It would be entirely forgivable if Boston
Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli misjudges the upcoming NHL trade
deadline. For the past couple of months, it has been difficult to judge whether
the Bruins are a sleeping giant waiting for everything to come together to be
the contender most anticipated they would be before the season started, or whether
they are simply a team that lacks depth and balance.
A playoff berth has not been secured, and
yet many would still mark the 2013/2014 President Trophy winners as a
legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
The past weekend’s contests struck a blow
for the later. Despite being denied two centers (David Krejci and Gregory
Campbell) through injury and with starting goaltender Tuukka Rask dealing with
illness, the Bruins secured back-to-back comfortable victories relying on
organizational depth and based first and foremost on the foundation of strong
team defense. Boston finished February winning three of their last four games
and opening up a four-point cushion for the second Wild Card spot in the
The problem is that the period of success
was preceded by six straight losses. During that span, the Bruins were
outscored 26-13 and looked to be in disarray. Just about every aspect of a team
that has been known for reliable three-zone hockey over the past four or five
seasons seemed to be wrong. All of that has come back over the last week; from
Tuukka Rask, to three good defensive pairings, to four-line deep forward corps,
the Bruins looked every bit a playoff team that any top seed would want to
Monday’s trade deadline will be a test for
Chiarelli. This is clearly a team that could use veteran depth, but he also has
a number of expiring contracts to contemplate and some cap magic to work both
now and also ahead of the 2015/16 season.
He went “all-in” ahead of the 13/14
campaign trading Tyler Seguin, while adding Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson and
Reilly Smith. At previous points in his career, he has shown patience and a
willingness to stand pat if the right deal is not on the table. However, there
might be a little added pressure this time around as numerous reports have
suggested that a failure to reach the postseason could cost the GM his job.
The story for much of the season has been
injuries to the team’s key players. Blue liner Zdeno Chara missed a stretch of
19 games from mid-October to mid-December. It’s difficult to quantify Chara’s
full impact when it comes to the Bruins. He is a perennial Norris Trophy
candidate, but more than that, his shutdown presence and the sheer amount of
ice time he is capable of playing have allowed Chiarelli and head coach Claude
Julien to construct a roster and a system with Chara at its core. The 37-year
old is also the team’s captain and he leads its gritty, hard-working and
physical identity. He hasn’t missed more than five games in a season since
arriving in Boston in 2006. Even beyond the 19 games that he was absent from,
Chara was slow to return to full game fitness and has never quite fully
established himself as a dominant shutdown force this season.
The other major injury concerns have been
Krejci. The team’s best offensive player and a key part of the team’s leading
duo down the middle (Patrice Bergeron is the other), Krejci has been in and out
of the lineup all season and often visibly struggling during his time in the
lineup. Last week it was announced that he would miss 4-6 weeks with a
partially torn MCL. Optimistically, he’ll be back in time for most of the
stretch drive, but realistically, he could well miss all but the last couple weeks
of the regular season.
His injury creates an even greater
predicament for Chiarelli. Without Krejci, this team is missing a key part of
its top six, power-play and also an important leader on the team. The 28-year
old had 49 points in 47 games during Boston’s two recent runs to the Stanley
Cup finals, leading the postseason in scoring each time. The Bruins aren’t
likely to cause any upsets without a fully healthy David Krejci.
Still, the Bruins have managed to win three
out of four since the loss of their top center. In fact, the lineup has really
come together since Krejci was sidelined. Bergeron-Marchand-Smith and
Soderberg-Eriksson-Paille have been effective combinations, while Ryan Spooner
and David Pastrnak have joined Milan Lucic as the trio that has arguably been
Boston’s most dangerous offensively. Pastrnak has one goal and three assists,
Spooner has a goal (the overtime winner against the Devils) and two assists,
and Lucic has a pair of goals and an assist.
Throw in the fact that Brian Ferlin has
done a pretty decent job on the team’s fourth line alongside Chris Kelly, and
that Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartkowski have managed to play a couple of
games without looking terrible, and Chiarelli might be forgiven for thinking
that this year’s Bruins still have a chance to come together – maybe they could
even avenge last spring’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Of course, trade deadline acquisitions
usually come at a steep price and Chiarelli won’t want to sabotage the team’s
potential competitiveness next season.
There’s just something not quite right
about this version of Julien’s Bruins. They rank 10th in the league
in goals against per game (still pretty good) conceding 2.50 on average, but
it’s their worst performance in that category since the coach’s first season in
2007/08, when the team grabbed the eighth seed in the Eastern conference conceding
2.62 GA/G ranking them 11th in the league.
That 07/08 roster needed Glen Metropolit to
act as the team’s second line center for much of the campaign. It played with
grit, determination and heart to beat most expectations by reaching the
postseason at all. They got the most out of what they had, and for the most
part, that has been the mantra of Julien-led teams, even if they endured a
couple of postseason disappointments before that 2011 Cup win.
Another characteristic of recent Boston
teams is the ability to score first and to then hold on to that lead and close
out games. They’ve regularly ranked in the top 10 in that category. Last season
they won 84% of games after scoring first (they won a lot of games full stop). That
has dropped to winning just 67% of the time when scoring first so far in 14/15.
During their recent losing run, the Bruins gave up a 3-0 lead against the
Calgary Flames, and even the victory against New Jersey on Friday only came in
overtime after Boston had allowed a 2-0 advantage to slip.
A lack of speed was highlighted as a
potential problem for this roster heading into the season. Perhaps Chara has
just lost a step or two, or perhaps Julien’s message isn’t reaching his players
anymore. Perhaps it has just been an odd year for this franchise. Chiarelli
faces some challenges as he attempts to assess this roster. He’ll be hoping
that the real Bruins are the team that has been as consistent as any other in
the NHL over the past seven seasons, and he’ll be hoping that those Boston
Bruins stand up and stay standing for the rest of what
has been a tumultuous season for this organization.
the time the Bruins next play, at home against Calgary on Thursday, Chiarelli
will have made his judgment on this team and the trade market.
Labels: Written by Sebastian Egerton-Read - @Seb_Read