Sunday Flashback: 2013 B’s-Pens playoff column “Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare”

An old friend recently reminded me of a column I wrote in 2013, after the Boston Bruins had taken a 3-0 series lead over Sidney Crosby and the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final (you remember- the guys who were anointed Stanley Cup champs when they scooped Boston on Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline?) Alas, the B’s were unable to close the deal against the Chicago Blackhawks, who earned their second of three rings between 2010-15 against the Black & Gold, but he asked me to dig the piece up and so here it is- in its raw and unedited glory prior to being posted on HockeyJournal.com.

All of my old work at NE Hockey Journal that was not in the printed issues is gone forever from the Internet, as no archive exists given the different format changes the website went through over the years since I started covering the Bruins there in the summer of 2000. All I have left are the files on my computer and so, on occasion, I’ll bring out the dead and we can take some trips in the Wayback Machine to save you any time otherwise wasted with a Google search- the old stuff no longer exists online.

Enjoy the column…in the 5 years hence, the Penguins have fared certainly better than the Bruins, with a pair of championships in 2016-17, but I have to admit- this one was a ton of fun to write. -KL

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Sweep dreams will end the Steel City nightmare (June 7, 2013- HockeyJournal.com)

For some reason, one particular ‘s’ word has somehow evolved to be on par with the one goalies don’t want you using before the shutout is actually in the books.

But say the word ‘sweep’ when your team is up 3 games to none, and everyone starts to get that queasy feeling in the pit of their stomach. In Boston, it’s understandable, given that we are just three years removed from a historic collapse against another team from the Keystone State after building a commanding series lead.

This column is not for the superstitious (another s-word since we’re on the subject), so if you’re one of those types, then you probably should stop reading now. However, if you’ve got an iron constitution and will in line with Gregory Campbell, or don’t take yourself (or sports) too seriously, then forge ahead.

On Friday, the Boston Bruins will sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins to take their place in the Stanley Cup final series for the second time in three years.

There it is. Carve it in stone or put it up in lights…it’s happening, folks.

Just as the B’s exorcised the demons of their agonizing 2010 seven-game loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in style with a sweep of their own just one year later, Boston can revisit history on Friday at the TD Garden. That was important, because it put an exclamation point on the Olde Towne’s first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years. That 2011 Cup victory was a euphoric rush for the Bruins and their fans, but does anyone deny that crushing the Flyers on the way to the summit of hockey supremacy made it all the sweeter?

Two years later, the Bruins have stunned the mighty (and heavily favored) Pittsburgh Penguins in capturing the first three games of the Eastern Conference Final series. This opportunistic, lunchpail group of Black and Gold-diggers have laughed in the face of the vaunted Steel City juggernaut thanks in large part to goaltender Tuukka Rask’s otherworldly performance in net and gritty production from stars like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton.

In short, the B’s have taken everything the Penguins have thrown at them and then counterpunched to the tune of an 11-2 drubbing on the scoreboard. In those three games (and almost two extra periods), the front line skaters like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang have combined for a grand total of no points between them.

It’s as if Dean Vernon “Zero Point Zero” Wormer were staring down Bluto Blutarsky as we speak.

The Bruins will sweep because even if they decisively won the first two games on the road in Pittsburgh by a combined 9-1 score, the Penguins showed some remarkable pluck by battling back in Game 3 to give the B’s all they could handle.

Aside from a Krejci puck off Matt Niskanen’s skate that got behind Tomas Vokoun at the 1:42 mark, the Penguins netminder was near flawless. Until Bergeron took a Marchand feed (thanks to a play along the boards by veteran Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr that would have made Peter Pan’s pirate nemesis proud) and put a dagger in the hearts of the Pittsburgh hopeful just after midnight in Boston.

By all rights, the Penguins should have won. But the hockey gods…ye gods…frowned on Crosby and Co., allowing the Bruins to hand flightless fowl a soul-crushing loss.

And so- the B’s are in position to not only sweep the Penguins, but to put the screws to one team that has been every bit the villain of any in the Boston franchise’s history.

Back in 1991, it wasn’t Crosby, but Mario Lemieux who led his Penguins back from a 0-2 deficit in the Wales Conference championship series. That club, complete with a 19-year-old rookie wunderkind in Jagr, smacked the B’s down in six games en route to easily handling the Minnesota North Stars for the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups. It was Ulf Samuelsson, however, who’s dirty hit on Boston legend Cam Neely hastened the end of No. 8’s Hall of Fame career.

A year later, the Bruins got a rematch in the Wales final, but without Neely (still suffering the after effects of the Samuelsson low blow), the high-flying Penguins blew Boston out of the water in a sweep. The series was punctuated by a highlight reel goal of Lemieux turning Ray Bourque inside-out, outside-in on the way to a back-breaking goal.

It has been 21 long years since the two teams met in the playoffs, but for many Boston fans, the Pens are still a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Matt Cooke’s blindside hit on Marc Savard in 2010 is only the tip of the iceberg, but the incident served as a flashpoint to escalate the rivalry between the teams.

Many cannot ignore the fact Pittsburgh not only landed a franchise player in Malkin in 2004, but also struck gold with the top lottery pick in the cancelled season a year later, essentially handed another hockey king in Crosby. Some won’t forget that when Ray Shero was on the verge of becoming the GM of the Boston Bruins in 2006, he opted for a more promising situation in Pittsburgh at the last minute.

