Bye Bye Big Bad Bruins
It’s no secret that the Boston Bruins are strugling this season. After missing the playoffs last season the Bruins parted ways with General Manager Peter Chiarelli. The team shifted its focus away from the power hockey that dominated the Chiarelli era and their 2011 Stanley Cup win. The off-season saw the departure of forwards Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Carl Soderberg, and archtypical Big Bad Bruin, Millan Lucic. The Bruins parted with prodigal defenceman Dougie Hammilton for a first round draft pick. Indeed, new GM and former Chiarelli assistant, Don Sweeny made trades for first round picks this year, but don’t call it a rebuild.
There are significant young and new faces on the ice for the Bruins this year. The core focus of the team seems to have shifted away from the shutdown hockey, something the club has played for years, to a more dynamic, scoring oriented play. Or rather, it would if not for continued presense of shutdown hockey schoolmaster, Coach Claude Julien. It was a bit odd to see Julien stay after a GM turnover. It’s doubly odd to see the defence master continue as coach as the focus turns from shutdown hockey. Julien, Sweeny, and Bruins President Cam Neely all deny that Julien is on the hot seat. Claude’s buns are at least luke warm this season. I’m sure they’ll be toasty by the winter classic if things don’t change for the Bruins fortunes. We aren’t even a quarter-way into the season yet, but this start has been dismal for a team that keeps insisting that it’s ‘in it to win it’.
You could feel the shift away from shutdown hockey starting when Chiarelli traded Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders at the start of last season. The trade made sense for a club that had salary cap issues to deal with. The focus on keeping money tied up in veteran forwards gave you a hint that the winds were changing in Boston. Failing to pick up any defensive talent in the off-season, when there were good free agent prospects (Hi Johnny Oduya, how’s Dallas?) seals the focus change.
The Bruins have scored more this season. The first powerplay unit is on fire. The Bruins have been scored on more this season. Without a solid defense corps, Tuukka Rask has slipped from his Vezina-Trophy-winning form. It’s left me wondering if Rask was as solid a goalie as I thought, or if having the ice stacked with experienced stay at home defencemen and Julien’s cadre of Bergeron deciples made Rask look like an amazing goalie. It used to be that Tuukka Rask couldn’t beat the Montreal Canadians, now it just sort of looks like he can’t win against top-tier hockey clubs.
There have been a lot of mitigating circumstances around the Bruins start this season, but we’re past those now. The veterans are healthy, and still mid-tier clubs are getting pucks past Rask and the yeomen defence. It’s starting to make you wonder if this will be a lost year when the Bruins couldn’t admit that they need to rebuild. It’s starting to make you wonder if Julien can coach a club that is transitioning from shutdown hockey to something more scoring oriented. It really makes you wonder why the Bruins would let a great coach like Mike Babcock get away from them when they want to pivot to a different style of hockey. Maybe Babcock wasn’t going to Boston, but in sticking with Julien so loyaly that possibility was shut off.
Most of all, you have to wonder if the veterans can adapt to more offense oriented play. It seems to be working well for David Kretchi, Tory Krug and Loui Eriksson, with the rest of the Bruins veterans turning in less spectacular performances. Bergeron is Bergeron. He’ll always be a star, but as the focus shifts away from shutdown play I wonder if he’s still the right player to center your team and strategy on. Bergeron was absolutely the core of the first Julien era, and the style of play that entailed. Can Bergy step up to a more agressive stance in this new era? I bet he can. Getting there may not be pretty. Who is Patrice Bergeron if he’s not a Selkie Trophy contender? Will He face similar frustrations as Rask with the style of play shifts?
It’s going to be painful to watch this non-rebuild year. If Bruins management had blown it all up and admitted that they needed to rebuild that’d be something fans could cling to. The longer that Neely and Bruins owner Charlie Jacobs cling to the idea that they are just making some tweeks, the longer the pain will last.