No, The Boston Bruins do Not Need to Tank

( Photo Credit: Matt Stone / Boston Herald )

By: Theo Lander | Follow me on Twitter @lander_theo

The Boston Bruins are at a unique crossroads at this point in time. After hoisting Lord Stanley in 2011, the franchise has only missed the playoffs twice and made a trip to the cup finals in 2013 and 2019. The team has given this fanbase countless playoff memories in that timeframe and set the tone for a high winning standard in this market for years to come. In order to accomplish that, the on-ice product must be at a high level; this current team is not at that standard.

With David Krejci gone, who was often the team’s leading scorer in those playoff runs, the absence of long-time captain Zdeno Chara, and a lack of quality depth scoring, this Bruins team is just simply not the perennial force that it once was. While it seems possible that both Krejci and Patrice Bergeron may return for one last run, many are wondering if making one last push at the crown jewel of hockey is the best way to manage this squad moving forward. Many believe this team cannot compete with the top teams in the National Hockey League, so making one last run would only delay the inevitable. This is why a large section of the fanbase is clamoring for a full-on rebuild.

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( Photo Credit: Chris O’Meara / AP Photo )

Whether or not this is the popular take is irrelevant, however. The Jacobs family has made it very clear that the Bruins are not a team who will strive for mediocrity in an attempt to take a step back to acquire quality assets. While Boston Bruins Chairman, Charlie Jacobs, does recognize that the franchise may be heading down an eerie path, he also recognizes that because of the market in which this team operates, that may not be an option that they would be willing to entertain:

“I do foresee — I don’t have a crystal ball — but there are going to be days, let’s be candid, there are going to be days when we don’t have the opportunity to talk about Patrice Bergeron coming back to be our captain and our number one center. And those are things that we need to address every summer. And whether it’s through the draft, Cam (Neely) and Donny (Sweeney) have mentioned this already, but we’re a cap team — meaning that we’re going to spend to the max to deliver the best product we possibly can to our fans, and that is not going to change. In that regard, I would hope that people could put that in their back pocket and understand that we are committed to winning a Stanley Cup and we will do whatever it takes to get us to that threshold again.”

– Charlie Jacobs at Jim Montgomery’s Introductory Press Conference 07/11/22

The key from that quote is that the Bruins fully intend on spending to the maximum upper limit of the cap in order to put the best product out on the ice. Meaning, that there is no way on god’s green earth (so long as this current management is in place) that the Boston Bruins will completely tank to get a high draft pick. For those keeping score at home, 19 of the 32 NHL franchises have over $3.5 million in cap space at the time this article is being written. Now, that is going to change drastically over the coming weeks due to off-season moves, but the point stands that even competitive teams in this league do not always spend to the max. Unless there is a major trade or a fateful lottery pick selection, I would not anticipate the Bruins to be selecting in the top ten of the NHL entry draft in the coming years. 

The average consumer will perhaps roll their eyes at this and assume this franchise is now doomed for mediocrity (selecting in the middle of the first round or being a borderline playoff team) as a result of this initiative, but this is not necessarily the truth. The false narrative of having to tank to be successful down the line is not something to blindly subscribe to. For example, this team has already gone through a similar phase when they missed the 2015 and 2016 playoff seasons. The Bruins simply re-tooled their roster without having to completely blow things up in order to achieve that.

Now, we did lose fan favorites who were core players that helped bring this team to the promised land in 2011 and almost in 2013. This, however, did not hold the Bruins back from making it to the cup finals in 2019 and being one of the best teams in the league over these past few years. Many just assume that to obtain quality assets, a team has to pick in the top ten of the NHL Entry Draft for a few years and then build from there.

If you genuinely believe that is the solution, go ask fans of the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes how that’s worked out for them. Of course, this strategy has worked before for some franchises, but by no means is it the end all be all for producing future success in this league. 

It is for that reason that I actually admire the Jacobs’ initiative of consistently putting their best foot forward to put the best possible product out on the ice year in and year out. Forget the narrative that they simply want to profit off of playoff game ticket sales; as a fan of this team, you should be rooting for them to be competitive every year. If we’re being honest with ourselves, the NHL is the one league of the four major U.S. sports where parity is so strong that you don’t necessarily have to be the best team to win the championship. Sometimes all it takes is a team with a hot goalie and competitive roster to overperform and achieve the ultimate goal (see 2019, St. Louis Blues).

Another example of how championship teams are built is the way the Tampa Bay Lightning went about it. They did not have to tank after losing to the Bruins in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final to get back to the dance. What did they do instead? They utilized a strong farm system to rejuvenate their squad. Look through their lineup from the years that they won the Stanley Cup, and you’ll realize very quickly they built that team based on their AHL squad.

Even their coach, Jon Cooper, came from that system. The Lightning almost achieved a three-peat with that recipe, and it is baffling to me that nobody seems to think this is an option for the Bruins. Of course, the Providence Bruins are not at the same level that the Syracuse Crunch were in those years, but that could all change quite quickly, given the right amount of attention to the minor league squad. 

Instead of prioritizing obtaining a top ten pick for three or so consecutive years that might pan out for this team and subjecting this fanbase to an uninspired on-ice product, this franchise should prioritize building for the future through having a strong AHL squad. This can be achieved through free agency, transactions centered around obtaining young AHL-level talent, and an emphasis on developing players in those positions with the intention of having them cater their playstyle to be successful in today’s NHL. If you’re hoping this is the direction of the team, you should be excited that Jim Montgomery has entered the fold as Boston’s new head coach since he has a reputation for getting the most out of young talent. 

Yes, the Bruins have not had much success drafting in recent years. However, the masses would be incorrect to assume that because of this that the Bruins are destined for mediocrity in the coming years. Much of the scouting staff has changed since that disastrous 2015 draft, and given the influx of talent in the upcoming draft classes, it would be a fair assumption that the Bruins could feasibly obtain a wave of skillful players in the near future. The key for this franchise is having the right system and management down in Providence to elevate those pieces to the next level.  

So no, the Bruins do not need to tank to obtain top-level talent. It is possible to remain competitive in the NHL and still build for the future. Of course, it will require attention to detail at every level in order to achieve this type of turnaround, but don’t kid yourself. The Boston Bruins are not tanking anytime soon, and they shouldn’t. If the Providence Bruins are unable to produce any potential stars in the next few years, then you have full permission to sound the alarm. Until then, take a breath. The sky is not falling.

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