WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Strength down the middle is a philosophy a lot of general managers preach.
That mantra is one Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli lives by, and he's willing to devote a great deal of salary-cap space to prove it.
Center - BOS
GOALS: 19 | ASST: 50 | PTS: 69
SOG: 169 | +/-: 39
Chiarelli's efforts to make sure the Bruins will be among the NHL elite at center for the remainder of this decade was finalized Thursday when it was announced that center David Krejci
signed a six-year contract extension that begins with the 2015-16 season. Krejci, whose salary-cap charge for this season will be $5.25 million, will count $7.25 million against the cap each season of the new contract, which runs through the 2020-21 season.
Krejci, fellow center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Zdeno Chara and goaltender Tuukka Rask each is signed at least through 2019.
Although Krejci's 69 points were four shy of his career high, he had his most consistent season in 2013-14, with 19 goals and a League-best plus-39 rating.
"He's been a real valuable player for us," Chiarelli said during a press conference at Ristuccia Arena, where several Bruins and other players took part in an informal skate Friday. "You've seen his performance during the season, you've seen his performances during the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs. He's come up through the ranks for us. I consider him one of the pillars of this franchise, so to get him locked up, I think for a fairly reasonable term and value, I think it speaks to a couple things: one, to him wanting to stay and be part of us continuing to win, and two, obviously our commitment to try to keep this successful core together."
Krejci didn't live up to his advanced billing in the 2014 postseason, when he finished the Bruins' 12-game run with no goals and four assists. However, he forged his reputation as a clutch performer by leading the League in playoff scoring during the Bruins' marches to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship (23 points) and 2013 Eastern Conference title (26 points). Krejci added an extra dose of leadership to his contributions last season when he was an alternate captain for part of the season.
Krejci, 28, has developed into the player the Bruins expected they'd someday have when they chose him in the second round (No. 63) of the 2004 NHL Draft. Chiarelli said he has few concerns about Krejci maintaining his level of play into his mid-30s.
"He's in terrific shape. He's been getting stronger actually each year, and obviously at some point that's going to stop," Chiarelli said. "He keeps himself in good shape. He plays a smart game. Players that play to that point now, with those things being in place, I feel comfortable giving him that term."
Although Chiarelli has work to do finalizing a roster for this season (re-signing restricted free agents forward Reilly Smith and defenseman Torey Krug), it shouldn't be a surprise that Chiarelli made the Krejci negotiations a priority. Chiarelli consistently has made sure he's kept his core players from hitting the open market. In October 2010 he signed Chara to a seven-year, $45.5 million contract right as he started the final season of his previous contract. Chiarelli acted similarly with Bergeron, a two-time Selke Trophy winner, by signing the center to an eight-year, $52 million contract in July 2013. That month Rask re-signed with the Bruins for eight years and $56 million after playing on a one-year contract the season prior. Rask won the Vezina Trophy last season, the first of that new contract.
The Bruins' philosophy under Chiarelli not only makes players rich and keeps the team in the championship hunt, it inspires the players to want to get better. Bergeron, the only player remaining from before Chiarelli took over, has been impressed with his work.
"You feel the trust from the management standpoint, and I think for us as players, that tells us a lot," Bergeron said. "I think you want to get better, you want to win for the team and definitely it helps. I think it changed over the years also, with the new [collective bargaining agreement] and stuff, and I think it's a little different with the younger players getting longer extensions. But that being said, I think Peter's done a great job and it's a lot of tough decisions and a lot of cap situations, cap issues you have to manage, and I wouldn't want to be in his shoes. But definitely as players we're definitely happy to have the core intact for quite a few years ahead of us."
There are no questions who the Bruins' top two centers, No. 1 defenseman or starting goaltender will be this season. But plenty remain to be answered, including where Smith and Krug fit in and how the Bruins will become cap-compliant. According to CapGeek.com, the Bruins would have a little less than $4 million in cap space after placing injured center Marc Savard on long-term injured reserve.
Chiarelli, who doesn't comment on ongoing contract negotiations, admitted there are some trade possibilities he's looking at. As for signing Smith and Krug, who were important offensive performers for the team that won the Presidents' Trophy last season, Chiarelli sounded cautiously optimistic about having them in training camp on time.
"I want them to be part of this team and I want them obviously to have a full camp," he said. "In my tenure here we've never had anyone not attend. But that doesn't mean that they won't."
Arguably the most important part of Chiarelli's job is deciding if players like Krejci, Smith and Krug fit with the organization based on their abilities and compensation. The task gets more difficult the better the players perform, and in turn how well the team fares. When the Bruins lose in the second round of the playoffs, like they did last season, Chiarelli still has to deal with the salary-cap consequences of attempting to win the Stanley Cup.
"We pushed it last year, we made a bet that the end of the day [it] didn't work out," said Chiarelli, who has to work around performance bonuses earned by departed forward Jarome Iginla and others. "But we wanted to win last year so we pushed it and we'll continue to push it. To push it like we do, we know we have to make the right decisions. But if you look at all the teams that win, they're in the same boat. You want to maximize your resources. We've got the commitment from ownership to do it and we'll continue do it, but you have to make these decisions. You have to be proactive and you have to make the decisions. And sometimes they're not always popular, but we feel that when we do we're making the right decision."