If hell hath no fury like a Bruins fan scorned, then Iginla is the newest Boston target. In a much-publicized aborted trade fiasco, Iginla, the Calgary Flames and Penguins humiliated Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins. In what everyone but Iginla thought was a done deal, the Calgary captain instead elected to lift his no-trade for the Steel City only, leaving the Bruins holding the bag.

If you know the ever-simmering cauldron of intensity that is one Cameron Michael Neely, then you know that the way Pittsburgh embarrassed Boston by scooping Iginla and seeing the B’s snubbed so publicly must have re-ignited his burning desire to pay them back one hundredfold. So far, his team is doing just that.

Even if Iginla is proving that the best trades are sometimes the ones you don’t make, the smugness with which the Penguins and their fans swooped in to exult in the bitterness of Boston’s disappointment cemented that team’s status as Public Enemy No. 1.

If having a villain to focus your angst and anger is a cathartic, then consider the Penguins the therapist you have on speed dial.

The Bruins are in position to sweep away the nightmares of two crushing playoff defeats more than two decades ago. They’re poised to erase the visceral disgust of having lost so many prime years of Neely’s playing career to one of the dirtiest and unaccountable players in history.  They’re on the verge of gaining the ultimate revenge against all of the real and perceived slights that have accompanied one of the most heralded teams on paper in quite a few years.

They say revenge is sweet.

Or is it sweep?

It’s not over yet, but the best thing the Bruins can do is close the deal in Game 4 and put the bitterness behind them once and for all.

(As a bonus- Here’s the brilliant HNIC opening for Game 3 after the B’s won both games in Pittsburgh to Radiohead’s classic “Karma Police” with some amazing juxtaposition of imagery & lyrics)

 

On Rick Middleton’s No. 16 going to the rafters

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that Richard D. Middleton aka Rick Middleton aka ‘Nifty’ the right wing who starred for the team from 1976-88, will have his number 16 retired in a game later this November (29th- vs the NY Islanders). The longtime New Hampshire resident and Bruins Alumni fixture is deeply touched by the gesture, which comes three decades after he skated off into the sunset (more on that later).

The former Oshawa Generals star broke into the NHL with the NY Rangers, who selected him in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Middleton was also picked by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the rival WHA that same year, going in the second round, 21st overall.

The trade is right up there with Cam Neely as one of former Bruins GM Harry Sinden’s best heists, sending the over-the-hill Ken Hodge to Broadway for the 22-year-old, who put up 90 points in two seasons with the Rangers. The catalyst for the deal was believed to be Phil Esposito, who was dealt to the Rangers the season before in a blockbuster, which sent Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the B’s. Espo wanted his old (no pun intended) reliable right wing back, and Middleton was rumored to be a bit of a wild card off the ice…his -38 in 1975-76 certainly didn’t help.

So, Middleton headed off the Boston and after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years (by the standards of the 1970’s), he took off, posting 38, 40, 44, and 51-goal seasons from 1978-82. He peaked in 1984 with a 47-goal, 105-point year (finishing second to Barry Pederson’s 116 points) but the Boston offensive juggernaut was silenced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Penney, who sent them out with a whimper in 3 games (no points for Nifty). The year before, Middleton had posted a playoff season for the ages (33 points in 17 games), leading the Bruins past two rounds of the playoffs including the memorable 7-game affair against Buffalo where he registered a team-record (for one series) 19 points. Unfortunately, the B’s ran into the NY Islanders dynasty in the spring of 1983. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith & Company dispatched them from the Wales Conference final in a series that never seemed that close, en route to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, leaving so many B’s fans to wonder…what if?

Middleton’s production steadily declined after that career 105-point campaign, due in part to age and injury, but he did preside over the historic defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988, a first for any Bruins team since 1943. Middleton’s breakaway game-winner in Game 3 (2-0), to put the B’s up 2-1 in the series after splitting the games in Montreal was a fitting coda for a man who had been a part of so many heart-breaking losses to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge during his entire Bruins tenure. He split the captaincy with Ray Bourque that year, wearing the ‘C’ for home games, until his retirement after the B’s were swept by Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers (their 4th NHL title since 1984) giving way to Bourque’s sole leadership from 1988 until his trade to Colorado in the spring of 2000.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, Nifty was an ubiquitous presence in my budding love of hockey and the Bruins. Although not a pure burner, his golden locks (later shiny pate as his hair thinned and ultimately gave way to a Jofa helmet late in his career) looked like they were on fire as he would bob and weave through the neutral and offensive zones, often putting on a display of stickhandling prowess at impossible angles and contortions, ending with pucks in the back of the net or sublime back-door feeds for gift-wrapped tap-ins for his lucky linemates. The Mike Krushelnyski-Pederson-Middleton line racked up 111 goals in 1983-84…a number that seems awe-inspiring some 35 years later.

Although Middleton’s scoring numbers paled in comparison to Gretzky’s (The Great One scored 100 more points than Middleton’s 105 in 83-84 just for perspective), or Mario Lemieux or Bossy to name a few, he was a veritable King Midas for the B’s, creating magic from the mundane and turning pucks into goals. But don’t take my word for it- Channel 38 once paid tribute to him with a highlight reel video now on YouTube to America’s “You Can Do Magic” and I had it recorded on VHS and must’ve watched it 1000 times…

Ignored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 years after he retired, taking his number out of circulation is a welcome move for those who watched him (and maybe a good percentage of fans who didn’t, but who appreciate history). Sure- there are some who may be opposed to the honor (it is the 11th so number retired by the B’s) but that’s just a curmudgeonly nature of New Englanders at work- deep down, even the grumblers get it. After all- we’ve seen Peter Douris, Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Marco Sturm and most recently, Kaspars Daugavins (in 2012-13), wear the digits in the intervening years. None hold the distinction and cachet Middleton did, and in the end- it’s just a number. It’s time to admit that he wore it well…better than anyone in the Black and Gold. As his 402 goals as a Bruin can attest, he could finish plays off just as easily as he set the table, and was the heir to Espo as the next pure scoring forward to put on the spoked B.

