by Jason Howard Kelly
Allow me to start off by saying that I have been, and still am, a die-hard Boston Bruins fan. I would put my love for the Bruins right up there with my love for the Red Sox, or any other Boston sports team for that matter.
That is why it pains me to say this, but the Bruins are not winning anything this year. Can they make the playoffs? Sure, the Bruins are good enough to make it to the tournament, but it will be an extremely short stay. This roster is not constructed in a way that will allow the Bruins to make a run for the Stanley Cup. This should not come as a surprise to any Bruins fan that was paying attention this last off-season. The Bruins traded Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for draft picks, thus shipping off a young defenseman who could, one day, develop into a top-4 defenseman in the league. While the trade was not necessarily a shock, since the Bruins and Hamilton could not agree on a contract extension, it was still a big loss for a Bruins team that was already thin on defense.
Along with Hamilton the Bruins traded away forwards Milan Lucic and Reilly Smith. Fans did not lament losing Reilly Smith, especially since the trade included the burdensome contract of Marc Savard, who hasn’t played a game in the NHL since 2011. However, the loss of Milan Lucic, in retrospect, had a bigger impact on the Bruins than many thought it would. While Lucic was far from a consistent offensive player during his time here in Boston there was one quality he never failed to bring to every game: toughness. This is a quality that this current Bruins team is sorely lacking at the moment. Lucic would scrap, fight, and bark at any opponent who had wronged one of his teammates. Where has that been for the Bruins this year? Adam McQuaid is arguably the only current Bruin who is willing to drop the gloves and stick up for his teammates. This is not an indictment on players such as Bergeron, Krejci, and Chara. They are leaders, but they are not fighters.
And then Boston’s lone enforcer was taken out. Adam McQuaid was hit from behind and concussed by Capitals forward Zach Sill back in January, and the lack of a physical response from his teammates made it painfully clear that “The Big, Bad Bruins” had become “The Soft, Fluffy Teddy Bears.”
Adam McQuaid / via Jim Davis – The Boston Globe
This problem goes beyond just the lack of body checking and fighting. It is a problem that infects the Bruins’ defensive core as well. Under head coach Claude Julien the Bruins play a certain style of defense known commonly as “trapping” or “prevent defense”. This means that the defense collapses into a zone around the front of the net, as opposed to playing man-to-man defense. The purpose of this defensive style is to establish a dominant presence in front of the net, thus not allowing any scoring chances off of rebounds or loose pucks. This is the same defensive strategy that helped the Bruins become Stanley Cup Champions back in 2011. However, that was a year in which the Bruins had the correct personnel on defense that allowed the trap defense to succeed. In 2011 the Bruins had tough, bruising players such as Johnny Boychuck, Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic, and Shawn Thornton to help clear out the front of the net. Not to mention that they also had healthier and younger versions of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
Fast forward to 2016. The Bruins now have a younger, inexperienced, and smaller defensive core than they did in 2011. That is where the biggest problem lies for this team. Playing trap defense does not work when it hangs on players like Tory Krug (5’9, 175 lbs) and Colin Miller (6’1, 201 lbs) attempting to clear the front of the net. Both Krug and Miller are talented and promising defenseman, but they cannot be expected to out-muscle and hold off these bigger NHL forwards. The Bruins are also hurt by the fact that their veteran defensemen, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, have started to slow down considerably as they get older.
That being said there are still several bright spots on this Bruins team. Tuukka Rask is still performing like a top goaltender in this league, especially considering the soft defense that is in front of him. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are, once again, leading the way for the Bruins offensively. And some of the younger Bruins, such as Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak, are starting to show their true potential.
Overall, however, this team is just not good enough to make any sort of run in the playoffs, assuming they even make it that far. It’s time to re-introduce one of the oldest cliches in sports — Blow it up. The NHL trade deadline is just over three weeks away, on February 29th at 3 PM. The Bruins need to make some serious, and admittedly difficult moves. Loui Eriksson’s name has been floating around as a possible trade candidate, given the fact that his contract is set to expire, and talks of a possible extension seem to have fallen flat. An even bolder move could involve trading the captain himself, Zdeno Chara. Chara has a full no-trade clause, so he would have to approve any trade that involves him first. The thought of trading Chara is tough to stomach given how much he has mean to this team since he first arrived in Boston back in 2006. But if the Bruins are able to fetch a strong return in the form of draft picks or a young, talented defenseman for Chara wouldn’t they have to consider making the deal?
Zdeno Chara / via CBS Sports
Whatever the Bruins decide to do as far as rebuilding the team is concerned they had better do it fast. Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, and Rask are in the prime of their careers, and Boston needs to supply them with a solid defensive core before the window to a Stanley Cup Championship closes.