In 1969, Swiss-American psychologist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published a book called On Death and Dying, a book where the famous “Five Stages of Grief” were first published. Normally, this was used to describe feelings those diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses go through during initial diagnosis...and was promptly thrown out years later because it was worded poorly and had no empirical research nor empirical evidence attached to it.
But! It’s still a very handy tool to describe reactions to shocking events. And as Anders Bjork’s post-new year season had him fighting for time on ice with players like Joakim Nordstrom and Par Lindholm, I figure I’d talk about why he’s become (or maybe always been) a depth player, and the reactions of which many fans have to this news.
In spite of his pedigree and the eye test, the fact remains that Anders Bjork has only ever been able to put together truly impressive individual shifts/goals here and there, and has shown through his play that he is, and maybe has always sort of been, a depth forward.
Good, now let’s move onto- Ok fine, I’ll elaborate.
Anders Bjork came to the Boston Bruins riding high on a number of things; he was going to be a Notre Dame athlete, which is always good; I am told the university is very prestigious for some reason. And their hockey program is a powerhouse program in the NCAA: at the time with Hockey East, now with the Big 10. And he showed plenty of promise after a typical freshman season of adjusting from one league to another. He quickly became Notre Dame’s premiere forward, leading the team in points two straight years in a row, then signing his pro contract with the Boston Bruins in May of 2017.
And he looked good! His preseason was good, he joined the team and had an encouraging 30 game stint where he played well, scored some sweet goals...and then he got his shoulder hurt, and was out for the rest of the season, and the parts of the season he was available for, he played in the AHL. Tragic, but it does happen sometimes. So the B’s tried again next year, with Bjork playing 10 games less...and then his shoulder got hurt again, which sucks, because it set a scary precedent of it possibly being a recurring injury, and he looked alright through both years! He definitely could’ve stayed a roster player had he not gotten hurt!
And that brings us to now. 58 games in, Bjork has shown that he is unquestionably an NHL-level forward. He’s going to finish the season with at least 20 points and given how mercurially the depth has played over the course of this year, that is no mean feat. He is absolutely a player the Bruins can depend upon for the foreseeable future.
But is he the top 6 guy many saw him as?
...Probably not. Not unless something wild happens. And that harsh reality has caused some...traumatic responses on behalf of fans.
Stage 1: Denial.
River in egypt yadda yadda etc. etc.
This is the point I think a lot of people are at with Bjork. And it’s understandable. How on earth could he be a depth guy!? And one that’s fighting for ice time!? He’s got to be more than just a slightly better Danton Heinen clone from Wisconsin! Look at him play! He looks so good!
Stage 2: Anger.
If you weren’t at Stage one, you were probably already at Stage two. Having this sink in can cause frustration, and lashing out due to the crushing reality needling the angry centers of your thinkmeat. Because it makes you feel like you got played even if what your eyes saw said something different. Nobody likes being played, after all.
Your mind races. Your teeth grind. Your typing fingers type away. Why would Bruce Cassidy scratch him at all? Couldn’t he see he was playing so well? Couldn’t Bruce Cassidy play him at his natural position and see him thrive? What the hell are these coaches doing to him!? What the hell is he gonna learn sitting up on level nine!?
Stage 3: Bargaining.
This is more optimistic than desperate, as it appears to live between the ideas that yes, Bjork could in fact reach top 6 potential, and if not, he can at least be helped along by playing with better players, or by being put into a better position that he seems better suited to.
He can be just as good as he was if he just plays on his correct wing! He doesn’t need to be playing with Charlie Coyle, he can be so much better with David Krejci or hell, even with Patrice Bergeron! He played great with Bergy, lets get him back on that line!
Stage 4: Depression
There aren’t many people in this category, and frankly I am not looking forward to it because it will involve a lot of discussion about the NCAA, the Bruins prospect system, the coaches, and just how fucking dour the future of this team looks once guys like Jack Studnicka and Vaakanainen and maybe Jakub Lauko make the team and we look for who else they might bring. The answer is not much, because the team is in Win-Now mode. And Win-Now mode means screw the future. And all because X scout or X part of Cassidy’s run as GM has major gaffes when it comes to thinking about the Bruins of 2024 as opposed to 2020.
It’s going to be exhausting. Please redirect your unhappiness towards David Krejci if you get to this point, I’d rather not be sad with you. At least then your negativity is familiar and based in raw emotion rather than facts.
Stage 5: Acceptance
The final stage. Where we begin to finally do the thing that should’ve been done, but our stubborn brains refused to let us do; change expectations, and march towards the future with optimism.
It’s not that Anders Bjork is bad. Far from it. He absolutely deserves to be here. But now we look at him as an encouraging part to the fun of the 3rd and 4th line: surprising skill, badly needed ability to backcheck that doesn’t involve pulling oneself out of position (which can and does happen. Looking at you, Kuraly.), and a good transition target for Charlie Coyle. He’s a perfectly fine depth forward, and sets the point that the Bruins need to ensure that he’s put in the best position possible to help make the third line a line that can reliably contribute.
But accepting it is a big part of making sure.