If the Bruins can take the time to honor for a player who grew up and matured in Boston as a model of consistency and was the face of the franchise at least up front for the better part of a decade, then why not?

It’s about time.

 

Dominic Tiano: What’s Next For the Bruins (Pt. 12)- Front Office & Coaching

We all know Boston Bruins President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney have decisions to make, some of them tough ones, when it comes to players. But what decisions are there to be made in the front office or behind the bench, if any?

Let’s begin with the position of Director of Amateur Scouting, a position that has been vacant since Keith Gretzky departed to join former Bruins’ General Manager Peter Chiarelli with the Edmonton Oilers as an Assistant General Manager. Assistant General Manager Scott Bradley has been filling the role and will run the 2017 NHL Draft for the Bruins.

A decision must be made whether to keep Bradly in the duo role or focus more on one position or the other. If the Bruins brass decides to keep the two positions separate, they could look outside the organization to fill the role, much like Chiarelli did when he brought Gretzky to Boston.

They could also promote someone from within, and there are a couple of very good possibilities currently scouting for the Bruins.

Dean Malkoc has been through ten drafts with the Bruins and has scouted Western Canada, but has done more cross-over scouting recently. Ryan Nadeau is about to enter his 15th season with the Bruins. He has served as Director of Hockey Operations/Analytics for the past three seasons while also scouring the NCAA as a scout. The Bruins have done well drafting from the NCAA the past few seasons and Nadeau deserves some credit.

With the interim tag being removed from coach Bruce “Butch” Cassidy, the head coaching job is filled. As an assistant under Claude Julien when he was dismissed by Sweeney during the season, could/should the Bruins be looking for another assistant now to serve under Cassidy?

Joe Sacco and Jay Pandolfo serve as assistants. Bob Essensa is the goaltending coach, but spent a lot of time watching from upstairs once the coaching change was made. It’s not known yet who may become available that has a professional resume under his belt, or if one will even become available.

The Bruins could also look at the minor-league level, juniors or the NCAA for coaching talent.

Allow me to throw a name into the circle if I may, he’s a long shot, but a very capable coach. Rocky Thompson, head coach of the Windsor Spitfires, who are currently competing for the Memorial Cup.

Thompson began his coaching career with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League. He would become an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Barons of the American Hockey League and in 2014, spend a season as an assistant coach with the Edmonton Oilers. Last season, he returned to junior hockey and was named head coach of the Spitfires.

If you know me, then you know one area of concern I’ve had for the Bruins for some time now is the professional scouting department. The group is made up of Matt Lindblad, Adam Creighton, Tom McVie and Dennis Bonvie.

Creighton and McVie are the elders of the group, having been with the Bruins for 16 and 23 years respectively. There really isn’t enough of a sample size to judge Lindblad, added a year ago, and Bonvie, added two years ago. But this is one area I feel Neely and Sweeney must address this off season.

 

Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins (Part 4)

So, here I am with another post with my 3 Amigos colleagues Kirk Luedeke (the founder of TSP) and Reed Duthie. If you missed the previous posts, look back not too far and you will find them. I hope (I’m sure) you will find them informative.

Decisions, decisions, decisions: That’s what is facing Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney, President Cam Neely and the brain trust of your Boston Bruins. The most critical decision dropped this week when the interim tag was removed from coach Bruce Cassidy. It was crucial for this to be done as early as possible because, despite being two months away from the expansion draft and the entry draft, some key decisions are going to have to be made by mid-June as to which players receive qualifying offers and contracts, and who moves on, potential buyouts and buried contracts.

This is what we’ll focus on today.

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Deconstructing the Claude Julien firing

About 24 hours ago, the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney officially swung the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the organization and coach Claude Julien’s head for weeks (some would even say years), dismissing the franchise’s all-time wins leader and Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, setting off a firestorm of criticism online and in the media for the timing and way it was handled.

This post will attempt to analyze the move and the subsequent naming of assistant coach Bruce Cassidy as the B’s interim bench boss. It is by no means the first and last word on the matter, nor will it hit every bucket that the firing impacts. Whether you were someone who felt it was time to go and are angered that the team elected to do it on the morning of the New England Patriots’ victory parade, are someone who felt he was not the problem and are even more irate at the timing, or are someone who feels like the move had to be made and have no issue with it (and everyone in between), this piece will try to raise multiple perspectives and shed light on some of the other factors that led to where we are on Wednesday, February 8, 2017- nearly a decade after Julien was brought in on the heels of the failed Dave Lewis experiment.

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Dominic Tiano: The best goal scorer in NHL history is…

Is Alex Ovechkin the most prolific goal scorer in NHL history?

3 Amigos Podcast with special guest Jesse Gabrielle + B’s prospects and the legend of Moe Lemay

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The boys are back with another 3 Amigos podcast- Reed Duthie, Dominic Tiano and me bring you our sixth episode since we started doing these before the 2016 NHL Entry Draft last June.

This time, Bruins prospect Jesse Gabrielle joins us fresh off of signing his entry-level contract with Boston over the weekend. The Prince George Cougars winger scored 40 goals a year ago and is on pace for more with a surging team that already has 24 wins on the season.

