Rumors persisted in 2021 that David Krejci’s pandemic-shortened season would be his last in the NHL.
Krejci was still effective, recording 44 points in 51 games as a 34-year-old. He wasn’t going to make anywhere near the $7.25-million he was getting paid on his six-year deal, but if he wanted to return, the Bruins would have made it work in a pursuit to keep the team’s playoff contention window alive as long as possible.
But in early August, Krejci confirmed he was stepping away from the NHL to return home to Olomouc, the city where he played as a junior hockey player. As expected, Krejci had a great season with 46 points in 51 games, highlighted by 20 goals to lead his team in scoring.
Krejci was an important figure on Czechia’s national team this year, recording a point-per-game in four Olympic contests and ultimately was going to be one of the most important pieces of a Czechia team that needed as much offensive help as they could get. He started off strong with three points in his opening two games and was one of the few bright spots in a tough loss to Austria in the third game, but he needed more help.
On May 19, he got that. Enter David Pastrnak, Krejci’s former teammate in Boston.
Pastrnak’s arrival was huge for Czechia, who won its first game with him in the lineup 5-1 over Latvia. The team’s top line of Pastrnak, Krejci and Roman Cervenka combined for six points, showing instant chemistry. Without Pastrnak, who had 10 points in nine games, it’s unlikely Czechia would have come away with the bronze — his hat-trick in the bronze medal game is a good example. Pastrnak had points in four of the seven games, with Czechia losing in two of the games he didn’t tally a point in.
Krejci’s best games came with his buddy in tow, with nine of 12 points coming with Pastrnak alongside him. A lot of the line’s damage came on the man advantage, and while Pastrnak has spent a large chunk of his career playing with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, you could tell the chemistry between him and Krejci was immediate.
And familiarity is so important in a tournament like this. Finland won gold with just five active NHL skaters, and one of them — Juho Lammikko — was playing a minor role. But Finland plays a tough, tight game, and that’s why 15 Finns won Olympic and World Championship gold this season.
When Pastrnak joined the Bruins in 2014-15, Krejci served as a mentor for his young countryman. Pastrnak’s underlying numbers were much better with Krejci than without him, and while he ultimately fit better on Boston’s perferction line, Pastrnak’s immediate success with Krejci gave Boston a great scoring punch on the second line. When Pastrnak hit 80 points for the first time in 2017-18, his 3.75 points-per-60 with Krejci was the most among any teammates with at least 80 minutes of 5-on-5 play time.
So while the two grew apart, seeing them reunite in such a big way for Czechia’s bronze medal effort brought back strong feelings for Bruins fans. Could Krejci — a UFA — return for one last hurrah? Even with the high point count, Krejci didn’t have the speed or alertness that he did in the past, but he sure looked like someone that could have carved out a decent season in the NHL.
And even if Krejci returned to Boston, it’s unlikely he’d play with Pastrnak. In fact, with Krejci being 36, Sunday’s third-place game could have very well been the last time Krejci and Pastrnak ever take the ice together. If so, it was one heck of a run with lots of on-ice success together. It wasn’t under NHL jurisdiction, but diehard Bruins fans couldn’t help but get a glimpse of the pair every time they took to the ice in Finland.