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Looking Back and Ahead at the Bruins

Courtesy of blog.prosportsmedia.com

Playoff hockey returned to Boston this spring and boy it felt good.

The Boston Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup playoffs this season after a two-year absence and although they were knocked out in six games by the Ottawa Senators, the B’s accomplished what many wanted from the onset of the campaign:

Playoff hockey.

It took an entire 82 game effort from the Bruins to squeeze into the postseason, earning 95 points and the third spot in the Atlantic Division, with extended hot-streaks, a couple of career years from Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and most of all, a coaching change that sparked the club down the stretch into the playoffs.

It can be argued that this B’s team should’ve advanced past the soul-sucking Senators, who play one of the most frustrating brands of hockey with their 1-3-1 trap, and that would be a valid claim. The Bruins were rolling heading into the postseason, save for a 3-1 beat-down by the Washington Capitals in the final regular season game, and looked primed to surprise in the first round. Added in the experienced veteran presence of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci, a run seemed to be pointing in the B’s direction.

However injuries to half of its defensive corps (Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Adam McQuaid, and Colin Miller who wasn’t 100 percent) combined with David Krejci missing the majority of the series, and the wheels fell off for the Bruins faster than Pastrnak falling to the ice in a shift. Granted the squad did rally around its less than ideal roster to make it a six-game series, but even if the B’s did find a way to beat Ottawa, it’s hard to imagine a long run after that.

Brad Marchand wasn’t producing at his usual clip, Patrice Bergeron, who later admitted was dealing with a Sports Hernia for most of the season, looked off, Pastrnak wasn’t consistent, and Tuukka Rask was all but out of gas after suiting up for 65 of the 82 contests over the course of the year. The guys that carried this team for the entire season just didn’t have it to the extent that they did in the regular season and because of it, the Bruins simply couldn’t keep pace with a Senators team that gave them fits all year.

Making the playoffs was a victory in and of itself, seeing as this team was projected to finish with 86 points when Coach of the Millennium (read as Claude Julien) was behind the bench.  It wasn’t looking good after the B’s lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-5 on February 4 and early traces of a collapse popped back into everyone’s minds in these parts.

Then Bruce Cassidy was hired as interim coach.

On February 7, Cassidy took over the bunch and steered an underachieving Bruins team to success, and in turn saved the collapse from entering year three. A four-game suck-fest March 16-23 almost cost the B’s a spot for a chance at Lord Stanley’s Cup, but unlike the past couple of years, the Bruins stepped up and got it done.

That alone was enough to satisfy a large portion of fans who just wanted to see their Bruins play meaningful hockey in April. The B’s probably could’ve achieved more, but given the roster circumstances and the lack of production from the stars they did have available, it’s hard to get upset with the results that unfolded.

Moving Forward

Bruins brass have a lot of decisions to make with this team in the offseason, but general manager Don Sweeney wasted no time in completing potentially the most important move.

Three days after the B’s were eliminated from the playoffs, Sweeney removed the interim tag from Cassidy, thus making him the 28th head coach in team history, on April 26.

The 18-8-1 record Cassidy compiled, plus the two gutsy wins in the postseason, proved to be enough for Sweeney to hand him the reigns full-time, and frankly, it was smart.

Instead of keeping Cassidy guessing like he did for Julien a couple of summers back, Sweeney made the decision quick and got the offseason started on a good note. Cassidy deserved a complete season to coach this team after what he did this past season and Sweeney recognized that and got it done.

Naming Cassidy head coach now leaves Sweeney with a few months to get this team ready for 2017-2018, and there needs to be a few tweaks to the roster to make them a real threat next season.

First off, Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey….bye.

Hayes as been a useless sack since he’s been in Boston and his contract is way too expensive to warrant keeping him around. Beleskey’s situation is different as he’s dealt with injuries this past season but again, the money and term isn’t worth sticking with him when younger, cheaper options are available.

Now that the obvious is out-of-the-way, if deals can be made for Chara and/or Krejci, Sweeney should pull the trigger.

Chara did have a good season compared to years beforehand but even still, he’ll be 40 years old and won’t be getting any better. With his cap hit coming down significantly next season, it would make much more sense to move him now and get something for him than have him retire or walk for nothing. Reports are swirling that he wants an extension here and that would be just loony, enough said.

Krejci did have a rebound year with 54 points, yet his time here should be just about up. He’s been way too inconsistent for a player of his caliber and the fact that he’s making $7.25 million a season to underperform is inexcusable. The argument is that he doesn’t have suitable wingers around him, but if he’s that good, he should be making others around him better.

Rask should stay because there is nobody after him that is ready, Pastrnak earned a multi-year contract with his 34 goal explosion, and Charlie McAvoy showed some brilliant play in the playoffs that all but locked up a spot for him on the top four defensemen group next fall.

Ryan Spooner most likely played his last game for the Bruins after getting scratched in the final two postseason games, and it’s hard to get worked up over it. Early on, it seemed like he wasn’t getting enough of a chance however as the season progressed, his utter lack of defense and his average stat line (11 goals, 28 assists, 39 points) showed he just isn’t good enough to be relied upon.

As far as the overall team, adding speed would be a wise move. Whether it’s from outside the organization or infusing some of the young talent, this roster desperately needs some speed to keep up with the rest of the league. Sean Kuraly made that obvious as he was one of the faster players on the ice in the playoff games he played, and he really isn’t a speedster.

The Bruins should have their hands full this summer with roster decisions, the Expansion draft, and the Entry draft consuming most of their time, and those decisions come much sweeter now that the B’s killed the collapse trend and have some playoff play under their belts.

 

About Ryan Ames - @_RyanAmes

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