While some would classify it as inconsistency, to me there’s a level of consistency in the Bruins’ play this season that’s quite admirable.
Despite a much better effort than they put forth in losing at TD Garden to Detroit 6-1 Friday night, the Bruins still fell, 4-2, in the second half of the home-and-home series this afternoon.
Boston’s two-game losing streak matches its season-high for consecutive regulation defeats, and they’ve only lost more than two straight (an 0-2-1 stretch) once all year. On the other side of the coin, they’ve won more than three in a row just once.
For all the criticism Bruins head coach Claude Julien takes, everyone has to give him credit for his ability to keep his team’s confidence level high even after a spanking like the one Boston took the other night. The Bruins almost never produce two stink bombs in a row.
Some of that ire that goes Julien’s way should instead be stored up and directed at the front office should the Bruins ignore the signs they need to make some moves and fail to sufficiently upgrade between now and the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
And for general manager Peter Chiarelli, that could require him to trade any players under his control with the exception of a handful of guys.
Let’s look at where the Bruins stand two weeks before the trade deadline. They’re in first in the Northeast Division and third in the Eastern Conference. They’ve had mixed results against some of the other top teams in the East, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. They’ve handled Washington and Tampa Bay at times. They’ve struggled against Montreal. Against the West they’ve had their problems, with two losses to Detroit and one to San Jose. You probably can’t draw any conclusions from Boston’s season-opening split with Phoenix in Prague, but the Bruins beat Dallas convincingly. Boston has yet to face Nashville or Vancouver.
So if just fine-tuning the current roster or standing pat is Chiarelli’s choice, the Bruins probably have a solid chance to win a round of playoffs for the third straight year, or maybe even win two in one spring based on their results against the mettle of the league. If that’s the minimum goal, then Chiarelli can keep most of his picks and prospects stashed in his office and only part with “expendable” roster guys like Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler to improve slightly. And then he can roll the dice that the club’s streaky wingers will score enough to supplement what the team hopes will be all-world goaltending throughout the postseason and suddenly Boston will find itself on an unlikely run deeper than the last two years.
If this is the year to go for it, then the Bruins have to be more creative when it comes to their trade-deadline dealings so they can put more than just a “consistent” club on the ice. Detroit, San Jose, and even Montreal, have written a blueprint for beating the Bruins, based on a solid forecheck to pressure Boston’s defense, taking away the walls and moving the puck quickly to prevent a Bruins forecheck from forming. That’s why going forward the Bruins must add that ever-elusive puck-moving defenseman and at least one skill forward (a wing or center), preferably with above-average speed, to be favored in most best-of-seven series come April.
You can argue whether this is the season for the Bruins to “go for it.” With Pittsburgh battling injuries, the Flyers still sticking their 25-year plan of making a run without a dominant No.1 goaltender, Washington banged up and Montreal down two key defensemen, I see no reason for the Bruins to try with all their might to make the Stanley Cup drought end at 39 years.
“Going for it” could mean doing more than just scouring the bottom of the league for which players are available from the sellers. It means kicking the tires on some “hockey deals” – maybe a Brad Park for Phil Esposito for the modern era – in order to land a player for a package or player the other team, contender or pretender, can’t refuse.
I’ve floated different names over the last couple weeks, and I’m not going to rehash that list here. This is more about not falling in love with the players wearing Boston’s sweaters right now. Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard and Dennis Seidenberg (limited) all have no-trade clauses. After that sextet, maybe only Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin should be off the trade table. That’s right, even David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Steven Kampfer and Johnny Boychuk should be in play.
The reason teams are sellers this time of year is because they lack the type of talent to be anywhere but the league’s bottom five or six. Maybe the Bruins have to look toward Chicago, where the Blackhawks have to be desperate to swap some talent for talent in an effort to get into the playoff picture. Carolina’s reportedly looking to shed some salary without dropping out of the race, and Atlanta could probably stand to make some personnel moves in its effort to grab a playoff spot.
Sure, there aren’t many sellers in the West and the prices might be high, but that’s where Chiarelli is going to have to be bold and maybe make a deal that’ll put another team in the playoffs and his team over the top. He doesn’t even have to mortgage the future much if the acquired players are under contract beyond this year.
The Bruins should look at the results of this two-game set with Detroit as the measuring stick that it was and Chiarelli should explore all avenues in an effort to close the gap between his team and the Red Wings-level squads of the league. That gap might not be this small for long, and any number of internal and external factors could close that championship window before the Bruins get to the golden future so many are predicting for them once their prospects ripen and those picks are put to use.
The tradeable players far outnumbers the untouchables in the Bruins’ dressing room right now, and Chiarelli must make the moves – painful or not – to turn his consistent club into a dominant one that can win a championship.