The sample is large enough for us to know that these Bruins are what they are. Painfully so at times, in fact.
Forget ‘full’ health that’ll never come when you’re playing at a faster pace than every-other-day and forget COVID complications everybody will go through or has gone through in 2021. The Oregon Trail confirmed that it’s impossible to stay healthy at this pace and COVID-related absences are the universally-understood cost of doing business this season.
Again, this team simply is what their record says they are. Depth and situational know-how seem to pop up as issues both up front and on the backend when watching this team on a nightly basis. They’re simply not built to be consistent below their top line, and some notable absences have created undeniable questions in regards to this team’s postseason viability.
It’s enough to make you think twice about buying. Or selling for that matter. And it’s likely why the decision to invest more finite (and already-limited) resources in on extra help seems likely to go down to the wire.
Beginning in net, Tuukka Rask’s health is a problem.
Rask has played just 20 minutes since suffering an upper-body injury at the end of a Mar. 7 loss to the Devils. A back injury for a 34-year-old goalie? Yikes. In a year with a condensed schedule? Double Yikes. If there’s any doubts about Rask’s health, there’s no point in the Bruins spending assets on much of anything. We’ve already seen how a Rask-less Bruins team fared when the competition increased in the postseason last year… and that team was noticeably better than this current version. And despite strong showings from both Daniel Vladar and Jeremy Swayman, they’re not at the point in their careers where you’d buy extra help in front of them if they’re to be the guys in ’21.
It’s not much better in front of the Boston crease. Minute-eating, defensive-zone stalwart Brandon Carlo is out on a week-to-week basis, and Charlie McAvoy has been shelved with an upper-body injury. The Bruins consider McAvoy day-to-day for now, which is the best possible prognosis. But if his absence goes from day-to-day to week-to-week, the Bruins’ already-thin defense loses its Norris contender. There’s no trade to be made to offset such a loss.
And it definitely didn’t help that Jake DeBrusk missed six crucial games during an almost three-week stint on the COVID list. It was just six games, sure, but DeBrusk has long been the key to the B’s plans up front. Their belief in him is why they passed on free agent options such as Taylor Hall and Mike Hoffman, and the Bruins would’ve killed for a chance to see how an ‘angrier’ DeBrusk played in an attempt to reclaim his spot as the Bruins’ third-best winger. Instead, the Bruins and DeBrusk are back to building, and they have just three more games to get a read on where DeBrusk is at as an X-factor.
It’s the kind of mess that makes buying seem like a waste. And if these issues collide (or continue to collide and force the Bruins to scramble to stay afloat), there’s probably no set of moves that can bring the Bruins to true Cup-winning status.
At the same time, the Bruins almost owe it to this core to go for it in some fashion.
They’re dug in. They’ve been dug in.
Every year Patrice Bergeron remains on this team is a year where the Bruins should make an effort to win the Stanley Cup. He’s not getting any younger, and the Bruins are still getting top-line production out of him. Same for Brad Marchand, who is playing at a Hart Trophy level, and is on one of the best contracts in hockey. Wasting these years is a sin. And if the plan was for 2021 be a ‘bridge year’, then the Bruins should’ve let Jaroslav Halak walk, opted not to sign the 31-year-old Craig Smith to a multi-year deal, and seriously considered trading David Krejci and Rask in the offseason.
At this point, with the Bruins in a playoff spot and likely to remain there with 30 percent of their remaining schedule featuring the league-worst Sabres, you’re too dug in to reverse course less than a week before the deadline.
I also can’t help but shake the feeling that this East Division is still anybody’s to win.
The Islanders added two pieces who could very well put them over the hump, and though the Bruins are 0-3-2 against N.Y. in 2021, it’s definitely worth mentioning that they’ve been in every game into the third period. They’re not getting run out of the building. The Capitals are still the Capitals, but going from Braden Holtby to Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov has helped close the gap in this rivalry. Pittsburgh feels as unpredictable as the B’s in a potential seven-game series, Philly is toast, and who knows if the Rangers’ recent hot run is real.
The Bruins could get smoked in five games just as easily as they could run through the first two rounds of the postseason. It’s hard not to feel this way about almost every team in this division, especially in a wildly unpredictable COVID campaign. But the latter feels even slightly more likely if the Bruins can get some desperately-needed help via the trade market, too.
Get beyond that and the need for help becomes more glaring.
The Central has its notable challengers; Carolina and Florida are playing some downright fantastic hockey, and the defending champion Lightning are set up to get Nikita Kucherov back in the postseason. The West has Colorado and Vegas. And the North is… uhh … did I mention the Lightning and Golden Knights already?
We’re getting ahead of ourselves, of course, and that’s just tradition.
When it come to deadline moves, we often look at the endings before the process even begins. That’ll surely remain the case before, during, and after the Bruins make a trade (if they do at all) before Monday afternoon’s trade deadline.
But when that time comes, the question shouldn’t be, “Did they do enough to become true contenders?” It should instead be, “Did they do something to give themselves a chance or did they simply remain the same?”
It’s a question that has to come with an answer, too. Because we’ve all seen enough to know that ‘nothing’ simply can’t work at this point.