By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If we want to simplify the Bruins’ recent struggles down to a single fact or idea, it’s that the Bruins are an incredibly imperfect team that’s being asked to play a perfect game every single night just for this team to even have a chance of winning.
But is it ever really that simple?
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has tried almost every possible line combination in an effort to jumpstart Boston’s offense, only to find out that the battery’s not just dead, but it’s not even in the car. Their goaltenders have been given almost no room for error on an almost nightly basis, with the Bruins having scored two goals or fewer in 16 of their 28 games. They’ve also yet to have that ‘hearts of lions’ (check is not in the mail, Jack) moment or game, as they’re one of just five teams in the NHL this season yet to pull off a victory in any game where they’ve trailed after two periods (0-8-1).
And despite the Gemel Smith (two goals, one assist, and the worst possession percentage in 14 games for the Stars this year) waiver claim made by Don Sweeney on Thursday, there’s honestly no believable fix to break the B’s out of this. Be it somebody sitting on the shelf recovering from an injury or within the organizational pipeline in Providence.
They are what they are.
So, uh, I gotta ask… just what are we doing here?
The Bruins lost last year’s second-round playoff series against the Lightning because they were entirely too top-heavy, and their scoring dried up to the tune of over 200 even-strength minutes without a goal from a forward. Now, the Bruins not only failed to address this issue in the summer (and then kept the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak combination together despite a seemingly obvious need for greater balance), but they also found a way to make their forward depth worse. Although the Bruins rightfully didn’t want to overextend themselves in years or dollars for players coming off career-years (Riley Nash, Tim Schaller), the Bruins replaced them with borderline replacement-level fourth-liners with zero scoring potential, making Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner two of their July 1 priorities for reasons that are mystifying for this year and next year.
To complicate their depth issues further, the Bruins also miscalculated their youth’s readiness for legitimate roles in the NHL.
Not one of the three babyfaced contenders seized the third-line center gig out of training camp, and Ryan Donato’s defensive inefficiencies made him virtually unplayable on Boston’s second line, at least in the eyes of Cassidy. Sweeney also didn’t properly plan for the second-year stumbles that typically come, such as the one Danton Heinen currently finds himself trapped in after a 47-point rookie season. Anders Bjork apparently can’t play his way out of Providence, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson might be one of the most touch-and-go players the B’s have tried to develop in recent memory. Even when they’ve played their game in small spurts this year, they have yet to elevate the B’s third line to a passable level. Their statistical shortcomings — as well as a NHL no-show from 2015 first-round pick Jakub Zboril’s two NHL games — have essentially crushed their trade value, too, providing a double-whammy that hurts the Bruins on the ice and in their trade value/potential return.
Still, Sweeney covets and values youth, entry-level contracts and flexibility that comes with it like no other.
The organization’s inability to possess those three things in the latter years of Peter Chiarelli’s run in Boston is what landed Sweeney the job in the first place, so it makes total sense. But it’s almost as if Sweeney values the stuff to a fault, and still operates as if he can’t move any of these players, despite the obvious fact that a) not all of them are going to pan out and b) the Bruins as an organization have too many of the same second-tier talents that are unlikely to take the franchise to the next level needed to win another championship before Bergeron and Chara ride off into the sunset and have their numbers retired.
Straight-up annoyed and frustrated by the fact that he didn’t have a first-round pick in last year’s draft as a result of the Rick Nash trade (something he repeated throughout draft weekend), Sweeney’s hoarding of all things young and/or potentially valuable is akin to a kid grabbing a handful of toys to the point where he can’t see over the pile stacked up in his grasp.
Sure, you have a ton of toys, but what’s the use if you’re not able to play with them in some way?
The “trades are hard” argument doesn’t work, either. If you have as many viable assets as the Bruins allegedly have, it should be easier for you to make a trade than the rest of the contenders (many of whom do not possess the cap space you entered the year with and fiercely protected). Also: Sweeney is one of 31 people considered capable of making those hard trades, so.
Oh, and the Bruins are not as young as they believe they are. Not where it matters anyway; Their top two centers are entering their mid-30s, their best defenseman is a 41-year-old, and both of their goalies are over 30. Marchand remains in his prime, but is beginning to creep into his 30s. All this happens while a considerable cap crunch looms over their summer 2019.
Their window is not as open as they’d love to tell you, at least if we’re being honest with ourselves.
So, again, I have to ask, what the hell are we doing here? Because wasting another year of this still-capable core simply isn’t doable, and there’s no dancing around the fact that this current roster construct is built to do exactly that.
Without even diving into the obvious lack of talent towards the bottom of the roster and redundancies across the board, the Bruins are a Stanley Cup contender without a third-line center and solidified plan on the wing of their second line. So, in other words, they’re not a Stanley Cup contender, but rather aligned to be another one-round wonder destined to get smoked by a deeper team when the playoff field narrows down from ‘half the league’ to just eight and beyond.
The Bruins can’t figure this out overnight, of course, nor should they try.
But a viable plan of some sort seemingly has to emerge before they truly find themselves sinking to the outside, dealing from a truly horrendous position, and in a spot where a direction can be legitimately questioned. More than it is right now, no less.