By: Nathan Strauss | Follow him on Twitter @NathanPStrauss
Following Boston’s shootout loss to Vancouver on Wednesday night, a clamor arose from the hockey depths. After a disappointing run of games, an opinion pioneered by Mike Milbury in a radio appearance on WEEI emerged: the Bruins should blow it up. Milbury postulated that the Bruins should cash in on captain Patrice Bergeron, whose expiring contract and age are of concern, and even explore trading Brad Marchand. Milbury believes the Bruins have missed their window of Stanley Cup contention.
Fundamentally, no one should be taking advice from Mike Milbury. His ideas are not just ludicrous, but they have minimal basis in fact. One bad performance against Vancouver – a performance in which the Bruins still took a point, just as they did in their previous contest against Tampa Bay – is no excuse for even considering dealing your captain, or the player who is on pace for a top-five points total league-wide. The Bruins sit three points behind Detroit and Pittsburgh while having four and three games in hand respectively. Even picking up just one point per game in hand, which would be under their current points-per-game rate, would put Boston in a playoff spot, rendering the entire hypothetical unusable. Indeed, just about every projection has the Bruins making the playoffs comfortably.
More than that, the Bruins have faltered in recent games due in large part to explainable circumstances. They were without Brad Marchand for three games, at least one of which against the Red Wings should likely have been a regulation win. They have had the flu going around the team in recent days. With Marchand suspended and Anton Blidh and Jakob Zboril injured, a Covid shutdown in Providence meant it took nearly a week for reinforcements to arrive.
Even before that, the Bruins had largely lost to good teams. A 4-0 loss to Calgary is nothing to be inherently ashamed of, especially not on the second night of a back-to-back; the same goes to the loss to Carolina earlier in the year. A bad performance against the Rangers on national television was disappointing, but the underlying metrics for the Bruins are generally quite good. At the beginning of the week, the Bruins ranked tops in the league in expected goals in five-on-five situations. With the Bruins ringing the iron nine times in a three-game span, Boston is sorely due for some regression; that is, that the positive play that sees advanced statistics favor their game should soon translate to concrete results.
Some other metrics that favor the way the Bruins have played is their special teams’ play – they rank third in the league in special teams goals for percentage and have the sixth-best power-play and seventh-best kill. Maybe most surprising is that despite league-average goaltending, the Bruins have the best team defense in the league per JFresh. The Bruins have scored 5.5 fewer goals than expected, which realistically can account for a handful of points dropped here and there.
Looking at these numbers makes it clear that the Bruins are by no means in trouble. The last few weeks alone have seen an injury crisis, a flu bug, a trade request, and a Covid shutdown all impact team morale and performance. Rather than heed Milbury’s cry to blow it up, the Bruins should look to acquire a second-line center and defensive help, as well as considering playing some of their younger talent (Jack Ahcan, for example, had an excellent game against Tampa before being removed from the lineup against Vancouver, while Oskar Steen played well against the Canucks before being sent to Providence). It’s not time to hit the panic button just yet.