The Bruins Playoff Conundrum

The Boston Bruins’ playoff chances are hanging by a thread.

A 5-3 loss in Tampa Bay against the Lightning on Sunday mean they are now at the mercy of the resurgent Ottawa Senators. Their 5-2 win against the San Jose Sharks Monday night gave the Sens a one point lead for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on the Bruins. Last week, Boston appeared to be on course for an eighth consecutive playoff appearance. Now, it is a lot of scoreboard watching and hoping Ottawa and the Florida Panthers collapse down the stretch.

In a rollercoaster season for the Bruins that has run the gamut of human emotion, would it be fair for the club to put their fans through the torture that is playoff hockey? There is little confidence among fans Claude Julien’s squad can do anything if they get in.

Furthermore, an inevitable and unenviable matchup with either the Montreal Canadiens or New York Rangers awaits should they limp over the postseason line. It would be a tough road to hoe for Boston knowing they will have to contend with one of these Eastern Conference powerhouses.

The Glass Half-Full

If the Bruins do indeed find a way into the postseason, there are several benefits.

David Pastrnak
(Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Playoff hockey is a different animal compared to the regular season, especially for younger players. Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak are starting to get a feel for the NHL having played 47 and 33 games, respectively. Both players sparked the Bruins offense during their recent five-game win streak, adding an element of speed and finish to a roster that is largely devoid of both. Getting these two future pieces of the roster some playoff experience is vital as they look to take the next step in their careers.

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is eager for his club to make the postseason as well because of the added revenue it brings. At least two playoff games at the TD Garden means 17,565 occupied seats, concession sales, and merchandising revenue. The cash will be valuable to Jacobs as the Garden will enter phase two of its renovation over the summer.

A third benefit to making the playoffs is that anything can happen as long as Boston gets in. The 2012 Los Angeles Kings proved to the hockey world that all a team has to do is get hot at the right time. They became the first eight seed in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup thanks to a heroic performance from goaltender Jonathan Quick and convincing victories over the three best teams in the Western Conference.

It would be difficult for Boston to replicate that given their recent performance, but if the club finishes on a hot streak, anything can happen.

The Glass Half-Empty

Is there really a pessimistic view to the Bruins making the playoffs? Why yes, there is.

Let us go back in time to January when Charlie Jacobs was appointed the new CEO of the Boston Bruins. He wasted no time in expressing his displeasure with a hockey club that was on the outside looking in.

“For us to be a team that’s out of the playoffs is absolutely unacceptable…it’s been an utter disappointment and a failure – a complete failure.”

“We’re in a constant state of evaluation right now.”

What if they make the playoffs? Does everything Jacobs said then still come to fruition?

It should.

(Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)
Is Peter Chiarelli on the hot seat in Boston?  (Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports)

The lowering of expectations does little to satisfy a fan base that expects a Stanley Cup contender year in and year out. The “constant state of evaluation” involves everyone from the general manager to the players. Peter Chiarelli has faced growing criticism all season for the questionable contracts he has tendered. Their salary cap woes are not going away anytime soon thanks to a roster full of overpaid players with no-trade/no-movement clauses.

A culture of complacency is starting to creep its way into the organization. Seven straight postseason appearances, two Cup Finals appearances, and a championship in 2011 will do that. For a club that has not been faced with a major organizational decision in some time, Jacobs may have to practice what he preached whether or not they make the playoffs.

The Boston faithful are losing hope, patience, and confidence in their Bruins. Growing sentiment is that fans want to miss the playoffs in order for the necessary changes to take place. In fact, some believe it may be the only way any type of significant organizational shakeup will happen.

They may be right.