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Initial Offseason Thoughts: The Bruins critical issues eliminated them again, and now change must come.

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The playoffs are over. And things are the same way they were last year.

Boston Bruins v New York Islanders - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Welp.

Here we are. B’s eliminated in the 2nd round.

Again.

I think one great lie told to fans is that the NHL playoffs is that anything can happen. That it may as well be a whole new season. That life changes the minute you get to the postseason. And to some extent? I believe it can be true.

But I don’t think it’s true all of the time. I think that the Playoffs are mostly a revelation on who you are, and who you’ve always been. Sometimes you can punch above your weight, and if you do that? Cool! Even better than normal! But that’s not always true. Sometimes the playoffs are just more of your team. Everything that made them good and bad ballooned up to 11. Randomness has it’s factors, sure, but for the most part...it speaks the real truth to you. And if you’re not good enough? You will be told so in the most agonizing way possible.

And for the Bruins, they got a good hard look at what their problems were. Where they aren’t good enough.

Again. So let’s talk about the especially critical things that need to be addressed before they ever get past another 2nd round again.

The Bruins depth needs a desperate shake-up.

I think we can agree that we’re good and well done with the bottom six of the Boston Bruins, right? That even after two rounds, 58 games, and endless permutations of roughly the same group of depth guys, that something’s absolutely not working here, right? Something about the third line has seemingly become a cursed void where the talent, or at the very least, consistency of all involved gets sucked straight out of their bodies like in Space Jam over the course of years in some cases, a year and a half in others.

Charlie Coyle took a major step backwards and that did not bode well for how that line performed for the rest of the year. Nick Ritchie, their most productive player, got the honor of banging home rebounds for Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the power play, and was otherwise a fairly pedestrian player outside of his truly impressive ability to take the dumbest penalties possible. And Jake Debrusk...poor, poor Jake DeBrusk. Saddled with a reputation of streakiness that he lived up to in every single possible way, effectively tanking his usefulness as they tried something, anything to get the fleet-footed kid to produce.

And the fourth line? If the third line was wildly inconsistent and frustrating, they were just dreadful all season. Just all around booty-ass. Noel Acciari was the straw stirring the drink, and it’s time we admit that about the Wagner-Kuraly version of the fourth line. Curtis Lazar was an okay hand to have but...It wasn’t enough. I’m not even asking for them to be Rocket Richard candidates, I accept that getting 12 minutes of even-strength TOI over a season means that even the best fourth liner may only end up with 5-12 points, I’m just asking these players to be impactful. To advance play in the correct direction, which is away from the goaltender. And throughout these playoffs, and especially during the regular season, the amount of times that they have been able to be truly impactful were frustratingly small, if they weren’t an outright hindrance. And you know what? Even that is okay. 10-12 minutes a night isn’t the end of the world, even if they aren’t playing well. And to his credit, Bruce Cassidy kept their minutes low.

But my issue is with their deployment in specific circumstances.

Because they were not especially impactful players, there was no reason to throw them onto the ice during the last five minutes of games you were down in, there is no reason to throw them out right after a goal-for. There is just no good reason for any of the way they were deployed against the Islanders, other than a misguided belief that sheer effort can overcome critical deficiencies or the talent contrasts the Islanders presented. And that can’t be the case.

In general, it’s a poor scene. Once the Islanders figured out a way to shut the first two lines down, there simply wasn’t enough punch to keep the attack coming. And it faltered big time.

The Bruins defensive depth is communion wafer thin, and the “kids” aren’t cutting it.

Look, I promise you we’ll talk about the kids part of this in much more detail in it’s own post and get mad about it there, but let’s be clear; losing Brandon Carlo absolutely killed the Boston Bruins this postseason. And that really shouldn’t the case, right? The Bruins have long prided themselves on having a strong defense and for the most part it was working for most of the regular season, right?

Well, yes and no.

The right side of the Bruins defense is it’s workhorse side, driving much of the play in the right direction either through good solid defensive work or through sheer talent. Matt Grzelcyk is a solid hand for the left side, but outside of him, there’s a deep, dark clear void between what he brings, and what every player not wearing a 48 on the back of their sweater does. Mike Reilly, outside of a bad series against the Islanders, helped this out tremendously, but he was ultimately a patch on the realities of the Bruins defense; for the most part, none of their starter blueliners can be injured, or it’s play is going to suffer severely.

And the Bruins lost Kevan Miller and Brandon Carlo, and briefly had a scare without Charlie McAvoy for only a few minutes in Game 6...causing Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, and Jarred Tinordi to take their place, and ultimately failed to live up to expectations completely. And I don’t feel like I need to overstate how much of a gaping wound that caused for the Bruins at a position they can normally pride themselves with.

And you know what? In stints, they were fine in the regular season. Just perfectly okay. Perfectly acceptable. Sometimes they even put on a show! But in the playoffs, where everything speeds up and the intensity became fever pitched...clear deficiencies in their play was both noticeable and exhausting. The Bruins will have to begin making some hard decisions on whether or not the Lauzons, Cliftons, and Zborils of their depth chart are really NHL caliber, and especially playoff caliber. They’ll also have to think good and long and hard at least about one of their defensive defenseman in Carlo or Killer, because both now have a reputation of being hard-working, defensively sound...and very, very injury prone.

And I’m not sure they’re going to like what they find.

This is on Don Sweeney. Both for Blame and to (maybe) fix.

Don Sweeney’s job, ever since he got to the Bruins, was to fix a flagging depth, re-vitalize the defense, and make sure that the waning years of their best players were not effectively wasted.

He has done roughly a quarter of that, in that his defense does look better, but for the most part he’s made a bad habit of gambling on talent that do not deserve nor will ever pay back his gambles, and has largely traded one problem for other, different problems. And a different problem can possibly solved, sure...but that doesn’t change that it is still a problem. This is on Sweeney to acknowledge that this is, outside of the first line, long since been his team. Almost every player on the NHL roster and much of the AHL roster is his doing; through drafting or free agency or offseason signing. And I could see at least a couple of those AHLers graduating, and maybe being moderately impactful! Some of those deadline acquisitons could easily come back!

But everything else is his doing. Don Sweeney’s Bruins are in the same ugly place as they have been over and over again. And it is up to the Bruins to decide if he’s the guy who gets to fix it or not.

To paraphrase Tuukka Rask after Game Six...”We can’t keep doing this forever.”