Neely, Sweeney need to step out of shadows and make a move

Neely, Sweeney need to step out of shadows and make a move

BOSTON -- So when exactly is anything going to change with these Bruins?

Give Patrice Bergeron credit after the Bruins dropped a 4-3 decision to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night and couldn’t muster the will needed to actually win on the night they remembered the recently passed Milt Schmidt: He wasn’t going to pass the puck or foist off blame someplace else after it was all over.

“I think we’re the only ones that can really find the answer and turn this around, I guess. It’s up to this dressing room to do it and to all look at ourselves in the mirror -- I said that before -- and be better,” said Bergeron, who scored his fourth goal in seven games to keep the Bruins into the game headed into the third period. “You can’t wait for anyone to do it. It’s up to us. We’re the ones that are playing on the ice, and we have to be better.

“When you don’t get the result, you’re definitely not happy with anything. It’s definitely frustrating to see what’s going on and to have the type of game that we had tonight. I thought we had a lot of good looks and a lot of good zone time in their zone. But then, the breakdowns that we’re giving up, like I said, shouldn’t happen and it’s been happening a lot, especially lately, and it’s been hurting us.”

But one has to ask themselves a couple of question at this point if you’re running the Bruins?

At what point is it clear that this hockey club is too similar to the underachieving, disappointing groups from the last two seasons? When does a change to the existing mix (be it coaching or players) become something that has to happen in order to reverse what’s now been a month of struggle where the B’s have lost 10 of their last 15 games?

A casual follower of the Black and Gold tribe might have thought any one of a number of recent deflating losses in overtime might have been the final nail before a big move was engineered, executed and brought to the fore to at least show some resistance. It’s a recurring, annoying problem when the Bruins continue to lose games where they aren’t ready to play at the drop of the puck, and then continuously resist the need to crash the front of the net as opponents are doing to them while outshooting teams in losing efforts.

That doesn’t even take into account the wimpy efforts that the Bruins continuously put forth on home ice for the second season in a row. Give Zdeno Chara credit for doing he felt was needed to spark his team by challenging Patrick Maroon to a first period fight, and it worked for most of the rest of the next two periods.

“I just wanted to create some momentum and emotions, and I felt it was the right timing,” said Chara. “I wanted to get us in the game and be more emotionally attached.”

Unfortunately these short bursts of “emotional attachment” are never sustainable for the Bruins, and things fell apart on cue in the third period.

There was the comeback in the third period to make it a one goal game and perhaps give some Bruins players a false sense of moral victories because they didn’t lie down after falling down by a pair of scores in the third period. The time for those sorts of moral victories has passed, of course, and the Bruins just need results as both the Maple Leafs and Lightning sit just two points behind them in the Atlantic Division with games in hand.

“Obviously we want to recognize where we’re at and what the situation is, but I think we’ve shown that we’re very capable of playing good hockey against good teams and we just have to make that a habit,” said Tuukka Rask. “A lot of times it’s been play two good games and then you kind of fall back, and maybe play one good game and then fall back. We don’t want to be that roller coaster team, and we have to get on a good rhythm here and get some points.”

The fact that the Bruins have shown some good things against good teams makes it all the more damning, and leads one to believe this comfortable hockey club needs to be shocked into a winning stretch of hockey. This kind of seismic shock paddle to the Bruins hockey club could take one of a couple of forms: the firing of Claude Julien, or a big trade.

Certainly it needs to be something bigger than the window dressing move of waiving Anton Khudobin to make room for Zane McIntyre on the NHL roster. That’s where Don Sweeney and Cam Neely need to come in after both upper management leaders have been just about entirely radio silent during the last month. Times of struggle are usually when the front office types are expected to send some kind of calming message, challenge their reeling club if it’s needed or give their head coach a vote of endorsement if that’s what’s needed.

Sweeney and Neely have done none of those things, and need to close the deal on something to improve the hockey club if they’re not going to take ownership of the way the Bruins are playing. There’s been a lot of chatter about Gabriel Landeskog, and the Avalanche captain could be a really interesting fit for the Bruins given he’s a finisher and a power forward-type with youth and a cost-controlled contract on his side.

The problem here is that Avalanche GM Joe Sakic is going to want Colorado Springs native Brandon Carlo in return for a player in Landeskog that’s been 20 goals/50 points every year that he’s been fully healthy. That’s a difficult one for the Bruins to agree to even as the talented, perfectly solid Bruin Carlo is hitting his first rookie wall with the Black and Gold, and has struggled for an extended stretch over the last month.

But no matter what the Bruins do it’s going to be a painful, controversial move if it’s going to be something of significance.

That’s where Claude Julien comes in. It might not be fair, or deserved, for Julien to get fired after 10 brilliant years in Boston, but the Black and Gold are making the same mistakes with the same flaws as the teams that collapsed over the last two years. Some of that has to be a reflection of the coach right along with the collapses in each of the last two seasons that made the Bruins the worst team in hockey down the stretch each of the last two years.

