Like a high school freshman deciding what clothes to wear on the first day of school, the Boston Bruins are struggling to find an identity. Although they have played well since the start of 2015, games against the Canadiens and Rangers in the past week have shown us that the Bruins are sort of…posers, in a way. They’re not the Big Bad Bruins of the past. However, they’re not flashy or skilled like the Habs, Lightning, Red Wings and most of the other contenders in the Eastern Conference. How and when will the Bruins solve this problem?
When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the league was different than it is today. Peter Chiarelli made three mid-season trades that all worked out and Tim Thomas was pretty decent in the playoffs you could say.
The Bruins seemed to realize the direction the league was heading in when they were outplayed and defeated by the Canadiens in the playoffs last year. They let go a fan favorite in Shawn Thornton and although they really had no option, lost Jarome Iginla to the Avalanche. The first line power forward role filled by Nathan Horton and Iginla in years past would be up for grabs.
However, the Bruins didn’t have the means to make the transition to a finesse group. And being stuck in the middle of a gritty team and a skilled team isn’t a recipe for success.
[tweetthis]What the Bruins are left with is a handful of valuable commodities and an excess of faces in the crowd.[/tweetthis]
With no money to sign any real skill players, the Bruins have been forced to mix and match players with hopes they could fit into the wrong roles. Seth Griffith is not a first line right-winger. Adam McQuaid is not a top four defenseman. And Daniel Paille- Daniel Paille shouldn’t even be on the team at this point.
We all know Claude Julien is all about two-way hockey, but if hockey is anything like natural selection, Julien will need to adapt if he doesn’t want to be weeded out by evolving opponents. Don’t get me wrong, the Bruins need a strong two-way presence from Patrice Bergeron, one of the most underrated players in the league, but not everyone has to fit that mold.
What the Bruins are left with is a handful of valuable commodities and an excess of faces in the crowd. Players that can’t rough up a smaller opposing line or beat them with finesse. If Milan Lucic isn’t frustrated from persistent media criticism, he isn’t the Cam Neely-esque power forward that he used to be. Reilly Smith and Loui Eriksson- the Tyler Seguin replacements- are very run of the mill. There’s nothing special about either of them and they can take advantage of very few match-ups.
The defensive group is also becoming more evidently porous at times and the Johnny Boychuk trade continues to look like a mistake. Matt Bartkowski, who was re-signed despite his inconsistencies, remains a liability and hasn’t played since New Year’s Eve. Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug are offensive threats and continue to progress, but not surprisingly, are still at the age where defensive lapses take place more often than we would all like.
As of now, it doesn’t look like the Bruins match up well with too many of their eastern foes and would surely need to catch fire to make it deep into the playoffs. Chiarelli needs to be decisive at the deadline in order to help the team in the right direction, whichever that may be. He can trade for Chris Stewart and another grinder to toughen up the team. He could also make a push for one of the bigger names out there like Jordan Eberle or Antoine Vermette to try to match the speed and skill of a team like the Canadiens. Don’t forget, another defenseman seems like a smart thing to add to the roster, too.
A quick mid-season fix can help the Bruins’ chances and even make them a contender, but organizationally, this is a long process. From drafting to coaching, the Bruins need to make decisions that pushes the team in the same direction. I don’t expect a rebuild anytime soon, but the Bruins may be wise to make some big decisions going forward.
Has contributed to isportsweb, the Yawkey Way Report, and Fansided’s Chowder and Champions. Host of the weekly radio show Top Shelf Sports on Bryant University’s WJMF radio.