We also talk Bruins prospects and the upcoming World Junior Tournament. Defenseman Jeremy Lauzon made the final roster for Team Canada, announced last night, while Zachary Senyshyn was the last forward cut. That disappointment will probably provide some extra motivation for Senyshyn, but we can’t help but question Canada’s decision here. His speed and scoring prowess seems like a no-brainer, but they have their reasons. If at the end of the tourney, Canada is not skating around with gold medals around their necks, the decision not to include the player with the second most goals scored in the OHL since the 2015 draft will likely be revisited.

We also have a discussion about the Bruins’ poor home record over the past several seasons, which goes in several different directions before revisiting Boston’s memorable 1988 playoff series win over the Montreal Canadiens and cult hero (former Ottawa 67’s star) Maurice “Moe” Lemay.

It’s a jam-packed 1.5 hours, so we hope you’ll stay with it. We eschew the normal 3 Amigos theme to go all Christmas on you, as well. The Waitresses classic “Christmas Wrapping” is a great way to close it out.

Thanks for listening!

 

 

Providence Bruins swept, rough seas for organization

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to jump into the mix on the state of the Boston Bruins organization after the season ended two weeks ago, with the team throwing out a complete and total dud at home against the Ottawa Senators in a do-or-die final game.

I was away at Grand Forks, N.D. watching the World Under-18 Hockey Championship (which ends today in a gold medal game that features neither USA nor Canada, winners of the gold medal going all the way back to 2007), so I wasn’t paying strict attention to the pair of season-ending press conferences the Bruins leadership held. The accountability reviews happened Thursday, April 14 with GM Don Sweeney and Claude Julien, and then about a week later with team president Cam Neely and owners Jeremy Jacobs and his son, Charles Jacobs, who is the Jacobs family’s most visible influence on the club as the Chief Executive Officer of the Delaware North company’s Boston holdings (ie- the Bruins, TD Garden and all the various mechanisms related to those entities).

I was holding off because there was no shortage of coverage analyzing the pressers and what was and wasn’t said by the various stakeholders, and I wanted to see what the Providence Bruins would do in the AHL playoffs after a strong season given that club’s bumbling start out of the gate. Alas, the P-Bruins dropped game 3 in double OT last night, swept out of the playoffs unceremoniously by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in three consecutive overtime wins, each time Providence failing to get that fortuitous play that the Penguins managed in all three contests.

So, here we are: the Boston Bruins are done. The Providence Bruins are done. If you’re a B’s fan, the 2015-16 season ended the way it began- with deep pessimism about the team’s direction and ability to achieve the perennial high standards that everyone had come to expect since capturing the 2011 Stanley Cup championship in memorable fashion and then reaching the final series just two seasons later.

The recurring theme I keep going back to is this: it isn’t that the Bruins failed to reach the playoffs two seasons in a row in 2015 and 2016, but it’s how they’ve lost out- with a pair of consecutive spring swoons that just about everyone save the most ardent of optimists could see coming. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying on the team’s part, and the cynics will likely even debate that point, but I think by and large- modern sports fandom and by that, I mean people who cheer for successful teams- has become an entitled lot. They simply come to expect enduring excellence, and why not? Aiming high should be lauded not derided, and when your team summits one of the toughest challenges (if not *the* most difficult) in capturing the Stanley Cup, there is an expectation that follows. Unfortunately, as Boston fans have learned over the past three seasons in the wake of the Bruins coming up short against the NHL’s modern dynasty in the Chicago Blackhawks, savvy management coupled with a long-term vision and sprinkled with some good old fashioned luck, is critical to the kind of sustained success that the Blackhawks are enjoying, with three championships since 2010.

How did we get here? Where did it all go wrong?

Just two years ago, the Bruins were President’s Trophy winners and had just blitzed the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round, preparing to face their historical nemesis- the Montreal Canadiens. Although it was the Habs, spirits were high and Boston fans, some of them, were already making their plans for an Eastern Conference Final matchup. When it all came crashing down, it turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg. And so, two non-playoff finishes later, the team is looking at the ruins of a pair of close-but-not-quite regular seasons and an exodus of players either a part of those two Stanley Cup runs (Milan Lucic, Johnny Boychuk, Tyler Seguin) or those who were expected to carry the torch well into the next decade (Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith) and there isn’t much to show for it. To add to the concern, the B’s have several higher-dollar contracts invested in aging veterans with injury challenges (Zdeno CharaDennis Seidenberg, David Krejci) and three years after trading Seguin in a blockbuster deal, the Bruins have very little to show for one of the NHL’s biggest stars in 2016.

All of this leads naturally to the sharp knives coming out and in a results-oriented business like pro sports, when you don’t win, the recriminations will follow. That’s just life. But, the Bruins didn’t help themselves, and I’ll attempt to explain why in the coming passages- just bear with me.

The B’s were slow to react to another spring of disappointment, and that added to the friction and frustration in Boston. None of the team’s top brass came out publicly in the wake of the sinking of the S.S. Bruins 2016 as is the tradition when players pack up their things after a season and head home, talking to the media on their way out in addition to their internal exit interviews.

In this case, it was a mistake by whomever made the call- Neely, Sweeney…are we sure who is making those kinds of decisions at 100 Legends Way these days? But whoever decided to go into complete radio silence/blackout mode misjudged the fan angst this time. A statement, even a simple one, such as “As an organization, we thank our fans for their support in what has been a disappointing season for all of us. In the coming days, we intend to talk about what happened, why it happened and what we plan to accomplish not only in 2016-17, but in the years beyond as we strive to give our city a team worthy of the Boston Bruins name,” or something to that effect would have gone a long way. It would not have erased the negativity, but at the same time would have at least demonstrated a modicum of accountability. After all, the top brass knew there would be a day of reckoning with the media and by extension, the fans who felt so let down (go look at the club’s home record this year), so what possible purpose did it serve for the team’s leadership to go completely silent while allowing the negative narrative to fester and become even more toxic for five full days?

