By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins spent an entire weekend — almost a whole week if you include last Tuesday’s home game — praising Patrice Bergeron. I mean, I’m not one to protest celebrating the greatest two-way center in franchise history, but it was a whole lot.
They gave him a silver stick and in-game video tributes and shoutouts from pretty much any and every athlete to wear a jersey in town since Bergeron introduced himself to Boston almost 16 years ago. It made Bergeron uncomfortable, but that didn’t stop No. 37 from being No. 37, as he factored in on three of Boston’s five goals (including the overtime winner) in a 5-4 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. Bergeron followed that up by coming through with the primary assist on Brad Marchand’s overtime goal barely 24 hours later, giving the Bruins an exhausting weekend sweep.
By now, the 33-year-old Bergeron carrying the Bruins to victory is nothing new. He’s been doing it all year. But maybe it could be a gentle reminder to Don Sweeney that the Bruins should get Bergeron and Co. some help before it’s too late?
Now, the Bruins are in a relatively ‘safe’ spot, having recorded points in seven straight games (4-0-3) and sitting eight points above the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. But every night feels like an absolute grind for this team and its best players.
If they don’t get some sort of legitimate contribution from their first line (two goals or more), carried by their power play (led by Bergeron in the bumper), or Vezina-level goaltending on a nightly basis, they lose about seven times out of 10. And in addition to their even-strength struggles — only five teams have scored fewer even-strength goals than this year’s Bruins (113) and the Arizona Coyotes are the only team shooting worse than the B’s this season — this is easily the most top-heavy team in recent memory, too. The dropoff from the team’s fourth-highest scoring forward to its fifth is 24 points, from 43 to 19. 24 points!
Oh, and the Bruins are in a legitimately and undeniably worse spot than they were a year ago when they were less than a year ago. You know, when they were absolutely dismantled by the Lightning in five games in the second round and then said that they were too top-heavy and loaded with some redundancies on their roster.
It feels as if this has become a five-month process of the Bruins basically doing whatever they can to survive. Again, this has worked to this point, but it’s killing them slowly. Since Jan. 1, Brad Marchand has played the 26th-most minutes in the league among forwards, while Bergeron ranks 41st. There’s no rest coming for Boston’s most dynamic one-two punch, especially with David Pastrnak expected to miss the next two weeks at the very least. 41-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara has played the 49th-most minutes among NHL defenders over that same span. A rest will not be coming his way, especially as the Bruins shift towards a more defense-first identity given their inability to score on an even somewhat regular basis.
This is fine… until you realize the Bruins are set to begin a stretch that sees their year end with 26 games in 54 days.
If the Bruins want to be anything close to a threat come postseason time, and not led by the fumes and remnants of their typically-elite talents, they need legitimate reinforcements to arrive. And soon.
“But prices are high and trades are difficult!”
Truth be told, I don’t need a general manager to tell me that trades are hard. I know they’re hard. But unfortunately for Sweeney, he’s one of 31 men in the NHL deemed qualified to make them. He’s also in his fourth full season on the job, so if he’s not a great trader by now, I’m beginning to wonder if he ever will be.
And writing off necessities with a “prices are high” excuse absolves Sweeney of blame he certainly deserves.
See, Sweeney looks the part of somebody absolutely terrified to lose a trade. That’s why patchwork deadline deals that have seen the Bruins part with a total of seven non-first round draft picks for a collection of roster filling like John Michael Liles, Lee Stempniak, Drew Stafford, Nick Holden, and Tommy Wingels have done the trick. His one ‘swing for the fences’ move (last year’s acquisition of Rick Nash), looked solid until Nash suffered a concussion and was an obvious shell of himself in the postseason. You would have to hope that Sweeney is smart enough to realize that he can’t hold himself back from another big move because Cedric Paquette delivered their worst fears to Nash on an unlucky St. Patrick’s Day.
But Sweeney, whose start began in player development, seems so terrified to part with a prospect that can turn into something real. So much so that he simply sat on his hands all summer, seemingly addressing everything besides the Black and Gold’s need for another natural right wing to plug behind Pastrnak on the right side of the club’s big league depth chart. (He seriously added two more fourth liners and another left-shot defenseman before he addressed their right-side woes.)
To make matters worse, almost every single Boston’s prospects has seen a dip in their trade stock since these non-moves.
First of all, nobody won the job for the third-line center spot or second-line right wing job out of camp. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s value seems completely shot due to his extremely limited impact (and usage), and 2016 first-round draft pick Trent Frederic has yet to eclipse the 10-minute mark in his six NHL showings. Ryan Donato was utilized in a Frank Vatrano-esque role during his run with the Big B’s this season, and is currently in the minors posting Vatrano-esque numbers. Danton Heinen was a 47-point man a year ago. He’s tallied 16 points through 52 games this season, making him the 187th-highest scoring forward among the 219 NHL players with at least 50 games played. Anders Bjork’s shoulder has ended his season for the second year in a row. Jakub Zboril has yet to make it as an NHLer. The list goes on and on. Seriously.
Even the one you would not want to trade (Jake DeBrusk) is having a down year, with just 15 goals and four assists through 47 games.
In other words, the Bruins could not have bungled this year any worse than they have.
Still, the time is now for a team lead by two mid-30s centers, a 41-year-old No. 1 defenseman, and two mercurial goalies in their 30s. Clinging to prospects that may never pan out (I’m almost afraid to see what happens with the next young player the Bruins throw into the NHL fire) and draft picks does nothing to help the Bruins capitalize with this group.
Their time is not three years from now, when Bergeron is in his late 30s and Chara is still your No. 1 defender at the age of 45. It’s now. And if the Boston front office thinks it’s hard to strike now, somebody needs to remind them that it’s going to be even harder as the prospects that have held their own are due for raises and eat up a large chunk of Boston’s cap.
I just hope they realize that before we’re celebrating Bergeron and friends for nothing more than past achievements and undeniable should-have-beens.