Shortened seasons are crazy.
Usually 25 games into a season, teams are just beginning to find their identity and there is plenty of time to address any problems your team is having.
This year, with a 56 games schedule, teams don’t have the luxury of time to build a Stanley Cup contender. For teams in the East Division (or at least the top 5), the amount of time they have to figure things out seems even shorter given how tight the race to qualify for the four playoff spots already is.
The Bruins, who currently sit 4th in the East, would be on pace for 106pts if they played an 82-game season, which is usually enough for any team to make the playoffs.
The problem for Boston, however, is that given the quality of competition in their division, that pace still might not be enough to qualify for the playoffs, which means every single game takes on that much more importance,
Due to the condensed season and level of competition they face in their division, Don Sweeney and Co. need to expedite their decisions on what this team will be come playoff time.
Through 23 games, the Bruins have been outstanding at keeping the puck of their own net 5v5 and while shorthanded, which is pretty remarkable given their turnover on defense and the injuries they’ve had to deal with.
But on the offensive side of the game, things are not going so well.
The Bruins once again are struggling to score at even strength, with just 44 goals (fourth worst in the league) and only 181 high-danger scoring chances (third worst in the league).
This is not a new problem either, as last year they were pretty much in the same place when it came to even-strength goals and the amount of quality scoring chances they were generating.
What is new, at least over the last month or so, is that Boston’s power play is also struggling.
The Bruins have scored just one power play goal in their last seven games, and just six power play goals in their last 15 games.
Clearly it’s no secret that the Bruins are struggling to score goals.
However, not all the blame can be put on the forwards.
Outside of Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins are getting very little offensive contribution out of the d-men, and this goes beyond points as well.
The Bruins defense struggles at times to make good outlet passes to their forwards, limiting opportunities for transition offense, including odd-man rushes.
While the lack of scoring is not a new problem for the Bruins, it’s one they can no longer ignore; in fact, Don Sweeney came out on Wednesday and said “it’s a major concern for us.”
Management has had the time (not to mention a pretty good buyer’s market this past off-season) to address the fundamental problem the Bruins face. But to this point, what has been done hasn’t worked in Boston.
With the trade deadline a little over a month away, Sweeney needs to make some major decisions about what this team will look like come playoff time (and beyond).
There are three realistic options on the table for the Bruins, with two more likely than the last: trade to acquire more offense, stay the course with the current team and options in the AHL, or begin rebuilding this team for the future.
Let’s Make a Deal
Like every year, there are going to be players available through trades who could improve the Boston Bruins.
Unfortunately, like most years, the price to improve the team will be very high.
For Boston, this is a price that they may have to pay if they’re serious about contending for the Stanley Cup this season.
Just in case you need a reminder of how expensive in-season trades can be, here are a couple from last season:
- Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow cost the Lightning a pair of 1st round picks
- Tyler Toffoli was traded to the Canucks for a 2nd and 4th round picks
- J.G Pageau went from Ottawa to Long Island for a 1st, 2nd, 3rd round picks
- Andreas Athanasiou was traded to the Oilers for a couple 2nd round picks.
Every year, teams overpay for players at or before the trade deadline, and really only a few work out.
If Boston chooses to gamble up front, forwards like Sam Bennett, Mikael Granlund, Bobby Ryan, and possibly even Taylor Hall have been popular names in trade rumors this year.
On defense, Boston could also target Mattias Ekholm, Brandon Montour, or Vince Dunn, who have all been rumored to be on the trading block as well.
The Bruins could also go after other players set to become UFAs after this year as well, like Nick Foligno, Tanner Pearson, or Kyle Palmieri, each of whom is currently on a team not in the playoff picture.
(Oh by the way, David Backes is a UFA next year too...)
The problem for Boston, if they choose to go down the trade route to improve their team, is that they simply can’t afford to give up much in return.
The Bruins’ prospect pool is the weakest it has been in a long time, and the current roster either consists of core players that should not be moved (like Bergeron, Pastrnak, Marchand, and McAvoy) and players with depreciating value.
In addition, if the Bruins trade away draft picks, they would only be compounding the bad years that are looming in the not-so-distant future.
Staying the Course
Even though the Bruins are struggling at this point in the year, they are still a good hockey team.
As mentioned earlier, the defense and goaltending have played well, the Bruins still have one of the best top lines in the NHL, and they are missing some key guys to injury right now, guys who could definitely improve the team upon their return.
They also have a couple games in hand on the teams ahead of them in the standings, and have yet to play the lowly Buffalo Sabres.
Let’s not forget that this year is not a normal year either. The season is shorter with no exhibition games, the Bruins are purposely going through a youth movement on defense, the expansion draft is coming up, and making trades during the pandemic (especially with Canadian teams) is problematic.
In the eyes of Bruins management, this season could very well be a “let’s see what we got this year, and make adjustments next year” type of scenario, or the Bruins may just be recognizing that they will need all their draft picks the next few years.
While staying the course with the current roster and hoping for the best may not be a popular choice with fans, it could be the correct one for the long-term future of the team.
The biggest problem with not trying to improve your team through trades this year is that the core of the team just gets older, and that window almost completely shuts...which bring us to the last option.
Let the Re-Build Begin
It’s hard to imagine a time when the Bruins don’t have Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand in their lineup, but in reality, it might not be that far off for most of these names.
Whether the Bruins do it this year or in the next couple years, they need to address the long-term future of their hockey team. The problem with waiting is that the assets that they do have become a lot less valuable around the league.
In an ideal world, the core of this team would win another Stanley Cup together and retire as Bruins. And while that would be awesome, so would having a competitive team for the next decade or so.
This could happen if the Bruins started trading away players like Rask or Krejci for prospects and/or picks.
There are certainly teams, like the Colorado Avalanche, that still need one or two more pieces, and might be willing to part with a big part of their future to win now.
To make a move of this caliber would certainly be painful, as the B’s would essentially be ‘throwing in the towel’ this year, but it could also be the wisest long-term move for Don Sweeney.
From a personal point of view, if Don Sweeney chooses to do nothing at the trade deadline this season and the Bruins falter down the stretch in the regular season stretch or in the playoffs, his contract with the Bruins should be terminated.
Simply standing pat seems like a slap in the face to the veterans on this team who have given their best years to this team, and who expect the same level of commitment from the coaching staff and management.
In addition, Sweeney had the opportunity to improve this team (more significantly than bringing in Craig Smith) in the off-season but whiffed on signing guys like Toffoli and Hoffman, who have had big impacts on their new teams.
This trade deadline season is Sweeney’s chance to redeem himself or to prove that he’s not capable of leading this team to where it needs to be.
If the Bruins did decide to rebuild by trading key players away either this year or next, it would suck, but at least Sweeney would be providing the fanbase with some sense of direction for this team.