Fill disclosure: I work in public relations, so regardless of who my boss is, I would never advise that kind of course of action. This story wasn’t going away, and the B’s front office added to their problems by going silent when public scrutiny on them was at its most intense. They might have had some very good reasons for it, but now it doesn’t matter. Why? Because it simply reinforced the growing narrative that the current regime doesn’t know what it is doing. Right, wrong…who cares? In life, we tell ourselves to focus on what we can control. In this case, the B’s had some control over the narrative and how the media presented their side of things.

By going MIA when the wound was at its most critical, they surrendered an essential opportunity to win some confidence by those fair-minded but concerned supporters in the middle. A statement would not have done much to affect the extremes- those who want the entire front office and Julien fired, nor those who are staunch in their support and believe that the team’s leadership deserves more time to get things right no matter what. Those groups are loud and vocal…but they are also a minority. The larger element of the Bruins fanbase tries to take a more logical, less emotional and reactionary stance- they call things like they see them. And when the B’s leadership sent the players out but were nowhere to be seen, it didn’t matter what reasons they had for doing so- they lost more supporters than they gained.

Sweeney and Julien came out to face the music first…five days after the Saturday afternoon massacre at the TD Garden when the B’s not only blew a lead (again!) in what was essentially win or go home scenario but also utterly collapsed in the process with a nightmarish second period with $7M goalie Tuukka Rask ill and unable to even try to be a difference-maker.  Of course, it wouldn’t have made a difference, but again- it isn’t that we arrived to this boiling point in Boston- it’s the HOW it all happened.

As Steve Conroy wrote in the Boston Herald, if folks wanted to see someone’s head on a pike over what happened this year, they were not appeased. Here was the defining quote from Sweeney, and one that will continue to be brought up during his tenure as GM of the Bruins going forward if progress is not made:

“I don’t believe we need a major overhaul. I believe we need to continue to forge depth in the organization,” said Sweeney. “You have to have a plan that allows players to develop at the right time that they’re supposed to, rather than force a player.

“At times when you don’t have the depth overall, you do (force); you can expose a younger player and we’d like to have the patience in that regard.”

Sweeney knows there is work to be done. He’s certainly not resting on his laurels, because the day after that presser, he was out in North Dakota watching those Under-18 championships. Say what you will about Sweeney, but I saw firsthand that he was working with his scouts and trusted personnel men to try and identify the kind of longer-term solutions that might help the B’s return to legitimate contention down the road. Nobody that the Bruins scouted over the past 10 days is going to ride into town next October and reverse the direction of the franchise, but no one can accuse Sweeney of leaving the details to others, either. He’s clearly invested in the way ahead and was present at the last major tournament of the season to see for himself the players his guys want the Bruins to put their faith in at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Unfortunately for Sweeney, he has become fair game for those who question his managerial acumen, and as he said in the presser, there is much work to do. His most pressing needs remain in addressing a woeful defense that was a question mark going into the season and came undone at the absolute worst possible time. Not to beat a dead horse, but we all knew for certain that the Boston defense was an issue after the very first three games of the season, but Sweeney made no moves to address it until very late in the year when he acquired John-Michael Liles at the deadline. The Boston D cost the B’s critical points throughout the season, but it was the offense and at times, the goaltending that covered up for them and kept the team winning. That is, until the very end- when all facets of the roster began sputtering and ultimately dropped out of the playoff race in spectacularly frustrating fashion.

Had the B’s been in and out of the playoffs all season long and ridden more protracted valleys from December to March, then there’s a good chance the backlash would not have been as severe. Sure, there is always anger and sharp criticism when a team fails to reach the postseason, but most fans in Boston feel like simply making the playoffs should not be a goal in itself. They’d rather see a burn-the-boats and build-it-from-the-waterline-up approach to cut out the rot and start anew than a strategy that swaps out a few pieces but leaves the larger holes and vulnerabilities (the defense) unaddressed.

Sweeney is a smart guy and he/his team works hard. One team source told me that the organization was “devastated” after what happened and I believe him. Even though it is easy to sit back and point fingers and say, “I told you so” after the fact, the reality is- the Bruins played over the heads so much that by March 18, many of us wanted to believe…no, we believed they were going to make the postseason. Few had many illusions of how far the B’s might get, but taking steps forward after the 2015 offseason and the questions surrounding the team going into the year would have been a moral victory for the organization and its players. These guys don’t go through the grind of an entire NHL campaign and all that comes with it just to tank and lose on purpose. As simple as we sometimes might think it is to just sell off pieces and swirl down the drain, the players had sent a message that making the push was worth a try. It’s easy to say now that it wasn’t worth it, but most of us, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, that is- know in our heart of hearts that we were pleasantly surprised at what the Bruins had accomplished, especially in those critical days after the trade deadline when they went on their best winning streak of the season only to match it with an even more horrific downward spiral.

That opens the door for a debate that there is more good on this team than bad, but the Bruins are now at a critical crossroads and if any goodwill existed before, it will take a lot of work by Sweeney and Neely, the two faces of the team’s management, to earn it back.

Cameron Michael Neely is a far more complex figure in this drama.

