With the National Hockey League’s trade deadline officially less than one month away, fans of every team are starting to pay close attention to who may be on the market and who might best fit their team’s current needs. Bruins’ fans are no exception, of course.
However, more than halfway through the 2019-20 season, it is becoming increasingly clear that what the Bruins need is a different mentality among its existing personnel, not a rental savior from another club. This team is largely unchanged from the one that went to the Stanley Cup Final last season. The talent is certainly there. The hunger and team unity, it seems, are not.
With only one game remaining in January, the Bruins still find themselves somewhat comfortably atop the Atlantic Division standings, thanks in large part to a phenomenal first six weeks or so of the season. However, December and January have been less than kind to the boys in the Spoked-B, and that lead has dwindled significantly.
In fact, David Pastrnak is still leading the NHL in goals scored. Brad Marchand, who is among the league leaders in points, and Patrice Bergeron also each have at least 20 goals.
In the week or so leading up to the All-Star break, a reshuffling of the lineup started to produce more consistent secondary scoring. The Bruins even boast the fewest regulation losses in the league and continue to field a top-five power play. However, anyone who has watched their fair share of games this season knows those statistics are misleading.
That being said, the true test of how far the team can go this season will greatly depend on whether the current players can return from the break refreshed and ready to do whatever it takes to avenge last season’s heartbreaking Game 7 loss in the Final. No matter who general manager Don Sweeney may bring in before the trade deadline, nothing will change if the lackluster first-half effort up and down the roster continues.
And the Bad
The problem that has plagued the Bruins most so far this season is an apparent inability, or unwillingness, to put in a full 60-minute effort. Time and time again, fans were forced to watch their team come out of the gate strong, establish a two-, three-, even four-goal lead, then completely take its collective foot off the gas. This resulted in blown leads and, much too often, in games that the Bruins should have easily won in regulation heading to the dreaded overtime.
Overtime. That is another one of this team’s major Achilles heels. Of the 12 games in which the Bruins have gone to overtime this season, they have won just three. In addition, the Bruins have lost all seven shootouts in which they have participated this season. Certainly, it is in the team’s best interest to keep its proverbial foot on the opposing team’s throat in regulation and avoid the three-on-three overtime period or the shootout.
Adding Some Sparks
Over the course of the past couple of weeks, Bruins’ management made some tough, but necessary, roster moves in an effort to shore up the on-ice personnel for at least the short term. Forward Brett Ritchie, who signed with the Bruins as a free agent in July, was the first to be placed on waivers then sent down to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island. Less than a week later, veteran leader and alternate captain David Backes cleared waivers and would be required to report to Providence following the break, if that is the avenue he and his family chooses.
Oft-scratched utility defenseman Steven Kampfer was also reassigned to Providence. This is his second stint in the AHL this season.
With declining production from Backes, inconsistent results from Ritchie, who had struggled to remain healthy, and a lack of regular playing time for Kampfer, these moves made sense. And, the Bruins took the opportunity to inject some fresh blood into the lineup, opting to fill out the roster with Karson Kuhlman and Anton Blidh, who are both returning from lengthy injuries, and big-bodied defensive prospect Jeremy Lauzon. The results have already proven positive. Kuhlman wasted no time racking up a few points in his return, and Lauzon scored a goal in the very first game following his recall from Providence.
The superstar first line is still intact and continuing to produce on almost a daily basis. This fact, coupled with a recent emergence in secondary scoring and very promising results from lineup changes, the keys for success are in place. In fact, the only significant pieces of the 2018-19 season’s success that are no longer in place are trade-deadline acquisition Marcus Johansson and fourth-line bruiser Noel Acciari.
Those two may be gone, but young winger Anders Bjork is finally healthy after missing nearly two entire seasons with shoulder injuries. To say Bjork has exceeded expectations since joining the team in October would be an understatement. He has risen quickly up the lineup and looks like he may actually, finally, be the second-line right wing for which the Bruins have been desperately searching.
You Can Do It
Last season, Sweeney brought in Johansson and Charlie Coyle ahead of the trade deadline. Johansson played well in the playoffs but chose to move on to Buffalo following his roughly four-month stint in Boston. However, Coyle continues to shine on the hometown ice and was rewarded with a three-year contract extension the day before Thanksgiving.
With rumors abounding over which players the Bruins might be interested in trading for this season, the front office would be wise to look closely at the makeup of the current roster before pulling the trigger on any deal.
This is a solid crew that knows how to win. It is even hard to imagine the impact losing any member of this team would have on the Bruins’ overall playoff chances.
Admittedly, whether the lingering effects of the short offseason and crushing Game 7 loss or some other factor is to blame for the lack of fire and consistent effort, the mentality in the Bruins’ room needs to change. If the coaches and team leadership are able to find a way to make that happen, no rent-a-player is necessary.
The Bruins have survived an up-and-down first half of the season about as well as could be expected, given their current issues. This team showed last year that it more than has the ability to go deep into the playoffs. Whether that happens again this year is up to them.
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.