4/30/12: It Was All Good Just a Week Ago

Photo by Sarah Connors, via Wikimedia Commons

Quick confession: I’m not a diehard Bruins fan.

It’s unlikely you’ll see me drop my hard-earned money on an overpriced seat in the balcony. I don’t own a jersey. Didn’t cop any 2011 Stanley Cup Champions swag. I don’t agonize over regular season games, nor do I apologize for the players or management when they do something stupid (something a certain former radio co-host of mine is known to do).

The B’s run a distant third for me behind the Celtics and Sox in terms of time, money and emotion spent on Boston sports teams.

I’m no bandwagon jumper either. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Boston fan, you root for all the teams. You don’t pick and choose. I grew up with the Bruins and cheered for them the first twenty-eight years of my life despite every effort of the team and organization to completely alienate me (something I’ve admittedly spent a lot of time complaining about).

And then, last spring, something clicked, and the B’s won the Stanley Cup. It was incredible, and even more profound to see the diehards get their reward for years and years of devotion.

For some reason, after years of being disappointed by hockey on Causeway Street, last year’s performance bought the Bruins my confidence.

I fully believed they would beat the Capitals. And as I sat in a D.C. bar watching Game Five, Masshole Sean actually kicked into gear (if you know me personally, it’s a special occasion). I suddenly felt super-Irish, developed a Boston accent and became even more cocky than the Sean that refers to women as “honeys” and considers a do-rag an acceptable garnish to his tremendous 6’4″, 200 pound frame.

I decided that Capitals fans thinking their team could beat the Big, Bad Bruins were so utterly foolish, it personally offended me. I barked at the bar TV as the beers flowed, every big hit or scoring opportunity another reason to yip and ruffle my Boston feathers ’cause-we’re-better-than-you-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-about-it. And then, the Capitals won that game and eventually the series.

What?

Wednesday night, after the gate slammed on the 2012 Bruins with the flick of Joel Ward’s stick, my thumbs got antsy and I texted a few Bruins friends. All of them felt like they’d been punched in the gut, and one particular text noted the injuries that had affected their depth offensively, defensively and in the crease. It was a good point, but remember, last year’s team won the Cup despite losing Marc Savard, their highest paid offensive player, approximately midway through the season. They lost Nathan Horton to a concussion in the Finals, too. And still beat Vancouver.

Over the years, aforementioned co-host and good buddy Jay frequently talked up the potential for Bruins role players to step it up, usually when the team lost a solid offensive player to another team during the offseason. Always, “well, with more playing time, so-and-so is primed for 30 goals this year.”

Then, there was the classic case of the bargain free agent poised for a career year with the change of scenery (as if Dan Duquette ran the Bruins). You would’ve thought Michael Ryder was the second coming when the B’s plucked him from Montreal. This was an infuriating viewpoint as season after season passed and the organization refused to spend for top flight offensive talent.

But last year, Jay was right. The whole team, Ryder included, stepped it up and the results were inspiring. Vancouver was a bunch of goal-scoring robots. The B’s were a real team with key contributors top to bottom.

And it worked.

This year, it just wasn’t right. Offseason changes seemed relatively insignificant, yet, the defending champion B’s came out flat in October. People attributed it to the “Cup hangover,” which was reasonable. They turned it around with a huge streak from November 1st into the new year, but were pretty pedestrian after that.

They lost Horton again. They were unable to replace Adam McQuaid on the blue line. It would’ve been nice to see one of their talented young forwards: Krejci, Lucic, Marchand or Seguin, have a big playoff series. Instead, Rich Peverley led the team in scoring, followed closely by “The Firefly” Andrew Ference and a 38-year old Brian Rolston.

And Tim Thomas was merely great, not spectacular. Braden Holtby was surprisingly one better than the Bruins’ All-World goalie and the Caps stole the series.

Washington was better than a seventh seed anyways. They played a third of the season without Nicklas Backstrom and lacked strong goalie play right up to the eve of the playoffs. So kudos to them for turning it around and moving on.

I saw a few tweets about how the Bruins will have a chance to go at it with pretty much the same lineup next year: you know, the same guys that came through in 2011. As comforting as it is in New England to root for a great “team” (The “Idiot” Red Sox, “Ubuntu” Celtics and 2001 Patriots come to mind), I’m gonna say it for the umpteenth time: the Bruins need to acquire an elite scorer.

Someone who can crack 30 goals. 30 players scored 30 or more goals this year in the NHL. No Bruins.

29 did it the previous season. Milan Lucic was the only Bruin on that list, with exactly 30.

Let’s clear some room and get under the salary cap by casting off some of that depth, some of those sentimental fan favorites, and trade for a cold-blooded goal-scoring machine. I don’t care who it is, and I’m not John Buccigross so I’m not going to tell you if I think it should be Rick Nash or somebody else.

Theo broke up the Idiots and won again three years later. Danny kept the Celtics together and is now in year five of a three-year plan. Which blueprint would you prefer, Bruins fans? Anyways, here are my reasons:

1. Tim Thomas is getting along in years. He’s still a top flight goalie, but the chances of him playing at a Vezina level past age 38 are slim. You might even see what you can get for him in a trade (gasp!) Logically, if your goalies aren’t going to get you a steady diet of 1–0 and 2–1 wins, you might as well try to put up four or five goals every night.

2. Speaking of net minders, do the B’s keep running into hot goalies (Carey Price and Dwayne Roloson last year; Holtby this year) who can turn away 40 or more of their shots every night and push a series to seven games, or are they just offensively inept enough to make these guys look like studs?

I just don’t feel like the offense generates the kind of quality opportunities it needs to be successful in the playoffs. Again, they need Thomas to stand on his head.

I know what some of you are going to say: “the B’s were second in the league in goal scoring this year!” Tell me what that got them in the playoffs, chief.

3. Seguin may become an elite scorer in the future (after all, this was just his second year and he made the All-Star team) but I don’t want to leave it up to “maybe.” There was a time when Patrice Bergeron was touted as an elite offensive talent. He never became that player, and some of you can blame the concussions. But Bergeron became the most valuable of the Bruins forwards due to his defensive prowess, not as a high-volume goal scorer. This is not a knock on Bergeron. What I’m saying is, get him someone else to pass it to.

4. The power-play is awful. The B’s somehow kicked out of a power play malaise that nearly cost them an opportunity to hoist the Cup last year. This year, against the Caps, the power play sent them to an early vacation. I don’t know if it’s a coaching thing or what, but I think we can all agree that the ability to put the puck in the net (something an elite scorer provides) helps you execute with a man advantage.

Some of you may read this blog as me hating on the Bruins, the darlings of the city who brought home a championship last spring after 39 long years (cue Dave Goucher).

False. I want to see the Bruins succeed. Last year’s run was exhilarating and the entire city shared in the experience. But it’s going to be more and more difficult to replicate the success of that team as the years roll by, for those role players to step up in key spots in the kind of sequence that allows a team to pull out three Game Seven victories on the way to immortality. The regular season results of 2011–12 didn’t translate to the postseason, and in the future, it’s less likely we’ll continue to see Tim Thomas perform as a circus acrobat.

Get me someone who puts the biscuit in the basket. Someone who makes the opposing net minder pee in his pads. Get me a star. Do it, Chiarelli. And if you think this is a knee-jerk reaction, just remember, you too thought it was all good just a week ago.

This post was originally published to The Fox Hole on WordPress, April 30, 2012.

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