It is pretty disconcerting that in the several years since the B’s faltered against Montreal in the 2014 playoffs up to now, he has gone from being one of the most beloved figures in team lore to one of the major villains of the current chapter in the eyes of some.

As a player, he was the premier power forward of the late 1980s and through the early-to-mid 90’s until chronic hip and knee injuries forced his retirement from the game at just 31 years of age. He was everything fans loved about their Bruins- tough and rugged, but able to come through with the workmanlike goals when the team needed them. He parlayed those heroics into a place in the Hall of Fame in 2005, even though he never won a Stanley Cup as a player. Other more accomplished skaters are still awaiting entry, but Neely’s tenure on the Bruins transcended the stats and individual accomplishments. His emotion and iron will often took the team places it had no business being, and that’s what made him a hero in Boston sports lore. When you look up into the rafters at TD Garden, Neely’s No. 8 hangs proudly there, as a testament to his legacy as a player who was the  club’s heart and soul and who often wore his emotions on his sleeve. He didn’t go out on his own terms in 1996, and that fact, more than any other, might be feeding into the perilous waters his legend has navigated into of late.

Because now, as an executive, that same emotion threatens his standing as one of the city’s icons. As more questions emerge as to how much involvement, no- power– he has within the B’s hierarchy, his stewardship and the direction the team has gone in since reaching a zenith in 2011 and appearing to be on the cusp of being the Blackhawks of the East with a return to the Stanley Cup final in 2013, is under fire.

Steve Harris quoted Neely in the Boston Herald after his (and ownership’s)  presser this past week:

“We know where our better players are in their careers,” said Neely. “We have an idea on how many good years they have left to be at the top of their game. It’s very important for us to add pieces around them to compete for a Cup. That has to happen sooner rather than later.

“I hate to lose more than I love to win. I don’t like missing the playoffs. And I want everybody else to feel the same way.”

That’s some good copy and on its face makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t play well to the skeptics who don’t want the focus to be on missing the playoffs. Just making the postseason is not the goal…and their point that it shouldn’t be the emphasis on where the Bruins went wrong this year is a valid one. The flip side of that argument is that exposing the team’s younger players to the intensity and pace of playoff hockey was a bigger reward than going home in mid-April. We can see both sides of the argument, but one of them opens the door to the old mistrust and negative outlook fans had for the Jacobs family and the perceived profit-over-winning mentality that dogged the Bruins during the pre-2004 lockout era of escalating salaries from about 1996 and on.

For their part, Jeremy and his son Charles Jacobs have reinforced their support for management and insisted that there was no “make the playoffs or else” ultimatum which drove the half-in, half-out perception that has dogged Sweeney and the team since the deadline with the decision to not move UFA-to-be Loui Eriksson and instead acquire a pair of marginal veterans in Liles and Lee Stempniak, who certainly had their moments, but were ultimately unable to make a difference when the team needed it the most. We have no choice but to take them at their word.

It does beg the question, though- if former longtime Bruins GM and President Harry Sinden is somewhere in the mix dispensing advice and serving as a consultant (his position is “senior advisor”, what exactly is he doing? Exactly what kind of role does he have? What form is his potential influence manifesting on not one but two of his player proteges- Neely and Sweeney?  Hmmm…that’s more than just one question, isn’t it?

But I won’t stop there: how much are Sweeney’s hands tied as a GM who doesn’t hold the dual title of President and GM? Meaning, he does not wield the complete autonomy that other people like Stan Bowman in Chicago, for example, do. And, that, as the Bard once said- is the rub. Who’s the one with the vision? And who truly is the one who is behind the decisions that have moved this team backwards since looking like a perennial power as recently as 2014? Plenty of questions, not a lot of definitive answers after a couple of press conferences to be honest.

So this brings us back to the present.

The seat has gotten hotter at the top, and we saw some of the frustration boil over this week in Neely’s most recent radio spot with 98.5’s Michael Felger and Tony ‘Mazz’ Massarotti. I briefly spoke to Sweeney in Grand Forks, but out of respect to him and our relationship, I won’t discuss it here other than to say that he understands where the fans are coming from. In a perfect world, he could snap his fingers and simply fix what ails his hockey club. Alas, we don’t live in that world, so he faces major challenges in trying to work trades and transactions in a league where 29 other general managers know what he needs and will try and squeeze every last asset out of Boston to make something happen.

There are reasons for optimism in the youth movement (and I didn’t even get to the notion that Julien and the B’s “failed” to develop the younger players this season- that’s a whole different can of worms and not one I wish to open today). The Bruins have some promising rising forwards such as Frank Vatrano, Danton Heinen and Austin Czarnik, all of whom saw action in the pro ranks this year, with Vatrano’s 36 goals in 36 regular season games leading the way. None of them are first-round picks, but a couple who are- Zach Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk– showed progress in different areas this season after going 14 and 15 overall last June.  By virtue of Senyshyn’s 45 goals, DeBrusk will likely become the lightning rod for criticism given that the B’s passed on several higher-profile players to take them, but what’s done is done- none of Boston’s drafted forwards performed poorly this season, and guys like Jesse Gabrielle, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Ryan Fitzgerald, Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato all had very good years for their respective teams.

