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Is the President’s Trophy cursed? No, that would be ridiculous. But maybe…
It’s been pretty well documented that teams that dominate during the regular season and win the President’s Trophy for first place finish in the league seemed to be doomed in the playoffs. Year after year, these teams tend to lose in the first or second round and all their high hopes and expectations wither away. There are several factors that go into this; maybe being the top dog means that all other teams bring their “A” game to them, or possibly after their high level of play for the first 82 games, they just don’t have enough left in the tank for a long playoff run.
Curse or not, the President’s Trophy winner went home early again this year as the Bruins lost to the Canadiens in Game 7 in their own barn in front of a packed TD Garden crowd. I’m not going to get into the game itself, but let’s just say it was a major disappoint not only that they lost but that they showed an abysmal lack of effort and intensity.
Instead, let’s take a look at some of the pressing roster questions this offseason and what changes could be coming to the Black and Gold.
First, here are the contracts expiring this season:
RFA: Krug, Florek, Caron, Bartkowski, Fraser
UFA: Johnson, Potter, Meszaros, Iginla, Thornton
Among those players, there are some easy choices and some difficult ones.
In his exit interview last week, Iginla made it clear how much he enjoyed playing in Boston this season and that he wants to return if the offer is there. The veteran winger will turn 37 this summer and has no doubt lost a step since his glory days in Calgary. However, he still has the capabilities to bury the puck and play physical. I like Jarome and think he’s a good fit for the Bruins. I’d like to see him back in a Spoked-B next fall.
However, it’s more complicated than that. He can score goals, yes, but his lack of finish in the playoffs is a major concern for me. As good as he is, I think if he’s the “go-to” number one winger on the team, then we have a problem. Instead, I’d like to see him play with Patrice Bergeron, who would compliment each other nicely with a good balance of skill, speed, scoring, and defensive play. As long as he’s not the guy in Boston, I want him back.
One part of the Bruins demise this spring was the lack of experience on the Blue Line. Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, and Matt Bartkowski are all under 25 years old and had very limited playoff experience. Did they get exploited at times? Sure. But is there a lot to be excited about with these kids? You bet.
I think Hamilton will be playing first-pairing minutes on the Bruins for years to come. Krug is another guy I want to keep around for his speed and powerplay skill. I wrote a piece a few weeks back about the strong play of Miller and how it might mean the end of Adam McQuaid’s time in Boston. I’m still on board with that. Miller is prone to a dumb mistake once in a while, but he’s been pretty solid back there and I think he’s an underrated puck mover. We’ve seen some good breakout passes from him.
Bartkowski is the odd man out as far as I’m concerned. There’s just no sense in keeping him. He’s been scapegoated a bit, and perhaps rightfully so with the stupid penalties he took in the Canadiens series. He also was a liability at times in the defensive end at times with bad turnovers and being caught out of position. He does have speed, but everything he offers, Krug offers that and more. We might see the Bruins retain his rights with a qualifying offer so we can get some draft pick compensation when he gets signed elsewhere.
One particularly frustrating player this postseason was winger Brad Marchand, who was innefective in his second straight playoff run. The shifty little winger posseses a sweet combo of speed, scoring, and the “agitation factor.” Which means that even when he’s not scoring, he can still help in other ways by drawing penalties and driving his opponents crazy with his behind-the-play antics. He always manages to tip-toe on the line without crossing it, and if he played anywhere other than Boston then Bruins fans would hate him as much as others around the league do.
But what we saw from Marchand this postseason was more than just low numbers on the stat sheet. He kept turning pucks over time and again by getting too “cute”, trying to dangle through two or three guys at a time. There were several instances of him getting an odd man rush with Patrice Bergeron, he would shoot the puck right at Carey Price’s chest. He was given a bit of a leash considering his past success, but is it time to step back and reevaluate his status?
I wouldn’t trade him. First off, and most obviously, he just simply wouldn’t be a fun guy to play against. His role has developed from a checking line guy into a top line winger and he is always getting under the skin of anyone who wears a different jersey than him. Second of all, he’s still a top-notch penalty killer. He was among league leaders in short-handed goals this season and has hands softer than a fleece blanker. And for a team that just got beat by speed, is trading away our fastest “offensive” forward the answer?
My thought was to shift him down to a third line role until he can find his scoring touch again. With his speed and physicality, he would make for a good asset on that line. However, the more I think about it, he has such chemistry with Bergeron and does such a good job shutting down top lines every night that you gotta keep him up there. Give him a short leash, but I think Marchy is here to stay.
As I’ve previously stated, I don’t think Iginla is a good fit on that top line anymore. If the Bruins are going to adapt, they need to bring some speed and pure scoring to their top lines in order to have success. Milan Lucic is a very effective player and has a rare duality of power and scoring, but is very prone to slumps. And, when it comes down to it, he can’t keep up with David Krejci. That line would be much more effective with another quick winger with a finishing touch rather than another big, physical guy with a heavy shot (Lucic and Iginla.)
What’s the answer? In house, the only real answers would be Loui Eriksson. Reilly Smith, or maybe a young gun like Ryan Spooner or Alex Khochlachev. And none of those appeal to me. Eriksson is a solid 2-way player, but he has developed great chemistry with Carl Soderberg and it might be best no to mess with that for the time being. Guys like Spooner and “Koko” have great speed and skill, but they’re both undersized and inexperienced. Reilly Smith might be the best answer, but A) he has great chemistry with Bergeron and B) who knows if he can repeat last year’s success.
I think GM Peter Chiarelli is best suited to explore something this offseason either in Free Agency or the trade market to get that guy. Some guys due to hit the FA market are Tomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Marian Gaborik, and Alex Hemsky. All good players. Of the bunch, I probably like Moulson the best for his price tag, age, and underrated scoring ability.
There is also some possibilities out there of trades. Teams like the Sharks, Jets, Flyers, and Senators should all be looking to mix things up. Could Patrick Marleau be the answer? Are guys like Evander Kane or Milan Michalek options? And don’t get me started on how much I love Wayne Simmonds as a player.
Adapt or die. Everyone knows the Bruins can beat the crap out of their opponents in 5 on 5, but it takes more than that to win. We need somebody who can finish on the powerplay. We need a speedy winger who can match Krejci’s vision. And I dont think those answers are going to be found on our depth chart.
This will be a big offseason. There are a lot of good players available, there are a few disgruntled franchises that need to shake things up, and the salary cap is going up which means team have the cap space to make moves. I only hope that Chiarelli has the guts and the wherewithall to make something happen. I don’t think the Bruins need a major overhaul. But if you don’t think we’re a piece or two away from winning the Cup again, you’re kidding yourself.