It was a question asked all season long: Could the Bruins really miss the playoffs?
Everyone wanted to know if the Bruins playoff chances were really in doubt and if the team, that was feared for some time, could actually finish up their year in early April.
I had no idea and I don’t think others had a definitive answer either. Instead, I answered with what other Bruins’ writers likely said, too: Probably. It’ll be close, but they’ll probably make it in.
Now on April 12, the Bruins’ season is over. Boston will miss the postseason for the first time in eight years and the first time in the Claude Julien era. The same team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season, doesn’t even finish in the top 16 this year.
What just happened?
The NHL’s postseason tagline of ‘Who Could Predict This?’ is fitting here because well, not many could have predicted the Bruins were going to miss the playoffs this season. There were signs, though. Before the season even began there were some questions about the Bruins. Who was going to be the top line RW? Did the make up of the 4th line change for the better? Will Niklas Svedberg be able to shoulder games and play a similar role to Chad Johnson and Anton Khudobin in years’ past? If you didn’t answer no to these questions, you didn’t answer at all.
And then there was the salary cap issue. The Bruins needed to shed personnel to become a cap compliant team. This was, of course, before Torey Krug and Reilly Smith even re-signed with the team, and before Johnny Boychuk was traded in what was supposed the first of a few acquisitions to make the team better. But then there was silence. Nothing happened.
Once the season began, it was clear that between injuries to key players and regression to others, this Bruins team wasn’t the same. They showed flashes, but their inconsistencies and unwillingness to take their game to the next level ultimately killed whatever hope there once was. While it was a frustrating season for the team, there was always this false sense of security that everything was going to work itself out. Everyone always thought that everything was going to be fine. But it wasn’t.
Looking back, it should have felt different from the beginning. The expectations of the 2014-15 Boston Bruins, coming off of their Presidents’ Trophy season, should have been lowered. The expectation, however, should not have been missing the playoffs.
Next season will be different, but not for the reasons that immediately come to mind. Zdeno Chara is getting older and the anchor of the Bruins blue line will start to regress even more. Tuukka Rask can’t be played as much as he was in order to prevent future burnout. The once highly touted core of the team is expected to look different with many players likely to not be re-signed or traded. Who knows who will go. The window that seemed wide open for the Bruins just a few seasons ago doesn’t look that way now.
Then there’s Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien. Call for the GM or the Head Coach’s head all you want. Both should stay. Maybe 2014-15 is a fluke year or maybe it’s the direction this team is going but there is no one else out there who would do better replacing Chiarelli or Julien. Granted, both should be on the hot seat for next season but neither should be fired.
There should be a change in philosophy, in the ways that the team is constructed both on and off the ice. It’s clear that the big, bad, Bruins are anything but and that their replacement characteristics aren’t impressive either. There wasn’t an identity to this team aside from being an erratic mess. Change up the roster, insert some fresh faces, and rely more on your younger, frankly better, players.
It’s not a huge step back for the Bruins, but it’s still a step back. The team will look different on the ice next season, but that might not be a bad thing for an organization used to standing pat in the offseason. Still, this was a weird way to end things.
It was a brutal winter in Boston, but summer came early for the Bruins. It’s just not the way anyone wanted it.
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