The headlines in
Such is the state of the Boston Bruins, members of the National Hockey League since 1924 and winners of just two Stanley Cups since 1941. That fact hasn’t been seriously threatened for 15 years and isn’t likely to change anytime soon. How did this happen? How did a once-proud franchise fall so far as to lose the stranglehold grip they once had on the fans of New England - first with the Big Bad Bruins of the 1970s with the great Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Don Cherry, then followed by a minor revival with the late 80s-early 90s exciting squads that starred Ray Bourque, Cam Neely, and Adam Oates?
General Manager Peter Chiarelli is currently suffering through his first year at the helm of the Bruins, inheriting a team not quite sure whether they're still in a full rebuilding mode or looking to move up into the ranks of challengers in the Eastern Conference. Before the season started it appeared that the Bruins were poised to at least make a little noise in the middle of the conference and stand a decent chance at grabbing one of the final playoff spots. Even up until a month ago they were certainly on pace to do just that, but a January in which the team went 3-10 left them flirting with the bottom of the Eastern Conference (non-orange-and-black division).
So where are the breakdowns? A scouring of the roster both at the NHL and AHL levels shows that there appears to be precious little depth in the organization. At the top level, only four players are even in double-digit figures for goals (although I do expect Brad Boyes - nine goals - to have a bright future in front of him, despite a lousy season thus far) and only
Of course when Bruins fans try to pinpoint where the final stone was toppled to expose the organization’s flaws, the ill-fated Joe Thornton trade to
Most importantly, what the trade gave
However, fast-forward 15 months later and the rumours that two of the parties obtained in last year's big deal - Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm - are being shopped should be more than troubling to Bruins' fans for a few reasons.
Other recent trades have also been peculiar. Dealing Sergei Samsonov away at last year's deadline was defensible, both on his play at the time and especially since (note: Samsonov was placed on waivers yesterday by
This week came another puzzling deal, if you could even call it a trade: big defenceman Milan Jurcina was dumped to the Capitals for a 4th round pick. I’m left wondering if there was more to this story. The 2006 Slovakian Olympic rearguard was re-signed as recently as August; at 24 years old he was known to be a work-in-progress but what could have happened in such a short time for them to completely give up on the 6’4” 235 pounder?
Last summer’s free agent period saw the Bruins make an early splash by signing Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara to lucrative long-term deals, giving Bruins fans hope that the team’s fortunes would turn around this season. Savard has been better than most people expected and
Chara’s signing is one still being evaluated. He has given the Bruins a clear-cut number one defenceman, their first since Ray Bourque left for
The issue of the sheer magnitude of Chara's contract can also not be dismissed - my biggest defence of last season's
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Bruins’ recent draft history has been simply terrible. Since the 1997 draft, in which they famously obtained both Thornton and Samsonov in the first round, the number of players who've thus far put together a successful NHL campaign can be counted on one hand, and finding success in each draft has been a stretch:
Goalie Andrew Raycroft - drafted in 1998 - put together a Calder trophy winning season in 2003-04, but after one sub-par year was dealt to Toronto in the offseason. Nick Boynton was drafted in 1999 and showed glimpses of being the tough defenceman the team had hoped he'd be, but his lack of development and adjustment to the modern game caused the team to deal him away to
That’s pretty much it in terms of “hits” for a decade of drafting. Teams such as New Jersey or Buffalo have had a recent history of rarely missing completely with one draft and never whiffing on consecutive drafts, which has contributed to those organizations’ abilities to continually bring up new talent to fill gaps where older (or more costly) veterans may have left. By virtue of this long string of poor drafting
So what can the Bruins do? First, they – and perhaps more importantly their fans - are going to need patience. This is a project, but they have to fully buy into the project. Here’s a short list of what I think the Bruins could do to start to bring themselves back to the world of contention within a few years:
1) Deal Glen Murray. With 26 goals on a bad team, he’s the team’s most marketable asset and is likely at peak value. He could fetch a decent return of a prospect or two from a playoff team desperate for veteran scoring depth. Plus at his current US$4.15 million salary over the next two seasons it would free up a good amount of cap room.
2) Put Phil Kessel on the top line. Why on earth is he on the fourth line? He's a scorer, he was drafted as a scorer: let him score. If the team were more successful and contending, putting Kessel in a specific learning role would make more sense for him and the team (as Joe Thornton was used in his rookie year). Kessel is going to need to build up confidence and learn how to fail at some point - let him do that to his advantage, by using his skills and not being afraid to screw up. A little confidence goes a long way.
3) Emphasize youth. Don't send a split message here - Chara/Savard/Bergeron are each signed for at least the next three years and should be a solid core. With only approximately $31 million committed in salaries next year, the temptation could be to sign big name free agents. Resist. Use the flexibility to deal a veteran or two (Murray, perhaps Paul Mara) and truly build. That means the team should aim to begin contending in two or three years, not next year. Signing a big name free agent like Chris Drury might bring in a few fans in the short run but one skater alone will never make a difference in hockey for a team looking to improve upon what is now a 13th place standing. And by the time the team could potentially be ready to contend, Drury (and his likely $6 million contract) will be aging and again up for free agency. Free agency should be used as a final piece in the puzzle for