Haggerty: Time will determine success of Krejci deal

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Haggerty: Time will determine success of Krejci deal

BOSTON Was the three-year extension handed to David Krejci a good deal or a bad deal?

Its tough to say before it plays out, as the legions of people who decried the Tim Thomas contract extension discovered. But a three-year contract extension for the 25-year-old center that will take him through 2013-14 is certainly a complex deal with an entire army of pros and cons that would make Jimmy Fallon proud.

Krejci admitted to the world on Thursday that the negotiations on his next contract had weighed on his mind a little, and became an even heavier burden when he struggled out of the gate offensively.

I knew that my agent and Peter talked during the summer. I didnt know what was going on and it was obviously on my mind a bit. It was especially on his mind when things werent going my way at the beginning of the season. It got me thinking a lot.

But we got a deal done. Im happy to be here four more years and now I can just focus on hockey.

Krejci and the Bruins came to an agreement on a deal that will pay him 5.25 million annually, and make him the highest paid center on the Bs roster. Just behind that is Patrice Bergerons 5 million cap hit. Fittingly, the center put pen to paper in Toronto on Wednesday afternoon and then went on to have a three-point performance against the Leafs for his best game in nearly a month.

David is a special player and a special person. In todays hockey economy he might have been able to go somewhere else and get more money, but he didnt, said Peter Chiarelli. I think weve seen this with a bunch of players recently, so I think it speaks to his willingness and his wanting to be a part of a winning team and to help the team win.

I wont stop looking for ways to improve the team and I wont stop trying to sign our important players. Its part of the day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year perspective and Ill continue to use that approach.

But thats some of the knock on Krejci after racking up 19 power play points in his breakout first full season in the NHL, the playmaker hasnt been making enough plays on the man advantage. Hes also never approached the 22 goals and 73 points or the plus-37 mark to lead the NHL in the last two seasons. Hes being paid like a No. 1 center and will have the responsibilities that go along with that role, but hes never put up the numbers one expects of a franchise pivot.

Then again, Krejci has also turned into a quietly efficient two-way center that can handle other teams top lines. Hes also a big part of the center group thats leading the NHL in faceoff winning percentage, and has become a clutch performer when the stage gets big. He made a name for himself by shining during the Winter Olympics two years ago for his native Czech Republic, and led the Bruins with 12 goals scored during their run to the postseason.

In fact, Krejcis 44 points and 19 goals in 52 playoff games, along with a plus-18 rating in the postseason, might be one of the biggest selling points for the Bruins when it comes to a deal like this. It wasnt too long ago that the Bs could point to Krejcis injury and absence as the single-biggest reason they collapsed in the playoffs against the Flyers prior to the Cup.

For a franchise thats expected to be knee-deep in playoff runs for the foreseeable future, the Bruins need to retain as many proven playoff performers as they possibly can.

In looking at what David has done for the Bruins, hes been a very important contributor and has really developed his two-way game, said Chiarelli. Hes obviously a very good offensive player and we saw him shine during the playoffs last year. We saw what his loss meant to us the year before in the playoffs.

Hes done everything that weve asked and more, and hes a terrific offensive player. Were happy to have him on board for another three years.

The biggest bugaboos for Krejci and his three-year deal: consistency and salary cap issues. Krejcis most recent slump is the perfect example of the instances where the top line center will recede from the forefront of the action and seemingly become invisible on the puck. Hes not quite as strong or dominant as Pavel Datsyuk and his skating and shot are adequate for an offensive performer, but nothing stands out aside from his brilliantly creative mind.

When Krejci isnt playing with maximum effort and reasonable motivation, he tends to become a little more ordinary out on the ice than one would prefer for an offensive catalyst. That still happens far too often for a big money player, and its always a wise investment to give the big money and subsequently the big cap hit to players that exert the same kind of effort 82 games a season.

That doesnt even count the salary cap ramifications. The Bruins now have what Peter Chiarelli termed a surplus of top-six centers signed to long term contracts in Krejci, Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. Seguin is playing the wing for the time being, but he eventually projects to be a No. 1 center in the NHL for a decade plus and will be moving up from his rookie contract after next season.

I feel a team gets built from the back end and down the middle. To have a strong middle is obviously an asset in my mind, said Chiarelli. David is part of that and hes shown that he can play different types of games. Bergie has shown that he can play different types of games. Weve seen Chris Kelly now. Tyler can play center or wing. Weve got a lot of options there and weve got some good centers coming down the pipeline.

I think a logjam is probably not the proper word. I think its an excess of supply and Im happy to have it. The fact that these guys are compatible and can play together without having to play the 22 or 23 minutes that some top centers do play is a testament to all of them as a group.

If he continues to score at a point-per-game pace, that suggests he is going to make a boatload of money in his second contract following his three-year rookie deal. That could be a sticking point for the Bruins given the 10 million plus theyve already got invested in their top two centers.

But Chiarelli said thats a good problem for a team like the Bruins to find solutions for, and the three centers ability to co-exist and thrive together allowed him to pull the trigger on Krejcis deal. Theres also the absence of no trade clause protection in the first year of Krejcis contract, and very limited trade provisions over the remaining two contractual years.

Just another facet to a David Krejci deal that people are going to strongly disagree about until he either A) proves hes worth the dough like Tim Thomas did or B) flame out like Marco Sturm did after his extension.

The Bruins are banking on more of the former than the latter.

Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

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Morning Skate: Old friend Warsofsky called up by Penguins

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while waiting for the next wave of announcements that the Bruins have signed college players out of the NCAA tournament.
 
-- Former Wild goaltender Josh Harding is finding his way after his MS diagnosis forced him out of the NHL prematurely.

-- Young D-man Seth Jones is becoming the “hoss” defenseman that the Blue Jackets will need come playoff time.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Wild coach Bruce Boudreau calling a loss to the Canucks “embarrassing” as the hard times continue for Minnesota.  

-- Backup goalie Curtis McElhinney is ready to step up for the Leafs after they lost Frederik Andersen to injury.
 
-- Old friend David Warsofsky has been recalled from the AHL and will be with the Penguins as crunch time hits ahead of the playoffs.

-- USA Hockey is now reportedly reaching out to rec league and former Division III women’s hockey players to find a replacement roster for the world championships as the USA women continues their boycott.
 
-- For something completely different: We have an honest-to-goodness think piece about pulling the “Irish Exit.” Well, okay then.

Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

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Haggerty: Time for Bruins to make a change in goal

BROOKLYN -- For the second year in a row, Boston's franchise goaltender and $7 million man Tuukka Rask couldn’t physically answer the bell for one of the biggest games of the year.

Rask was unable to go Saturday night when the Bruins faced the Islanders at the Barclays Center because of a lower body injury. Anton Khudobin stepped in and helped the B's to a 2-1 victory that snapped their four-game losing streak, moved them past the Isles back in the second wild-card spot, and enabled them to close to two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

It wasn't quite the same as last year, when Rask was too sick to play the win-or-go-home regular-season finale against Ottawa. The Bruins got shellacked in that one and missed the playoffs. There are still two weeks left in the regular season, so Saturday didn't have the same do-or-die consequences.

But Khudobin, who made 18 saves, gave Boston some energy and enthusiasm in the crease with the same kind of battling, chaotic style that Tim Thomas exhibited. Watching Khudobin throw a double-pad stack at John Tavares on a late third-period Islanders power play in a one-goal game was a clear sign that Rask wasn’t in net, and his unconventional technique perhaps distracted Tavares enough that he ripped his open shot off the crossbar and away from harm.

Afterward interim coach Bruce Cassidy fervently sang Khudobin’s praises, and almost seemed to be shedding some light on what they aren’t always getting from their top goaltender in these crunch-time games.

“That’s the type of win that goes a long way in the room when your goaltender is battling hard, and fighting that hard to see pucks and your D are blocking shots," he said. "And you kill that many penalties. (The Islanders failed to score on six power plays.) It was a nice building-block win for us.

"I loved [Khudobin’s] performance. He’s a battler. He got swimming a couple of times, but that’s Dobby. He keeps it interesting for you. He’s a battler and he always has been. That’s what we needed tonight.”

So now the Bruins have a choice about what to do Tuesday against the Predators. And the hope here is that Khudobin gets a second straight start, whether or not Rask is healthy enough to go.

Khudobin has won five games in a row and has a 1.98 goals-against average and a  .920 save percentage since the All-Star break. Rask, in contrast, has an inflated 2.91 GAA and .892 save percentage in that span.

More than that, however, there’s a real issue developing with Rask and how much trust the Bruins can have in him when the games matter most. He gave up a couple of bad goals in the loss to the Lightning on Thursday night, and afterwards looked like the boy who lost his dog when answering questions with a soft, unsure voice that began to trail off when it came time to accept responsibility for his part in the ugly defeat.

The downcast expression was a concern, and it certainly seemed like Rask was rattled mentally as much as he was beaten physically after that defeat.

So the overriding question now is: What good is a No. 1 goaltender if he doesn’t play like one when it matters most?

Maybe Rask is seriously injured and we’ll find out after the season that he needs hip surgery, and was far less than 100 percent all year. Or maybe playing three games in four nights was too much of a strain, and he needed the weekend away from the ice after the unavoidable bump in workload.

The fact that the Bruins expect Rask to practice on Monday, however, really takes some of the oomph out of the serious-injury argument, and makes one wonder how he can practice Monday after not playing in the biggest game of the season on Saturday.

Maybe Rask was angered by Cassidy calling him out by saying the team “needs more from him” after the goalie's lackadaisical performance in the loss to Tampa Bay, and that played into the goalie’s sudden case of “lower body discomfort” on Friday after saying Thursday he felt fine physically.

Maybe Rask is frazzled emotionally after the burden of carrying the team at times this season, and he needed a few days away from the ice to recollect himself and get ready for the crucial seven remaining games on the schedule.

Still, the Bruins can’t look at Rask as someone they can rely on when the chips are down for the rest of this season. That cost them last year, and shame on the Bruins if they again make the mistake of putting all of their playoff eggs in the Rask basket.

Perhaps it’s time to even start thinking about other goaltending options this summer. Rask will no longer have full no-trade protection once the season is over. He's been inconsistent at best in the biggest moments over the years, and the B’s shouldn’t pay a goaltender like he’s one the best if he isn’t when the late-season heat is on.

But that’s a question to ponder in a month or two.

For now, the Bruins should ride the hot goalie -- Khudobin, who showed Saturday he's willing to battle his butt off -- and let Cool Hand Tuukka cool his heels on the bench while recuperating from whatever it is that kept him out of a gigantically important game in Brooklyn this weekend.