As the new decade, full of what can only be future horrors and fun, embraces us all, I suppose it's time to look back on what the Bruins look like after about half a season’s worth of games and a look at what has become of the Bruins in 2019-20.
The Bruins have a lot of the same ups from last year...
It really cannot be overstated how much fun the superstars of the Boston Bruins are when they’re on their horse. Our own Shawn Ferris has held the belief that Brad Marchand’s ability as a playmaker is his true calling, and in this season so far, Marchand has been exactly that: one of the better assist-getters in the league with smart passing and expert reading of defenses.
Patrice Bergeron remains one of the better fancystats dominators in the sport in spite of injury and any absence he had made the team miss him sorely. Post-injury, he got right back to what made him so good in the first place like it never happened.
We still see players like Torey Krug and David Pastrnak effectively willing the Boston Bruins' power play to being one of the most dangerously potent in the league at any given time, even if it’s struggling.
When the team is on, they are on, and it makes for a team that is suffocatingly difficult to play and an absolute joy to watch, as they are never truly out of any contest they set their minds to. Helping matters is that the Bruins have found a good life balance for both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, who are performing pretty well all things considered and have shown up present and accounted for from Game One.
Bruce Cassidy’s system has ensured that the Bruins are consistently playing well enough to make things interesting, and all of this has led up to a team that can lose pretty miserably at times, sure...but also one that can utterly dominate the competition and win games before regulation ends, and as a result remains in a comfortable lead in the Atlantic Division, ensuring that, if they keep pace, they’ll have home ice advantage when...
...Boston’s first-round dance partner in the Toronto Maple Leafs comes knocking in April. Look forward to another 7-game series and all the nonsense involving it yaddayaddagrumblegrumblegrumble...
...And a lot of the same downs.
As of this writing, four players on the Boston Bruins roster have over 10 goals. 6 forwards have fewer than 5, 4 regular players have fewer than 2.
Of course, points aren’t everything...but the disparity is clear. And troubling.
While many players have picked up the slack by doing a lot of playmaking and getting assists and we admit that being a depth player means you don’t always have to be a point-per-game player, the fact is a lot of the Bruins' depth are not producing to the level expected of them. The somewhat unfair criticism of last year is now almost entirely true in 2020: The Boston Bruins, with certain players excepting, are a one-line team.
And that is especially worrisome, because it’s been created by the exact same thing Boston has been dealing with over the past half-decade in spite of overall success: depth concerns, hand-wringing over contracts scraping up against the cap ceiling, and a sliding ability to maintain control of games because of diminishing returns on offense or in forechecking whenever Bergeron’s line leaves the ice or has an off night.
Not helping is the multiple veteran depth guy signings like Chris Wagner, who is slowly turning back into the Chris Wagner he was before he came to the Bruins, Kevan Miller effectively being either done or extremely unlikely to ever play a game for the Bruins ever again, Backes once again dealing with health scares, Par Lindholm and/or Brett Ritchie being a ghost most nights, and guys like John Moore having to split time with Connor Clifton, neither of whom have had a fantastic start to their season.
The young players who will be gunning for contracts have also had their issues keeping the good times rolling. Jake Debrusk’s streaky play rears it’s ugly head every once in awhile to cause nothing but concern. Anders Bjork is officially in his best season in goals for the black and gold...that may just reveal him to be a merely pretty good depth guy, despite multiple shifts a game where he can create a half-decent shot and considerable media attention on every time he does something good. Whatever Danton Heinen was doing defensively last year that made him so underrated seems to have completely collapsed in on itself. Any young gun that showed up from the AHL has either not impressed Bruce Cassidy, clearly needs more time in the AHL, or has ended up on injured reserve.
Oh yeah, Injured Reserve. Our old friend. It is the 3rd year of Bruce Cassidy’s reign as head coach, and if there’s a hallmark to any of his run so far, it’s not the depth players getting career years occasionally or the Bergeron Line truly coming into their own or the playoff runs, it’s been the omnipresent 2 to 6 players that are day-to-day, week-to-week on the mend. It’s claimed a number of players over the course of this season, including most of the defensive depth before thankfully returning. At this point it either smacks of an organizational blind spot or the Boston Bruins being the unluckiest team on Planet Earth. And it’s hard to parse which has more chances of being true.
What this has led to is a team that, for the first half of the season, has largely relied on five players to produce in any meaningful manner, and if either Halak or Rask’s SV% begin to crash to earth, then there’s a real good chance the team suddenly doesn’t look very playoff worthy...
...and that ain’t gonna look good on anybody. Especially not the guy who built a good portion of this team. This team is still in first, right?
Sweeney and Cassidy doing some fine tuning will be critical to maintain their sustained success.
Like any GM, Don Sweeney is both the cause of and the potential solution for the Bruins’ sustained success. A lot of those 24 wins and cap inflexibility that the B’s are currently under (read: less than $2m in actual cap space) are the ultimate result of Don Sweeney taking chances, making deals, and making just enough right decisions that they’re one of an elite few teams capable of being in playoff contention...but also with a lot of players who are struggling offensively and not a whole lot of room to do much about it other than have the coach bench them, run them ragged at practice, or deploy them differently.
What they need right now, and it’s insane to say out loud, is a player who can actually drive play, regardless of position. All the things that you like in a Bruins player (big, fast, hits hard, etc.) can be there already, but the fundamental thing they need more than anything else is either someone to step up and execute, or get players that are already in their system up in Boston who can. Fine tuning can get this team being the best version of itself, all they need to do is take another chance.
Either that or panic sign/trade for a right wing to play with Krejci. Whatever works. Team’s good enough to handle either.