Where do the Bruins go from here?
On a day where New Englanders woke up ready to celebrate their now five-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots with a parade through the streets of Boston, just a few miles away from the parade route, another Boston-based team was certainly doing no celebrating.
Tuesday morning the Bruins announced that head coach Claude Julien had been relieved of his duties. This season was Julien’s 10th behind the Boston bench.
Julien, who was the longest-tenured active head coach in the NHL, won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and got the team back to the Final in 2013 where they lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks. He is the Bruins’ all-time coaching wins leader with 419.
After missing the postseason in back-to-back seasons, the Bruins appear destined to miss the playoffs for their third straight year, which ultimately led to the dismissal of Julien.
Whether you agree with the move or not, or even blame Julien for the Bruins shortcomings, the bottom line is that the Bruins are now left in a position where they have to figure out where to go from here.
Are they buyers? Are they sellers? Is a rebuild in store? Does management need a shakeup? Depending who you ask, your answer to the above questions may differ.
“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in,” said Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney in a press conference at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday morning.
Sure, the Bruins have a chance to make the playoffs, but it won’t be easy. Entering Tuesday night, the Black and Gold are tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division, but the Leafs have four games in hand. The wild card picture doesn’t look any better for the Bruins, who trail the Philadelphia Flyers by one point for the East’s last wild card spot. The Flyers have one game in hand.
“I think that the team is not that far away from winning games. We’ve pointed out lately, there was a quote out there, we’ve found ways to lose instead of win,” now interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said Tuesday morning. “That means you’re generally close, so we’ve got to flip the switch on a few of those plays throughout the course of the game that go in our favor.”
The Bruins problems on the ice won’t be fixed overnight. With Tuukka Rask struggling of late, the B’s have not gotten any help from their backup goalies in the limited amount of playing time they’ve seen. That doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
“On the back end, I don’t see a lot of changes right now. Obviously, Tuukka is going to play the lion’s share of the games and our backup goaltender will get in when Tuukka needs his rest,” added Cassidy.
Outside of their top line, finding chemistry and consistency has been another issue haunting the Bruins thus far. Cassidy doesn’t see significant changes coming to the forward groupings.
“I don’t think significantly. We have to identify if Ryan Spooner is a center iceman or is he a better winger. That’s a good question, to get the best out of him,” said Cassidy. “And the same goes with David Backes, where does he best fit in? There may be some line tweaks to see who fits best with David Krejci, who is a world-class player, to get him at the top of his game. So, these are a few of the conversations we’ve had.”
The Bruins are seemingly stuck in quicksand and sinking fast. A tinkering of the lines or a change in how your defensemen get the puck out of the zone is not going to solve the bulk of the Bruins’ problems. A change in personal will do that. And no, I don’t mean behind the bench.
The Bruins have talent on the ice, there’s no doubting that. The team is fortunate to have players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Rask all in their prime. Youngsters like David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano, Torey Krug and Colin Miller are all pieces that can compliment a core nicely.
The problem lies in the swing and misses guys like Matt Beleskey, Anton Khudobin, Jimmy Hayes and to a degree, Backes have been.
That’s where the blame gets put back on management. If the Bruins truly believed they were a playoff team at last year’s deadline, then how come John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak were the only deadline acquisitions?
If the Bruins were truly not in a rebuild mode like Sweeney and management claimed they were not, then how come more was not done this summer to address some of the Bruins biggest issues like a legitimate scoring winger and a top-four defenseman?
“We expect the players to make a push and get into the playoffs. It was the same regard last year, and that was why we added at the trade deadline because our players had been in position,” Sweeney said in his opening statement Tuesday.
“It didn’t work, we fell just short. But, I’m also committed, as I said last year, to draft. I wasn’t trading David Pastrnak to try to find the D that we feel we still need to improve our group and add depth to.”
Now that Julien is out of the picture, this 100 percent falls on Sweeney and team President Cam Neely, who, by the way, was nowhere to be found during Tuesday’s festivities and who, by the way, has been very quiet throughout the course of the 2016-17 season.
After their Stanley Cup win in 2011 and Final reappearance in 2013, the Bruins window was as wide open as it had been in many, many years. But a string of bad decisions ultimately slammed that window shut.
Team owner Jeremy Jacobs and Neely brought Sweeney in to begin the process of opening that window again. But just over 20 months into the process, Sweeney has put a master lock on that window.
Unless Sweeney and Neely can figure it out and start to open that window again, it’s going to be a long time before Lord Stanley is paraded through Boston yet again. And when it does, Sweeney and Neely won’t be found on those duckboats. Someone else will be.