On defense, as tough as it may be for some to admit it, Colin Miller was not the key difference-making player fans were clamoring for. He’s got fine offensive tools to be sure, but his defense left a great deal to be desired and we saw that in the final NHL games and AHL postseason. He’s got some NHL potential yet as a complementary piece, and by no means am I advocating the scrapheap for him, but there was a reason the Kings were willing to part with him, Martin Jones AND a 1st-round pick for Milan Lucic. If they saw him as a stud future No. 1, Dean Lombardi never agrees to include Miller in that trade. “Chiller” has his place on this team going forward, but he didn’t do enough to earn the coach’s trust to play more and that is as much on him as it is anyone else. We can argue all day over whether he would have been a better option than Kevan Miller or if the B’s were better off just throwing him out there in the wake of committing defensive mistake after defensive mistake in the name of seeing him “grow” but that didn’t happen. What we see from him next is what matters most.

Brandon Carlo, Rob O’Gara and Matt Grzelcyk could bring some more immediate help, but with no NHL experience between them, it is probably too much to expect a major impact and move in the right direction at defense without some proven NHL talent coming to Boston this summer by trade and free agency. 2015 1st-rounder Jakub Zboril didn’t have a great season, but he’s been playing much better in the QMJHL playoffs, and the B’s appear to have dodged a major bullet when Jeremy Lauzon’s throat was cut by a skate blade, but it just missed doing crippling damage. There’s some hope in the stable of prospects for some positive contributions, but the Bruins are lacking one true, young thoroughbred on the blue line, so the solid types like these guys tend to get lost in the shuffle a bit.

Assuming the Bruins keep the 14th overall selection with the NHL’s draft lottery to happen on April 30 (don’t hold your breath for a magical top-3 scenario for the club), they still stand to get a very good player, as the non-playoff clubs are all in position to benefit from the first-round before the talent drops off. They also own San Jose’s pick, currently at 19th overall, but the Sharks upset the favored Los Angeles Kings in round one, and if they win the next round, that pick will slide lower in the round. There’s no telling if Boston will trade one of their firsts as part of a package deal for a legitimate NHL d-man before the draft, but fans need to prepare for that scenario. You have to give to get.

Ultimately, where we are with the Bruins is largely of management’s making. Former GM Peter Chiarelli limited the team’s flexibility and options, but they aren’t where they are solely because of him, either. Management has got to start talking in one voice and it wouldn’t hurt to lose some of the platitudes and speaking more plainly about accountability and a vision for the club’s future. The fans will fill the building when the team wins, but they have to believe in what the organization is doing.

Right now, we’re not sure if the ship is rudderless in a roiling sea or the man at the helm has quietly been making a more dangerous-looking course correction that will in time take us into calmer waters.

What we do know is that change must happen. This team as currently constructed is an also-ran, middle-of-the-pack at best. Sweeney showed us last June that he is capable of bold, decisive action.

What we don’t yet know is if he has the vision, evaluation ability and power to get the Boston Bruins back to the level that the fans have come to expect.

As the great Canadian band Rush sang in 1989- “Show don’t tell”

 

 

 

Requiem for the Bruins: the Podcast

Oops- I did it again.

I wrote extensively on the demise of the Boston Bruins yesterday on this space and there was a lot (even after that near 3,000-word opus) I did’t say.

So, here’s the audio companion to that post. I know, I know, I have not yet put these podcasts on iTunes. I’m a bad blogger. But, you can click on the “Podcasts” category to catch up on anything you missed.

Expounded on each of the 4 points about the B’s talent (mainly on defense), Claude Julien, management (to include ownership and thoughts on el Presidente- Cam Neely) and the B’s core, including a bit of a rant on Tuukka Rask. I’m sure that some folks won’t be happy about that, but I just call it like I see it. When Rask has played well, I’ve been sure to single him out to provide balance. But, enough is enough with the extremes.

Finally, I closed out with what needs to come next for the Bruins (in my view).  Talked a little about the defense and who they might go after in the coming weeks, including local (Milton, Mass.) product Keith Yandle, one of the top unrestricted free agents hitting the market on July 1.

1 podcast. 50 minutes. If you get through it all, more power to you, but as always- appreciate the support.

It’s going to be a long offseason, but here’s to change and doing something different.

Thud! (And ideas on what the B’s need to address going forward)

That’s the sound of the Boston Bruins coming out of an important game last night against the Anaheim Ducks.

The reality is- you can’t win in any league without scoring goals, so this one was over just a few minutes into it- as long as it took trade deadline pickup Jamie McGinn to put the puck past Jonas Gustavsson at 2:51.

The Bruins outshot and outhit the Ducks, and after a rough 1st period, pulled things together until giving up a Hampus Lindholm goal early in the third period.  However, on a night that the B’s couldn’t get any of their 38 shots past starting netminder Frederik Andersen, no one should be all that surprised- the Ducks are one of the league’s top teams after a brutal offensive start. The defense and goaltending has been there for them all season, and when the scoring picked up, you just knew that Bruce Boudreau’s club would be a force. The B’s have been outscored 10-2 in their pair of games against the Ducks this season. In a head-to-head matchup like this one, it was evident that the B’s is not as talented, not as deep, not as strong, not as fast.

I know fans are disappointed, and there’s no doubt more is expected of this B’s club that went on an impressive hot streak after keeping Loui Eriksson and picking up John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak on February 29th’s NHL trade deadline. At the same time, it’s unfortunate that there still seems to be this sense of entitlement by so many out there who flood the airwaves and internet with negativity in the wake of a loss. No team has ever posted a perfect record in any regular season in NHL history and no one ever will. The B’s are far from a powerhouse team, so nobody should really be surprised that they came up short against the Ducks last night. Not giving a pass to the Bruins here, but they were overmatched against Anaheim last night and it showed- they put up a solid effort and had their moments, but their opponent is that much better. McGinn and Ryan Kesler scored in the first 5 minutes and while the game seemed closer than the final score, the B’s were unable to solve the defense and goaltender at the other end.

