The Boston Bruins are struggling and the blame game has started by Bruins Nation on Head Coach Claude Julien. The Bruins are in danger of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. We’re certainly not there yet. However, after losing five of their last six games, there’s a realistic possibility that the Bruins will be on the outside looking in. In 2014-15, the Bruins stumbled during the last two weeks of the season and missed the playoffs. They currently have a three point lead over the Detroit Red Wings with the Red Wings having an extra game on the schedule. With six games to go, the Bruins are likely going to need to win at least three of those six games to make the playoffs. It’s not going to be easy. The Bruins go on the road to face the Devils, Blues, and Black Hawks over the course of the next week. After that, they’ll return home for their final three games including a showdown with the Red Wings which likely will mean a lot.
So, how did we get here? Just two weeks ago, the Bruins were sitting on top of the Atlantic Division and the only question was whether or not they would finish first, second, or third in the division. Then they went on to lose five consecutive games. They struggled to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, the worst team in the NHL, last night. The Bruins have struggled on the offensive end. The offense that carried the team through the majority of the season has gone dormant. The Bruins stars have been very quiet and they continue to get little to nothing from the third and fourth lines.
Here’s the reality. This team’s roster is very mediocre. They have overachieved over the course of this year. Remember, this is a team that missed the playoffs last year. They lost two main pieces in Milan Lucic and Doug Hamilton. They replaced them with mediocre players like Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey. How do we feel about the Reilly Smith for Hayes trade? The roster did not improve. It got worse. Fans weren’t happy with this last offseason, but at least there was a direction. Rebuild was the word although the Bruins Front Office told us all that they were still going to contend. The Bruins traded talent for draft picks to free up some cap space. Don Sweeney had a clean slate and was going to clean up the mess that Peter Chiarelli created. It was going to take time, but there was a plan.
The Bruins played well as a team and have been competing for a playoff spot all year. The plan seemed to be a success in year one. No one pegged the Bruins as a cup contender, but this was a step in the right direction. We, at least, had playoff hockey to look forward to. Then came the NHL Trade Deadline.
Remember, the Bruins had a plan to still contend, but at the same time, build towards the future. The NHL Trade Deadline brought another big opportunity to do more of that. Loui Eriksson is a free agent this offseason and it seemed as if he was the player that the Bruins were going to move either for a defenseman or for draft picks. The Bruins did neither. They hung on to Eriksson and got nothing in return. In addition, they traded for 35 year-old John-Michael Lines and 33 year-old Lee Stempniak to prepare for a playoff run this year. They gave up multiple draft picks for these two players.
Wait a minute. What happened to building towards the future? Wasn’t that the plan? Now we’re trading for players in their mid-30’s for draft picks? What about the defense? These were all questions at the time and they remain questions now. If the Bruins miss the playoffs, this year’s deadline should be viewed as nothing short of a colossal failure. It also shows a lack of direction by the Bruins front office. It went completely against what they had established the previous summer.
The fingers are already being pointed towards Claude Julien. To be clear, Claude Julien is not the problem with this team. The fact that he has this team in position to make the playoffs is very impressive. If you have watched this team on a nightly basis and have seen their defensive roster, you’ll know why. The talent on the defensive end in non-existent. Julien has maximized the talent on this team once again. However, if they miss the playoffs, someone will get the blame and it will likely be Julien.
So, if not Julien, who deserves the blame for the Bruins mediocrity? Should we take a look at #8 in the rafters? Cam Neely continues to get a free pass in Boston. Perhaps it’s because of his success as a player. Many fans give him a break because of what he has contributed on the ice. Keep in mind that this is a Team President who kept Peter Chiarelli around despite not having one legitimate draft pick over a seven-year span besides Tyler Seguin who fell on his lap. Oh, and speaking of Seguin, what NHL front office would trade one of the league’s best young talents for a player of Loui Eriksson’s skill level? Remember who signed off on that deal?
So, what did Neely do when the Bruins moved on from Chiarelli? He promoted his sidekick in Don Sweeney. Same story. Different year. So, why should we be surprised with the failures at the year’s trade deadline? While other team’s are annually beefing up their rosters, the Bruins continue to fall short year after year and it’s all under the leadership of Cam Neely. Bruins fans give a lot of credit to Neely and Chiarelli for their success in 2011 and 2013. They certainly brought in some pieces, but what about the core? Tim Thomas? No. David Krejci? No. Patrice Bergeron? No. Milan Lucic? No. Brad Marchand? All of these players were drafted before Neely and Chiarelli took over. The core of the team was not built on Neely’s watch.
If the Bruins miss the playoffs and are serious about making changes, they may need to start at the top. Here’s the reality. They are not going to find a coach that’s better than Claude Julien. Can they find a president who will do a better than Cam Neely?
Here’s a question for Boston Sports fans: Which leader do you have the least amount of confidence in?
1. Cam Neely
2. Danny Ainge
3. Dave Dombrowski
4. Bill Belichick
There’s a realistic possibility that the Bruins will play well down the stretch and get into the playoffs. Perhaps, they’ll even win round or two. The Atlantic Division has beatable teams. However, if they don’t get in, it’s not going to be acceptable. Bruins ownership wants playoff games at TD Garden. One way or another, there will be big news for the Bruins this spring. It’s a crucial month ahead for their leaders and it all starts with #8.
It comes down to this. Would another coach do better with this product on the ice? Or, is the problem the leaders making the personnel decisions? These are the questions Bruins ownership will have to answer if the Bruins miss the playoffs.