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The Big Bad Bruins and the New NHL

(Photo Credit: Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Scott Wood | Follow Me On Twitter @ScottHoHPodcast

The Boston Bruins may be facing a crisis of identity.

No, I’m not referring to a core that has seen long-time favorites Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask no longer with the club. Also, isn’t a reference to captain Patrice Bergeron putting off contract talks and considering his future. I’m talking about the evaporation of the Big, Bad Bruins and how they’ve gone from “beating them and beating them ‘up” to most of the time just beating them.

There will be those who fail to see a problem with this. If the team is winning, what does it matter the style in which they do so? After all, the NHL is going in the direction of greater protection of player safety, discouraging fighting and enacting supplemental discipline on hits and split-second decisions that were hardly penalties a mere decade ago. 

Considering the Bruins bully reputation, going with the flow of this trend would arguably be a wise strategy, no? Shouldn’t the fans be on board?

We’re not just any fans, however. We’re Bruins fans. We have a baked-in identity of being the hard-nosed, lunch-pail, punch-you-in-the-mouth team that doesn’t take crap from anyone. Skill is admirable, and we love it too, but it’s far more important for us to be hammers and not nails. What other franchise would have retired Terry O’Reilly’s number and hail him as the prototype of the team’s personality?

(Photo Credit: Christopher Evans/Boston Herald)

The Bruins ranked in the top ten of hits last season (6th) and 9th in fighting majors. But five of the team’s top hitters are either no longer here (Miller, Ritchie, Kuraly, Lauzon) or are Chris Wagner, who is facing the real possibility of not being an everyday part of the lineup. This is not a statistic that is likely to rise.

Don Sweeney placed emphasis on engagement and drive this off-season, bringing in replacements (Haula, Nosek, Foligno, Forbort) whose effort is rarely (if ever) questioned. This should result in a reduction of the dead ice time that we saw all-too-often in their loss to the Islanders in the playoffs. There is clear thought to how he’s built the roster and a real effort to cure the ailments that saw another early exit from a hopeful team.

Time will tell if this pays off in wins, and while the ambiguity is exciting, it’s also a team one could just as easily see fighting for a playoff spot as they could be in competition for the division lead. We don’t know.

Personally, I’m torn. 

I’m all for focus on player safety, and I hate to see guys go down with concussions as much as anyone. I see the legal concerns for the NHL if they continue to allow fighting. I expect the crackdown on dangerous play to continue in the pursuit of reduced liability in the years to come. And even though it’s controversial, I don’t think the game has ever looked better or more exciting than it does today. The level of talent increases every season, and I can watch (say) the Ducks play the Coyotes and be wholly entertained.

The Bruins are hardly trend-setters in the path toward a faster and more cuddly NHL. They are merely following the determined path. And it’s not as though the pendulum has swung wholly in the soft/skilled direction either. It’s fair to expect the Bruins to land somewhere near the average in any “grit” or toughness metric.

I have to admit, though, in my heart, I’m a neanderthal. I stood up and cheered in my living room when Trent Frederic came in early last season and challenged Tom Wilson. 

(Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

I still romanticize about the prospect of Milan Lucic coming back to Boston, despite every reason it’s a bad idea and my understanding that it would never happen.

2011 was special for me, not only because the Bruins won but because of how they won. 

Somehow when the Bruins lose a game, it’s not half as bad if the opposing team feels that win in bruises. 

I fear that the 21-22 Bruins will neither “beat them” nor “beat them up.” I’m concerned that the Montreal Canadiens are bigger and more intimidating than the Bs and how I’m going to react that to reality when it crashes down.

Perhaps it’s just a question with no good answer. How does one reconcile the team’s identity as Bruins fans with the game moving away from its tolerance and acceptability? 

1 Comment

  1. Manny

    All you wrote is true, for a regular season team. As we have seen to often in the playoffs the team gets pushed around and intimidated. The players can say other wise but I have been watching the Bruins since 1966 and all I see now is dirty bit followed by face wash after face wash.
    Bruins teams in the past would lose a battle (game ) but win the war. 2011 a perfect example. Team toughness ( not bye any stretch a dirty team) and skill won the Cup. Then they get beat by the Canadians and we had to become a faster more skilled team to compete with them and Toronto. Changed the nature of the team.Then ! the bigger physical teams like St. Louis and Tampa become winners.Almost every team in the division got bigger, stronger and added legitimate fighters – goons are gone – and we are going to deter them with Frederick ? They must be shaking in their skates.
    What the new league did with staged fighting and cheap shots to the head is commendable but when star players are targeted and the response is face washing, ? don,t cry about concussions rising and fans being frustrated. So I prefer a lunch pail gang playing emotion and passion then today’s robotic interchangeable skilled players.

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