BOSTON – The Bruins are not without their concerns.
Salary cap constraints, questions about the makeup of their fourth line after a complete breakdown in the playoffs, and a clear lack of team speed exposed against the Montreal Canadiens are the main ones.
They’ll be looking to address all of these things during their extended summer break following a shocking second-round ouster at the hands of the hated Habs. But both Bruins President Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli avoided hitting the panic plunger publicly, and instead used the word “tweaks” in describing imminent alterations to the NHL roster.
That’s certainly a comfort to the large group of people that have grown attached to this talented and largely successful edition of the Black and Gold. The Bruins have been to the playoffs in seven straight seasons, and have a Cup-winning core group largely in their prime. So overhauling the Bruins roster at this point would seem a panic move after an admittedly painful second round loss to Montreal, and that isn’t the play for the Bruins front office.
Instead it will be “tweaks” and tinkering even if certain Bruins players have again decided to party hearty in Boston now that their season is over.
“I keep pointing to that we didn’t play as well as we could have played, and maybe it has something to do with Montreal," Neely said. "But I think a lot of it has to do with us. I think when you have that balanced attack, you know, we saw that stretch in March, if one line wasn’t going, the other two were. We rarely had just had one line going, and you see teams now where they have one line, they don’t really have the success that you have when you have multiple lines that can produce.
“I think when we look at things, we did have a great regular season. We fell short in the second round, which disappoints everybody. So we want to reevaluate where we think we could improve upon, and look at that as opposed to major overhauls. I think when we have the regular season we had, especially the stretch from March in to April, that wasn’t luck. We were a good team and we still feel we have a good team, and maybe need a few tweaks.”
Clearly 54 wins, 117 points and an NHL-best plus-84 goal differential aren’t coincidental, or based on a few lucky bounces.
So leave it to Neely to be the voice of reason at this point talking about a team that was good enough to win the President’s Trophy, and essentially stomp the rest of the NHL following the Olympic break. The Bruins will need that kind of patience and faith to go along with a critical eye toward fixing what went wrong in the postseason.
The easiest and most pressing need for change on the Bruins roster is a fourth line that was torched for three goals against in the second round against the Canadiens, and never found an answer for Dale Weise. Nobody has made the final decision as of yet, but it sounds like B’s management is on the same page when it comes to moving in a different direction from Shawn Thornton.
While not re-signing Thornton seems possible as the NHL trends away from fisticuffs, the B's will have to weigh the impact of it on their leadership group. Thornton, like Andrew Ference last summer, holds value for more than simply what he does on the ice as a fourth-line enforcer.
It also would seem possible that a healthy Chris Kelly could drop down to center the fourth line, and push Gregory Campbell to 13th forward status after a tough season returning from his broken leg.
Or the Bruins could go very young and push a fast, skilled fourth line with Daniel Paille, Justin Florek and Ryan Spooner that would be a much different look for Boston. But it would be more in line with what some around the NHL are doing with their fourth “energy” line rather than going with the traditional crash-and-bang trio to muck it up against opponents.
Beyond that the Bruins will have to decide what to do with the Jarome Iginla position on the right wing alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Re-signing Iginla to a one-year deal is the most likely scenario, and would keep together a line that probably deserves a second crack at the playoffs. Or the Bruins could push Loui Eriksson up to that spot alongside Krejci and Lucic, and find a young winger to vie for a third line role alongside Carl Soderberg and co.
One other possibility via free agency is Marian Gaborik. The 32-year-old was available at the trade deadline and would give the Bruins exactly the kind of speedy sniper they were missing on this year’s club after dealing away Tyler Seguin. Gaborik leads the NHL with nine playoff goals after the Los Angeles Kings took a flyer on him, and he’s been exactly the game-breaking force that Dean Lombardi hoped he would be.
Combine that with his bond with fellow Slovakian hockey player Zdeno Chara, and there are some interesting possibilities if the Bruins can find a way to make the salary cap end of it work. That’s where the other trades come into play.
Brad Marchand is due $4.5 million for the next three seasons, and has zero goals in his last 20 playoff games. Not only that but the Bruins agitator can’t draw a penalty even when he’s cross-checked in the neck in front of the opponent’s net in Game 7 of a playoff series. Instead he was called for goaltender interference on Carey Price in the first sign Boston wasn’t going to get many favorable calls in Game 7 on their own home ice.
The Nose Face Killah clearly isn’t helping the Bruins while failing to score and taking reputation penalties in the postseason, and that would be the big reason for any deals moving him away from Boston.
Marchand also has value around the NHL given the 20-plus goals he’s averaged in the NHL over the last four seasons without the benefit of steady power play time. So he would yield something of value in return to the Bruins be it a similarly talented top six winger, or a puck-moving defenseman should the B’s go down that route.
Clearly moving Marchand would be more than a “tweak”, however, and the same goes for potentially dealing away Johnny Boychuk. Boychuk is in for a big raise when his contract runs out after this season, and the Bruins might not be interested in committing to another five years with the sturdy, tough defenseman. That seems the logical reason his name is popping up on the trade radar.
But Boychuk is also one of the players that rises to the occasion in the playoffs, and was the one guy that was blocking shots and paying the price this postseason.
There was a lot of chatter during the B’s/Habs playoff series about the number of blocked shots for Montreal defenseman, but Boychuk blocked more shots than any of them and still ranks third among playoff players despite now sitting on the sidelines. Trading Boychuk away from the Bruins would be a giant miscalculation for the Bruins, particularly if they’re thinking of bringing in a weaker defensive option.
The Bruins have a strong six group of defensemen heading into next season: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller. They're a good mix of skills and experience levels, and Adam McQuaid would appear to be a solid seventh defenseman behind them. The defensemen position truly doesn’t seem like a problem area for the Black and Gold once Seidenberg makes his return.
So it would seem the Bruins won’t be replacing much more than two or three spots in Boston’s every-game roster, and that definitely falls in the “tweak” category. That’s good news for the evenhanded, calm Bruins fans out there, and bad news for the rash, irrational group that want to see fire and brimstone falling on Causeway Street after a troubling loss to the Canadiens.
BOSTON – The Bruins are not without their concerns.