The Bruins have changed some players on the roster, they’ve made management changes and they’ve changed up some of the assistant coaches on the Bruins staff. One of the few constants during that time of struggle has been Julien as he became the winningest B’s coach in the franchise’s Original Six history last season.

It’s time for Sweeney and Neely to step in and try some evasive maneuvers to avoid a repeat of the last two seasons, and it’s becoming increasing clear that replacing Julien might be the most impactful way to make that attempt. It won’t be popular and it won’t be a fun moment in Bruins history, but it won’t be as dreary as missing the playoffs for the third season in a row if B’s management does nothing about their current stretch of crap hockey.

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now less than a week away, with plenty of movement expected despite the perpetual lack of sellers, and an expansion draft perhaps preventing some teams from taking on players they will then need to protect. 

The Bruins shouldn’t be much of a seller as long as they can continue their current good stretch for three more games before the March 1 deadline. The expansion draft shouldn’t be much of a scare either based on the players {Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Malcolm Subban) they might be in danger of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.

With the Bruins currently outside of a playoff spot by virtue of the one game in hand held by the Florida Panthers (both teams have 66 points vying for the final wild-card spot), it would be no surprise if GM Don Sweeney wanted to be a buyer at the deadline for a Boston roster that could use a big top-six winger with finishing ability, a top-four defenseman that can move the puck and a backup goaltender should Anton Khudobin have any more struggles this season.

The Bruins and Avalanche had been talking steadily in recent weeks about a possible deal for 24-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, but those discussions have hit a standstill with Sweeney refusing to part with either Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in the trade package. That's the 100 percent right move for a Bruins team that shouldn't start trading away blue chip D-man prospects. 

Landeskog has made sense for the Black and Gold because he’s signed long term with a reasonable $5.7 million cap hit, and because he’d theoretically be a good, power forward fit alongside David Krejci.

It’s that type of trade Sweeney and the Bruins are looking to make for a young player with term that will be part of the long-term solution in Boston. They aren’t looking for a repeat of last season where they shipped off good future assets in exchange for pedestrian rental players Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles and missed the playoffs anyway after dipping into the trade market.

In other words, Sweeney doesn’t sound all that keen in dipping heavily into the rental market, for a Patrick Eaves or a Dmitry Kulikov for instance, as he did a year ago.  

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” said Sweeney at the time of the Claude Julien firing, prior to the current four-game winning streak. 

“But I think it dovetails with the fact that I’m not going to be short-sighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term. Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Some of that may change after a current four-game winning streak with a Bruins team that looks much more playoff-worthy than the aimless group that struggled through the first 55 games. But it would have to be the perfect rental at the right price for it to make sense for the Bruins this time around and chances are that might not materialize for a team just looking to hang in there until McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zach Senyshyn are ready to contribute a couple of years down the road.

So, would people be okay if Sweeney and the Bruins stand pat at the trade deadline if they can’t swing a big hockey deal for a young player like Landeskog who would be part of the long-term plan? Is it acceptable to just let it ride with the current group that has suddenly shown a different gear under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and bet on the core group rising to the occasion like they didn’t the last couple of years under Julien?

The answer from this humble hockey writer is that Sweeney should pass on anything less than a home run deal for the Black and Gold. The worst thing the Bruins GM could do is get in the way of the momentum that’s naturally starting to roll with his team, or make another severe misstep with his NHL talent evaluation. Right now, draft and development seem to be his strengths, and he should lean into those and away from being a wheeler dealer with wiser, more experienced managers around the NHL looking to once again rob the Black and Gold blind.

So, there’s a chance the Bruins do very little at the deadline and, after thinking about it, the fickle fans should be perfectly okay with that as they watch a newly transformed hockey club. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready for the February heat wave headed our way.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did on Tuesday talking Bruins with former Hartford Whalers great and current outstanding TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, who is also a great FOH (Friend of Haggs).

*Good piece on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster that has already gained plenty of internet plaudits for his great, and now legendary, Nick Bonino goal call in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

*It’s never too early to look at this summer’s crop of NHL draft-eligible players. Right, Kevin Allen?

*Apparently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has his own rap song, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has James Wisniewski trying to revive his NHL career after a short stint in the KHL.

*There’s a call for Nashville backup Juuse Saros to get more playing time between the pipes for the Predators.

*Larry Brooks brings his always interesting take to the Bruins situation in allowing Claude Julien to take the head gig in Montreal, and said it all came down to money. Big surprise there. I think there was also a concern from the B’s about having another PR nightmare on their hands if it was perceived that they stepped in and didn’t allow Julien to gain employment someplace else, regardless of what waited for him in the offseason. It also tells me that the Bruins aren’t afraid of Julien coaching their arch-rivals, which makes perfect sense since they just fired him.

*For something completely different: the image of Woody Harrelson in the Falcon cockpit is both jarring and super awesome.