I'm about to commit hockey heresy here. Have you got your tar and feathers ready, Bruins fans?
Boston Bruins missing the 2014/15 playoffs could be the best thing that could possibly happen to them right now.
I know. In a hockey world which focuses all its attention on either the bottom or the top of the NHL, and where playoff hockey is some sort of Holy Grail of the sport that everyone should aspire to, even hinting that a team NOT competing in them would be more beneficial than doing so is tantamount to pointing at the NHL Emperors walking by in what the rest of the world thinks is all their finery and saying "uh, guys, you do realise those people are naked, right?"
But let's look at the state that the Bruins are actually in right now. They have a coach who is seemingly stuck on a faded fourth-line centre as a key player and a GM who won the Stanley Cup four years ago, went to the Finals two years ago but now seems unable to do basic mathematics when it comes to the cap (Boston aren't the only team this season to have roster issues due to cap space, but the fact ANY NHL team is forced to play short on a matchnight roster due to it is inexcusable in this post-Capgeek day and age.) They have a roster on which some of the current and previous key contributors are aging (Zdeno Chara is the most obvious one, but players like Dennis Seidenberg and Chris Kelly, too, are much nearer the end of their careers than the beginning) and this off-season looks like causing further transition with cap issues, RFAs all over the place and little room to sign them.
The Bruins also look like a team unsure of what it actually is...the swagger and confidence of previous teams has just not been there this year, and unlike in previous seasons Claude Julien has not been able to find a way to get it back.
Peter Chiarelli, too, has looked like he's run out of ideas on what to do with the current set of players. The innovative thinking and willingness to go for the home run is gone this season.
Players like Milan Lucic look comfortable - settled. They look like they're not being challenged to produce night after night in the way they have been previously.
In short, a kind of malaise has settled over the TD Garden...a feeling that "well, we're good enough and things will work out, so why take any risks?"
The problem the Bruins have found is that what worked before simply isn't working now. At the moment this season is shaping up to be the third-worst in Julien's tenure, and it could get worst still. This time round, though, despite the ranting and raving of sports media in Boston, despite all the old narratives being hashed out again and again, there's an inertia that implies that the Boston organisation are asleep at the wheel.
Look, for example, at the persistence of using the likes of Greg Campbell late in a game, despite the clear indication that it simple isn't effective. Look at the blitheness and calmness that the team staff have greeted rumours that their jobs are reportedly on the line if they don't make the playoffs. This isn't a team staff driven to succeed any more. It's a complacent, calm staff convinced that they can ride on their laurels and while there might be the odd question asked, as long as they scrape into the playoffs, all will be OK.
The Bruins are like Nero, happily playing the fiddle while not noticing that all around them are problems burning to be fixed. The cap issues. The chance they might lose their best defenceman to an offer sheet. The coach who seems reluctant to trust young players and is slowly raising the trust of the fanbase. The players being paid obscene amounts to not produce to anywhere near their best, like Milan Lucic.
This team needs a shakeup. It needs new blood at the top. The only way it will get that right now is if the Stanley Cup Playoffs take place without the Bruins involved, as it might throw into sharp relief what many have been thinking for a while - this Bruins group in its current form has jumped the shark...just like..well, the San Jose Sharks.
Nobody's saying that missing the playoffs means the Bruins should blow up their roster..after all, there are youngsters in the team who could form part of the next big Bruins squad - the likes of Ryan Spooner, for example.
But this team does need a shakeup of epic proportions to jolt it out of its fourth-line-in-crunch-time, hope-for-the-best, we-don't-need-to-evolve mentality the top of the organisation is currently showing. And that starts at the top.
The only way things are going to wholesale change at the top of the Boston organisation is, as the Jacobs family said, in the case of the Bruins missing the playoffs.
That wholesale change is desperately needed. Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien are running out of time.
If the Bruins miss the playoffs, their time could well be up.
And for the sake of Boston, that ticking clock needs to run out.