This team has bounced around to seemingly every position in the standings, and it all begs the question: Which team are they? Are they the team that has put together impressive point streaks, or are they a team that has thrown away points lately? As an organization, the Bruins need to shit or get off the pot - add good defensemen, giving up draft picks, prospects, or both, or trading the valuable assets they have in order to facilitate a rebuild before the players get older and lose their value. And not making a decision IS making a decision, and a very poor one.
The contract situation with Loui Eriksson will be the biggest indicator. There have been no reports that the Bruins and Eriksson have engaged in substantive contract talks, and according to DJ Bean the Bruins did make him an offer but were low on both the years and money. That doesn't sound good, although it is the beginning of negotiations. Team comes in low, player comes in high, and if the Bruins are smart, they meet in the middle.
Loui Eriksson is the Bruins biggest trade chip that could get moved. He is their nuclear weapon, their last ditch effort to get that young top 2 defenseman. Don Sweeney has a defense consisting of a lot of bottom pairing guys and a 38 year old defenseman who will have cracked 30,000 minutes played in his career by the time you read this. 30,240 minutes would be three weeks straight playing hockey. The big man is slowing down, and is no longer a top 10 defenseman in the league. Could he regain that form with less ice time and more help? It's very likely. At the very least, giving Chara less minutes should help stave off the decline.
What does Don Sweeney have, and what does he need?
- Justoneguy. As outlined previously by John Davis, that one guy would stabilize the second pairing, allowing the Bruins to shift from a top 2/bottom 4 split to a top 4/bottom 2 split, which makes a load of difference.
- Defense. They have been middle of the pack so far, but for the most part without Chara out there, things get extremely rough.
- Salary cap flexibility. With the way the Canadian dollar is looking, the cap isn't increasing much, if at all in the near future. The Bruins have a bevy of young prospects, and established veterans who will be needing contract extensions in the coming years in Loui Eriksson, Brad Marchand, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, and Colin Miller, the Bruins don't have a ton of cap space to re sign them. Yes, Chris Kelly's contract will be coming off the books after this year, and even this year could be put on LTIR to gain them as much as three million in salary cap relief, but the extra cap room to sign them won't be created by the raising revenues, but will have to be made via trade, or not signing free agents
- Forward depth, especially at right wing (Eriksson, Pastrnak, Connolly, Hayes, and Ferraro to a lesser extent)
- Draft picks, even factoring giving up a third rounder for Rinaldo. The Bruins have an extra first rounder from the Martin Jones trade, and a compensatory second round pick for the Edmonton Oilers hiring Peter Chiarelli. It should be a high second rounder
- A good coach. Their special teams are at least top 5, attempting the third most shots on the powerplay, and limiting teams to the fifth least on the PK, which is no small feat with the D corps. The ingenuity to realize that their best offensive players were all centers, and to put them out on the powerplay together has sparked the Bruins to have the third most powerplay goals, on the second fewest attempts. Other teams have taken notice at what the Bruins and Julien have done this year, with a rival executive telling ESPN "'The Bruins are a sleeper. Quietly having a real good season.' Take a bow, Claude Julien, you've earned it."
- Prospects performing well, at multiple levels from the NHL, to the AHL, the CHL, and the NCAA, both from high draft picks, and a few lower draft picks.
The Bruins have hope for the future. Not all of these prospects will pan out at the NHL level, but there are enough promising prospects that Don Sweeney can prune away at some to try and upgrade for a run this year, if that is the route he chooses. If not, he can still move some forwards, knowing that prospects like Alex Khokhlachev (t10 in AHL scoring), Seth Griffith (t2nd in AHL scoring), and Frank Vatrano (t6th in AHL goals, in half the games) should be able to step into the holes left.
So: What's it going to be Sweeney? Are you in, or are you out? The clock is ticking.