With the acquisition of David Backes, there is now a log-jam of potential centers for the Bruins. In particular, Backes, Spooner and Krejci are competing for the two middle six spots: during an interview with TSN on July 1st, Backes said he was told he would primarily be playing center. While it is certainly possible for either Spooner or Backes to play a top 6 winger position, it’s questionable whether that would be the best use of assets for the Bruins.
Backes is slightly older, and might be expected to drop off sooner than Krejci, according to pretty much every aging curve ever calculated. Backes (1.27 P1/60) also scores at a lower rate than both Krejci (1.39 P1/60) and Spooner (1.44 P1/60) at 5v5.
Backes (+1.14% rel. corsi) holds a significant advantage in both relative CF%, (Krejci: -1.31% Spooner: -3.31%) as well as xGF%. This means, relative to his teammates (relative to Krejci and Spooner), Backes either takes more quality shots than the opposition or is able to limit them better. The last three years of data show that statistically, Backes and Krejci are fairly similar to each other, although Krejci did have a much better year than Backes in 2015-16. Over the same period their 5v5 scoring rates are very similar, but Backes has the edge in possession
play. Backes (3.95 P1/60) is considerably more productive on the powerplay than both Spooner (3.3 P1/60) and Krejci (2.26 P1/60), which may come to the surprise of many.
The Bruins certainly scored enough last season (good for 5th in the league), to be satisfied with their offense, even with the loss of Loui Eriksson. However, Boston had a difficult time when it came to shot differential. The Bruins also got scored on, a lot. Clearly, the defense is the primary area of need for Boston. Presumably, most teams will want an NHL ready player in exchange for their NHL calibre defenseman. The Bruins would be dealing from a position of strength and depth if they decided to move one of the three centers I have mentioned.
I think it would be a mistake to give up a cost-controlled, young Ryan Spooner. He has room to grow and improve his puck management skills at 5v5. So, the Bruins best trade-chips (in terms of perceived value around the league and redundancy for Boston) are probably Krejci and Backes. Backes signed a contract a month ago, so trading him is simply out of the question. That leaves David Krejci. If the Bruins were to trade him for help on defense, the time would probably be right now. Even with the concerns about his health (Krejci had his second hip surgery this offseason), Krejci’s value around the league is probably the highest it will ever be. He has a reputation of being a playoff performer as well as a powerplay quarterback. A player waiving his NMC is certainly not an outrageous proposition, although it does limit the possible destinations quite substantially. For me, the question is not whether the Bruins should move Krejci for defense help, but if they can find the right deal.
All data is score, zone, and venue adjusted from corsica.hockey