Whenever a team enters a season as a favorite to be a Stanley Cup Contender and misses the playoffs, serious questions need to be asked. The Bruins, fresh of a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2013 and a President’s Trophy in 2014 looked primed to make some serious noise in 2015. Despite losing Jarome Iginla and Johnny Boychuk prior to the season to the Avalanche and Islanders, respectively, the Bruins still looked to be a contender.
Expectations took a hit when the Bruins began the season 1-4 while playing a poor brand of hockey. They began to right the ship but then the injury bug hit, Boston lost Zdeno Chara and David Krejci for significant parts of the season. Despite these losses, the Bruins were still putting themselves in position to win games. The problem was they weren’t finishing. A full 60 minute effort was hard to come by and the Bruins seemed like a squad just going through the motions and waiting until the playoffs. Their play against elite competition was troubling also, going 0-4 against Montreal and 0-3 on a key west coast road trip in December.
A strong month on January was followed by a lackluster February that saw the team suffer another west coast losing streak, this time at four games. March was the month that finally quashed any doubts about the Bruins being contenders. Their five game losing streak in the middle of the month that included losses to three playoff teams and the league worst Sabres. Despite having a chance to sneak into the playoffs on the last day of the season, it would have been naïve to think this Bruins team would have made much noise in the postseason.
Several players performed well below expectations this season. The injuries to Chara and Krejci greatly affected their performance while Dennis Seidenberg and Milan Lucic only showed flashes of the players that helped bring Boston to two Cup Finals in three seasons. Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille were ineffective and have already been informed by the team that they will not be brought back. Chris Kelly was the best player on the team through October, but came back down to Earth offensively while still contributing on defense. Reilly Smith was ineffective throughout the season and did was constantly moved around the lineup.
Loui Eriksson played well as did Carl Soderberg, but at times lacked the necessary physicality. Adam McQuaid was not as effective as years past and Dougie Hamilton played well but was hampered by a late season ribs injury. Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask were stars for the Bruins, but unfortunately Rask had to play in 70 games because his backup, Niklas Svedberg, was woefully ineffective.
Three bright spots for Boston were Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Ryan Spooner. Bergeron was an elite player as always and Pastrnak and Spooner joined the team and made heavy contributions after the All-Star break. Both could end up being major pieces of the Bruins moving forward, but the fact that the Bruins relied on two rookies for most of their offensive production was a troubling sign in itself.
The question now is what’s next for the Bruins in their longer than anticipated offseason. The first shoe dropped earlier this week when the team fired General Manager Peter Chiarelli. Chiarelli had been with the team since 2006 and was a major factor in building the rosters that won a Stanley Cup in 2011 and the Eastern Conference in 2013. His struggles this year were too much for the Bruins, however, and they are now looking for his replacement.
The Bruins will not decimate their core, but it is possible one or two longstanding Bruins could be dealt. Soderberg and McQuaid could very well join Campbell and Paille in playing elsewhere next season. Matt Bartkowski, whose tenure with Boston has left much to be desired, will also probably be wearing a different uniform next season. Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic have been floated as potential trade names and it is possible that one of them gets dealt this offseason. Malcolm Subban, the team’s young goaltending prospect, could also be part of a deal.
The major question now is the fate of Coach Claude Julien. Julien, who has one Stanley Cup ring with the Bruins, will remain as coach for the time being. But a new GM could choose to make a move for a new coach, which would allow Chiarelli and Julien to reunite next season; possibly in Toronto.
In retrospect, the 2014-15 Bruins have no one to blame but themselves for their failure to make the playoffs. Although they were not as talented as Bruins teams from the past five seasons, they still had more than enough talent to make the postseason. One major change along with several minor ones has already been made. It seems only as though there will be more changes coming and next season’s Bruins team could look quite different from this year’s squad. It will be a long offseason in Boston.