Last year, David Krejci was at home.
He showed his family Šternberk, where he grew up in the Olomouc region of Czechia. He was hailed as a hero while playing for HC Olomouc, in the rink that housed his childhood dreams, and for the national team. His eldest daughter, age 6, got to attend Czech school for a year. The grandparents and extended family were thrilled.
“It was even better than I thought it would be,” Krejci said Tuesday. “I’ll remember that year forever.”
But now, he said, “I’m back where I belong.”
That’s in the NHL, with the Bruins, with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak and the rest of the group that feels its not yet done chasing Stanley Cups.
The 36-year-old Krejci, who signed a one-year deal worth as much as $3 million Monday, elaborated on his decision to return Tuesday on a Zoom call. He thanked Bruins president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney for keeping a light on for him, and said he believes he can still hold down the prime real estate of an NHL second-line center.
He feels his legs, mind, and hands are ready. The Czech league was slower and less physical than the NHL, but Krejci was productive (20-26—46 in 51 games). His Olympics and World Championships showings convinced him, he said, that he can still be a difference-maker.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer, still,” said Krejci. “I know people talk about my age, but it’s just a number. I feel I’m in good shape. Obviously I’m coming back to try to go all the way. I’ve been in the league a long time. I know what it takes to make the playoffs and go all the way. One step at a time.
“I know we have some injuries early on, some key players [Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk]. We’re going to miss those guys for sure. Maybe that’s going to bring our team closer right at the beginning. That would be good.”
Krejci’s bonds with Bergeron — who also made his return official Monday — and Czech mate Pastrnak were critical factors. Those two are why Krejci, whose camp said he had other NHL offers, called Boston “pretty much my only option.”
“We had so many conversations the last few months about coming back or not,” Krejci said. “They’re the reason I want to go back, to play with those guys again.”
Krejci recorded a goal and three assists in four games at the February Beijing Olympics. When HC Olomouc was bounced in the first round of the Czech Extraliga playoffs in March, Krejci told his Czech-based agent, Jiri Hamal, that he wanted to play for the Bruins. His thinking was solidified when he went 3-9—12 for the Czechs’ bronze-medal squad at the World Championships in May, skating on a line with Pastrnak.
Krejci’s contract is for a maximum value of $3 million — $1 million in base salary and another $2 million in performance bonuses.
“Other teams also called,” Hamal said in translated comments to Nova Sport in Czechia, “but until the last moment David preferred an agreement with the Bruins, even though, economically, it was not as good as he could get from other teams.”
Krejci, who has centered a rotating cast of wingerswith the Bruins, said the dismissal of former coach Bruce Cassidy was not a factor in his return.
“That would be a good story, if I would say yes,” he said with a grin. “My decision was made before they hired the new coach [Jim Mongtomery]. The firing of Butchy had nothing to do with my decision coming back.”
If Montgomery puts him with Pastrnak — which is likely, given the success of the Taylor Hall-Krejci-Pastrnak line Cassidy briefly used in the spring of 2021 — Krejci would be pleased. It is not a requirement, though.
“Who wouldn’t want to play with one of the best players in the world?” he said. “I was lucky enough that I got to play with him on the same line at the World Championship. That was kind of the turning point in my decision, coming back to the NHL, just playing with him. Just kind of seeing what we can still do together, it was pretty cool.”
Krejci could play in his 1,000th game (currently: 962) just after the New Year, when Marchand (double hip surgery), and McAvoy and Grzelcyk (shoulder surgeries) should be back in the lineup. Assuming no complications, the Bruins could look like a contender.
Krejci said he and Bergeron are “coming back to do something because we believe in the team. So we’ll see what happens.”
Pavel Zacha would raise his hand to play with Krejci. An all-Czech line of Zacha, Krejci, and Pastrnak would be intriguing, and could help Zacha’s offensive game flourish.
The sixth overall pick (New Jersey) in 2015 feels he focused more on his defense in his first eight seasons. He put up 69 goals and 179 points in 386 games with the Devils, and was their leading scorer (17-18—35 in 50 games) in 2020-21. Assistant coach Mark Recchi, he said, used to prod the 6-foot-3-inch, 209-pound forward to attack more.
“You have a great shot. You have to get to the net a little bit more,” Zacha said that Recchi told him. “You know, shoot the pucks and be a little bit more selfish in that way. So it’s something that I try to work on . . . offense for me, I think I can bring that to the table next year.”
Krejci, for years a world-class playmaker, could set the table for him. As could Pastrnak, one of the best forwards in the game. Zacha is excited to skate with Tomas Nosek and his childhood friend, Jakub Zboril.
“Having five Czech players on a team,” he said, “doesn’t happen that often.”
Not for him. Zacha was the Devils’ only Czech player in his tenure there, save for one game he played as a rookie with soon-to-retire veteran Patrik Elias.
Like Bergeron and Krejci, Zacha feels he left a little money on the table to chase a title in Boston. Rather than negotiate a long-term deal before a potential Thursday arbitration hearing, Zacha settled on a one-year, $3.5 million contract in the interest of, in his words, helping the team.
🎥 Pavel Zacha on his one-year deal with the #NHLBruins: "If everything goes well they know that I want to stay in Boston for a long time...I think we met where we wanted...it's all about winning for us next season." pic.twitter.com/DYTvzCuMdx— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) August 9, 2022
“Just trying to get the best of a team as possible so we can all play,” said Zacha, who has summered in this area for several years. “And it’s all about winning for us next season.
“If everything goes well, they know that I want to stay in Boston for a long time.”
If they continue to make playoff runs, it could be a happy marriage.
“Especially with Bergy and Krejci coming back, doing a great push for next season and trying to win,” Zacha said. “I’m just happy to be on a team that’s going to be in the race and in the playoff run. That’s something that wasn’t part of the last six years.”
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.