David Krejci is a wise man. When the now-retired Bruins centerman was asked Tuesday morning how he’d want to be remembered, he took the position he’s not the man to make that determination.
“I think everybody has their own opinion,” he said via teleconference from his South Carolina home. “I just wanted to play the best I could to represent myself, my family, the city of Boston and the Bruins organization.
“Everybody’s going to remember me the way they want to remember me.”
It was that last part — “Everybody’s going to remember me the way they want to remember me” — that stayed with me throughout the day. After considerable thought, this is where I landed: Krejci has earned membership in an exclusive fellowship of Boston athletes, who, while not necessarily Hall of Famers, were hugely important players who, in their time, were certified Hub luminaries.
Bruins center David Krejci retires
Krejci played 1,032 regular-season games for the Bruins, fifth most in club history. He amassed 786 points, ninth in club history. But here’s a better way to look at it: Picture the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 without Krejci. And this: Imagine the Bruins winning the Cup in 2010 with Krejci, instead of losing him to a broken wrist in Game 3 of the ill-fated Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Flyers.
It’s reasonable to think Krejci will eventually see his No. 46 rise to the rafters at TD Garden, not just because of what he did for the Bruins, but also, if one takes into account leadership and locker room presence, what he meant to the Bruins. (As an aside, I chose Krejci as the greatest No. 46 in Boston sports history for a piece I wrote for The Athletic in 2020, though, admittedly, there wasn’t much competition.)
If not for the historic dominance of #NHLBruins goaltender Tim Thomas , David Krejci would have in fact won Conn Smythe after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011.
That’s how DOMINANT he was that Stanley Cup Championship run #ThankYouKrejci #DK46 pic.twitter.com/sO1Qvpe0fC
— Shukri Wrights (@ShukriWrights) August 16, 2023
As for the unlikelihood of Krejci being inducted into the Hall of Fame, I write these words not as a gavel banged down by a press box judge but as a jumping-off point to something that’s bothered me for a long, long time.
I despise the term “Hall of Very Good.”
Close your eyes and think of the times you’ve heard this expression, such as when there’s a discussion about a certain ex-player’s Hall of Fame bona fides and somebody in the group counters with a harrumph. Followed by: “Hall of Very Good.”
These people always feel rather clever when they speak the words, as though it’s an original thought. It’s not. It’s dumb, it’s lazy, it’s trite.
It’s always, always used as a putdown, never as a compliment. No athlete in history has ever been introduced at a banquet by an emcee who said, “And for my money, our next speaker belongs in the Hall of Very Good.”
To say that somebody belongs in the Hall of Very Good is to suggest they weren’t good enough, that there was something missing in their game. As I thought about this, I began assembling a random roster of former Boston athletes who, while not Hall of Famers, are good comps as we discuss Krejci’s place. As I did so, it was important to remove four names from the list: Luis Tiant and Dwight Evans of the Red Sox, Rick Middleton of the Bruins and the late Gino Cappelletti of the Patriots.
I’ve long believed these four men belong in their sport’s Hall of Fame; as such, they aren’t relevant to this discussion. While I’m at it, I’ll add Waltham, Mass., native and Boston College legend Fred Smerlas, a five-time Pro Bowl selection during his days as a nose tackle with the Buffalo Bills. Alas, Smerlas had moved on before the Bills started going to the Super Bowl every year, and his accomplishments faded into history.
David Krejci’s retirement and the intrigue of a Bruins trade with the Jets or Flames
And so, which former Boston athletes who aren’t Hall of Famers come to mind when I think of David Krejci? In limiting the discussion to athletes who played 10 or more seasons in Boston, the first name I came up with was Jason Varitek. The former catcher played his entire 15-year career with the Red Sox, including two World Series winners. He was the leader of a sometimes complicated clubhouse, and his game prep was legendary. His 2004 season — 18 home runs, 73 RBI and a .296/.390/.482 slash line — is one of the most underrated in Red Sox history.
How about former Bruins forward Wayne Cashman? He played his entire 17-year career in Boston during the days of the Big, Bad Bruins, including two Cup winners. As much as we extoll Phil Esposio’s legendary goal-scoring prowess, as we should, Espo was blessed to be on a line with Cashman and Ken Hodge. Those guys were a tough-but-rhythmic machine.
How about former Patriots receiver Troy Brown? He played his entire 15-year career in New England and was a member of three Super Bowl-winning teams. He was reliable, he was versatile. And as is the case with Varitek, he remains with his old team as a valuable member of the coaching staff.
If your counterargument is that Varitek, Cashman and Brown played on multiple championship teams, I’ll give you Rico Petrocelli, who played 13 seasons with the Red Sox, breaking in at shortstop and later shifting to third base when young Rick Burleson came along. Petrocelli never played on a championship team, but he was a key member of the ’67 and ’75 pennant winners and hit .308 in the ’75 World Series.
And that’s just off the top of my head. Feel free to contribute your own. These players are remembered and applauded for what they contributed to Boston sports history, and to a degree that it’s hard to consider an alternate history without them.
And so it is with David Krejci. In response to his ground rules — “Everybody’s going to remember me the way they want to remember me” — what you’ll remember is that he was one of the most important and valuable Bruins during the first two-plus decades of the 21st century.
Players like Krejci are the backbone of their team. He will be missed.
(Photo: Steve Babineau / NHLI via Getty Images)