By: Cameron Pierce | Follow on Twitter @RealCamPierce
In recent years, the Boston Bruins have been one of the more prestigious and respectable organizations in the National Hockey League. The Bruins have qualified for the Stanely Cup Playoffs 12 times in the last 14 seasons and have made eight playoff appearances in the previous ten seasons. Not to mention the B’s Stanley Cup Championship in 2011 and appearances in the 2013 and 2019 Stanley Cup Finals.
The face of the Bruins organization has evolved over time, names have come and gone, those who have stayed are aging, and the farm system seems to be questionable at best. So with these things in mind, the question must be asked; What is there for Boston Bruins fans to be excited about?
Well, there is no clear answer to that question, as it is mostly up to user interpretation, but I would argue, dear reader, that there isn’t all that much to be truly excited about at all, at least not in the long-term. If we’re talking short-term, then I will grant you a few examples and maybe one or two long-term examples. The emergence of Jeremy Swayman has certainly been exciting and the prospect of him becoming the Bruins number one goaltender is definitely worth noting.
Another example would be the recent extension of defenseman Charlie McAvoy, solidifying a top NHL defenseman on the Bruins roster for the next eight years. Additionally, with 37-year-old Patrice Bergeron’s contract expiring at season’s end, we could be watching the final season of a Bruins legend, which is an exciting thought but in a very bittersweet way.
What else is there? I would personally argue that there is nothing to be excited about beyond the things that I listed. Based on how the Bruins have played this season thus far, I am certainly not excited on a game-to-game basis. Currently, the Bruins find themselves with a 9-6-0 record (18 points) through their first fifteen games. That puts them five points behind Tampa Bay for the third spot in a stacked Atlantic Division that is led by the Florida Panthers, who sport a 13-2-3 record (29 points). Boston has struggled to find momentum from game to game, with their longest winning streak being a three-game winning streak that was snapped in humiliating fashion, a 4-0 disaster on home ice at the hands of a more than capable Calgary Flames squad on Sunday night.
Depth scoring has been an issue on Bruins teams for countless seasons now, and there is no indication through the first 15 games that this problem will be rectified within the current structure of the team. The Bruins have long relied on the scoring prowess of the “Perfection Line,” made up of captain Patrice Bergeron who centers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the left and right wings, respectively, and this reliance has certainly extended into this campaign. The Bruins have scored 45 goals this season; eight of those belong to Brad Marchand, six goals have been scored by Bergeron, and five are owned by Pastrnak. With those 19 goals between them, the Bruins top line is responsible for 42% of Bruins goals this season.
Boston skaters have scored a total of 120 points through the first 15 games, 48 of which were scored by members of the “Perfection Line,” meaning that 40% of Boston’s points were influenced by at least one of those three players. To drive the point home, the top line contains the only Bruins forwards who have scored more than ten points (Charlie McAvoy is the only other skater who has exceeded ten points on the Bruins roster).
Granted, there have been injury issues in the early goings; Nick Foligno and Craig Smith have both battled early-season injuries. Despite their injuries, they have both played in at least 7 seven games (10 in the case of Smith) yet have only aggregated three points between them. These are players who have both been brought in within the last two seasons and are expected to play consistently between the second and third lines; both even see regular minutes on the Bruins Powerplay.
Taylor Hall has appeared in every game thus far for the B’s and has contributed nine points (four goals, five assists). Meanwhile, last season following his move to Boston at the trade deadline, he scored 14 points in 16 regular-season games. One would have to think that had the Bruins acquired a proper second-line center to replace David Krejci, Hall would have more production and created more scoring depth. Which is something the Bruins fanbase has been begging years for.
Instead, the Bruins acquired a slew of third and fourth line-level talent in the offseason, including the likes of Tomas Nosek, Erik Haula, and previously mentioned Nick Foligno being the most notable. An avid hockey watcher knows these names. Nick Foligno became captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2015 and remained in that role until he was traded to Toronto at the trade deadline last April. As for Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek, both were instrumental in the Vegas Golden Nights reaching the Stanley Cup Final in the franchise’s inaugural season in 2018.
None of these players have helped solve the depth scoring issue as they combine for just eight points between them, just 6% of the points scored team-wide. Plus, none of these names make the casual fan jump out of their seats at the sound of their names being called, no matter how enthusiastically Jack Edwards says them. This past summer’s free-agent class wasn’t exactly the most compelling when it came to forwards. However, when that class includes names like Zach Hyman, Blake Coleman, Jaden Schwartz, and Phillip Danault, you can’t help but think that the Bruins could’ve done more or done differently with their signings to solve the depth scoring problem and simultaneously garnered more excitement around the team.
The defensive core leaves plenty to be desired as well. Charlie McAvoy headlines the Bruins defense, and he is one of the most notable young defensemen in all of hockey. However, the Bruins ask a lot of him, as he averages nearly 24 minutes of ice time a game and has generally been paired with either Matt Grzelcyk or Bruins newcomer Derek Forbort. Let’s take a moment to talk about Derek Forbort.
This is not a bashing of Forbort; though his play has been less than enjoyable to watch, he just simply took the contract that the Bruins offered him. When many were calling for the Bruins to bring in a big-time defenseman, either through the open market or a trade, the Bruins brought in Forbort, who is certainly not a known name amongst casual fans. He played for the LA Kings for five years while the Kings were rebuilding and then spent two seasons in Calgary and Winnipeg, respectively, all the while finishing with a plus/minus below the even zero for three consecutive seasons. Not exactly a player that jumps off the page when reading through a roster, and again, especially for the casual fan who needs something to be excited about.
The only solution I see for a long-term change that brings excitement back to the Bruins fanbase is a shakeup of the core roster. But time will tell what type of change will be necessary for the Bruins. If the Bruins find themselves in a relatively similar place by January, the question will be asked; Should the Bruins buy in, sell, or sit idly by at the trade deadline? The only option of those three that is absolutely unacceptable is the ladder.
Bruins fans should not accept a 2022 trade deadline where their team doesn’t do a thing. Inactivity at the deadline this year will only scream (and, in my opinion, prove) incompetence from the Bruins front office. As for buying in or selling? I think the Bruins best bet if they find themselves in the same place they are in now in the next two or three months would be to sell.
The Bruins have given up future assets in many trades in recent years, and that has been incredibly detrimental to the future of the organization as well as where they find themselves now. Young players and draft capital have been given up in exchange for rental players in pursuit of the Stanley Cup almost every year for the last five seasons. Only once did the Bruins make it past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in those five seasons.
If the Bruins haven’t improved by the NHL trade deadline, it may be time to move key assets in exchange for young players and draft capital and, dare I say, begin a rebuild. Yes, a rebuild can be slow and tedious for a fanbase to watch, and nobody will want to admit this as it happens. But shaking things up and really establishing a plan for the future may be the key to seeing the Bruins become an elite team again, all the while bringing the fans back in with their ascent.
But if the Bruins do pull together, increase scoring team-wide, and establish themselves as a genuine contender by the trade deadline, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bruins buy-in and trade for current assets. I may even support them if the right moves are there. However, I don’t want to watch the Bruins lessen their chances of building a great team in the future by trading prospects and draft picks.
Too often, they have done this just to become another slightly above average team who will be eliminated in the first round or second round again. All Bruins fans should be on board with that. The excitement that Bruins fans want comes from the prospect of the team having a future, and whether the future means trying for another run at the Cup this year or taking a chance and going for a slow-burning rebuild, one thing is for sure; There needs to be an indication that change is coming; otherwise, the Bruins may just lose the fans altogether.