather than later, and he knows it. The Bruins know it, too.
Bergeron is 35 with two years remaining on his deal. Marchand is 32 with five years left on his. Neither will be going anywhere in the next two seasons.
But this core is getting older. They know their heyday extended well past when most thought it would and the sun is finally setting on one of the greatest eras in Bruins history.
That doesn’t mean the Bruins won’t contend for a Stanley Cup in the coming years — it just means this veteran group as currently constructed may not get any more kicks at the can.
And that’s something they’re now perfectly aware of.