By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
A few weeks ago, we spent some time looking at the players that make up the Bruins veteran core and the younger players that may make up their next core. Amongst the senior group was David Krejci, the creative, silky, and responsible long-tenured second-line center. During our exercise, Krejci was a player who looks poised for a decline in production and on-ice value. At 34 years old, that does not necessarily come as a surprise, but the question remains to what degree Krejci can still be relied upon. A marginal drop in points and a couple of fewer minutes a night can easily be absorbed by a player like Charlie Coyle. However, a drop off a cliff could be catastrophic for the Bruins’ hopes in the upcoming season, whenever that may arrive. In order to further evaluate what we might expect in the coming years from the Czech pivot, we can use similarity scores and comparable players to try and make some educated guesses.
Similarity Scores, Comparables, And Criteria
Similarity scores come courtesy of the fine folks at Hockey-Reference. The goal of the scores, utilizing adjusted points shares, is to identify players who have had similar careers from a production standpoint regardless of era. It does not necessarily mean the players were similar in style of play. Looking at the list of players who had similar production to Krejci through their first 13 seasons, three stand out as potential comparables in production and how they were successful during their NHL careers – Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec, and Doug Weight. Gomez and Weight made their names as creative playmakers. While not known for his playmaking, Plekanec was an apt facilitator and deeply trusted for his two-way play, not dissimilar to Krejci, especially at this juncture in his career. Gomez and Weight also had reputations as responsible players at both ends of the rink.
In order to learn more about Krejci’s potential future, we can take a look at the trajectory of the three similar players in comparison to the Bruins number 46. To do so, we will use three different statistics. The first is points per game. Remember that similarity scores use adjusted point shares. This helps adjust for era since, for example, Hall of Famer Weight played some of his career in higher scoring times while all three also experienced stretches of the NHLs dead puck era. So what is important to our analysis, especially in points per game, is to examine the trend lines of each career more than the raw numbers.
The other two metrics we will use are average time on ice (TOI) and Goals Above Replacement (GAR). GAR comes courtesy of the advanced stats gurus at Evolving-Hockey. Ice time speaks to a coach’s trust in a player. A player who a coach still trusts in several situations will maintain a higher TOI while a diminishing player will likely be relegated to a lesser role. While that is not always the case, as we can see in Weight’s situation still getting big minutes on bad Islander teams late in his career, it is a valuable data point. GAR also serves as a great comparison to a player’s peers. The analytical metric combines both offensive and defensive contributions to assess a players’ worth to their team. GAR is a relatively new stat, so our data for our comparable players do not start until later in their careers.
A couple of final notes on the data. The X-axis of each chart shows the players’ age so we can see their career trajectory at comparable time intervals. You will also notice some missing data points for our older players. This is a result of NHL work stoppages.
Points Per Game
Krejci comparisons Points Per Game (PPG) pic.twitter.com/bJqIsmYkc0— BruinsBreakdown (@BruinsBreakdown) October 21, 2020
Gomez and Plekanec showcase the typical aging curve of an NHL player. They hit their peaks around 24, remained fairly productive until close to their 30th birthday, and then fell off pretty significantly by 35. Gomez had his role reduced substantially as he bounced around to several teams. Plekanec’s hard miles and heavy defensive lifting took a toll on his offensive production. While Weight’s trajectory follows a similar story, he did manage to stay productive later into his 30s. Krejci’s trendline most resembles Weight’s with a softer curve as he enters his mid-30s. He remains decent at even strength and makes up for his losses by still being very effective on the powerplay. If Krejci can continue to mirror Weight’s trajectory, he should be counted on for at minimum half a point per game for the next two to three seasons.
Time on Ice
Krejci Comparisons Time on Ice (TOI) pic.twitter.com/KvI5EIOuGf— BruinsBreakdown (@BruinsBreakdown) October 21, 2020
Context is certainly important in this particular comparison. Weight continued getting big minutes as a mentor to young Islanders’ players on bad teams. Gomez, with one exception, spent most of his 30s as a depth option on a variety of contending teams. Plekanec is the best comparison for Krejci on this metric. After playing big minutes for some good Habs teams, Plekanec slowly slid down the depth chart in his mid-30s and finished his career averaging about 15 minutes a night. We can envision Krejci, for many years now, a second-line center, sliding down to the third line, whether that be in Boston or elsewhere in the coming years. Krejci’s even-strength ice time will be dialed back though he should still earn some good time on the powerplay and be expected to help close out games.
Goals Above Replacement
The newness of this metric makes it a little hard to compare whole careers. However, it is informative both in assessing Krejci’s personal trends and what can be expected of a player of his nature late in a career. Krejci has waffled during his career between being superb and just good. Perhaps this has something to do with linemates and usage given Krejci’s facilitative nature. Regardless, his last few years have shown he can still be an effective and valuable player. Using our comparables, what we can note is players rarely outperform replacement levels late in their careers. So while we can expect Krejci to still provide some degree of value for two or three more years, to expect a lot or to do so beyond that would be irresponsible.
This exercise has provided us a lot of additional insight into what we can expect from David Krejci moving forward. Utilizing similarity scores and identifying stylistically similar players allowed us to make more apt comparisons than the general player pool. We learned that Krejci is aging more gracefully than most. He has proven more consistent throughout his career and his decline more gradual into his mid-30s. However, expecting more than modest to good value, moving forward would be to set unrealistic expectations. With his contract expiring after the season, the Bruins or another team should consider Krejci more of a third-line center to help you with the powerplay and late-game defensive situations. Getting half a point per game production or better while maintaining good even-strength possession numbers against lesser competition should be considered a successful season.