The honeymoon with Stempniak and Liles is ending. They’re solid veterans, but not true difference makers. Boston’s showing against San Jose and Anaheim give you an indication that while the team improved at the deadline, how much of an upgrade the duo represent looks to be relatively minimal compared to the strength and core of the recognized top clubs in the league, especially out West. Liles played poorly last night…it happens, but his -3 against the Ducks is probably more reflective of what he is at age 35 than anything else, but after infusing the B’s with a shot of energy after arriving, he’s coming back down to earth a bit.

The team should be grateful that they didn’t lose sparkplug Matt Beleskey to a serious eye injury after he got caught with a Simon Despres high stick on the follow through of a puck battle. Once again, there were missed calls on some blatant stuff that should have gone Boston’s way, but it didn’t happen and who is to say that the B’s power play could have made a difference? The good news for the Bruins is that their penalty killing has been pretty dangerous this season with 9 shorthanded goals, so perhaps it pays them to be without the man advantage. In any case- the fan frustration that Boston continues to be at the bottom of the league in power play chances is palpable, but I’m not sure we can do anything about it.

Last night wasn’t about the missed calls as much as it was about missed opportunities- the second period was much better and a goal or two could have changed the game entirely, but sometimes we have to take a step back and understand that Ducks are a superior team. They made their chances count and Boston didn’t. That’s life and hockey.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Bruins as they face a rested L.A. Kings team in their home digs tonight, the same club that demolished Boston in the Hub, and that word probably doesn’t begin to describe the one-sided drubbing the Kings gave them on their home ice in Milan Lucic’s return to TD Garden. They’ll go home briefly and then head down to New York to face the Rangers on Wednesday, so there is a chance they can salvage a point or three in the final two games of their roadie, but it won’t be easy.

With that in mind, here are some (obvious) thoughts for Don Sweeney and the team to ponder going forward:

  1. The defense must be the offseason priority.

No disrespect intended to Dennis Seidenberg, but serious thought should be given to either trading him for an inconsequential return or, if no NHL team is willing to take him and his $4 million cap hit, buying him out and moving on. Kevan Miller is a good teammate and has had his moments in Boston, but the B’s need to look at using his roster spot on someone else. He’ll land on his feet with someone else, but the B’s already re-signed Adam McQuaid to a questionable extension (and I say questionable in terms of pure economics- will always respect McQuaid for what he brings to the team, but he’s yet to make it through an entire NHL unscathed and the wear and tear on him appears to be showing)- they don’t need to add another one with a game but limited Miller.

Zdeno Chara can’t carry the team- that much is certain- but he still carries value in the right role. Trading him is the popular talking point by folks who don’t seem to understand that he has a no movement clause. I get that trading him makes sense on multiple levels, but the contract he signed makes that highly problematic, even if the GM was willing to move in that direction. Bottom line- unless he does a Ray Bourque and asks out, Chara isn’t going anywhere. Having said that, Sweeney and his staff understand that he simply cannot be an effective workhorse anymore. Not only does the team need a legitimate No. 2 defender to balance the three pairings, but they also need to seek out an effective defense partner for Chara. They weren’t able to find one this season.

Maybe Colin Miller can be that guy, but the more I see of him, the more I believe he’s just a middle-tier player who has some nice offensive tools and will be an above average power play specialist with 40-point NHL upside but is not instinctive enough of a player to be a bell cow 2-way threat who will be a dependable defensive presence. He’s still young and will develop into an NHL regular, but I’m not sure he’s someone the Bruins and their fans should be placing an inordinate amount of faith in as a top-2 or even 3 solution for the team.

It’s been a disappointing season for Torey Krug as far as the goals go- he has just three. It isn’t for a lack of trying but he’s gotten no breaks this year. He’s still one of Boston’s best options on defense in terms of his skating, puck-moving, smarts and energy/tenacity. He’s posted a career-best in assists and is an important character guy for the team. In a perfect world he’d have a lot more goals, but it might be a blessing in disguise- if he was lighting it up, he’d be looking at a bigger payday. As it stands, the B’s should be able to lock him into a reasonable, fair-market extension at around $5 million AAV, perhaps a little less, and considering what Seidenberg is getting, that’s about right. Some folks won’t like it, but those people are nowhere near the team and can’t even comprehend what Krug means to the club on and off the ice. Unless he’s part of some major trade and massive plan to re-shape Boston’s defense by bringing in multiple players, Krug should be a part of the solution going forward. He might not have the ideal size, but his oversized heart and hockey IQ mean he can be highly effective- he just doesn’t have a lot of help at present.

The Bruins need to make something happen at the position. Kevin Shattenkirk is the biggest name out there (and Boston might/should have their sights on a few other options), and he won’t come cheaply from the St. Louis Blues if they were to trade him. But should Boston land him, they had better have the ability to retain him for the long-term. If it’s someone else, so be it- but whomever the B’s are looking to bring in, it needs to be a player who can be part of a winning present and future.

2. Boston needs to upgrade Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly.

There’s no way around it- both have been major disappointments.

In Hayes’ case, you would think the local guy would have shown more consistent energy and desire but it seems like the pressure got to him. Although huge, the former Nobles prep star and Boston College product has always been more of a gentle giant than a premier power forward, and his skating is what prevented him from being a first-round pick in 2008- he struggles to play a consistent uptempo style. Hayes gets his goals and points by going to the net and boxing out defenders with his massive frame, but we don’t see it enough. The Bruins acquired him in hopes that after a 19-goal campaign in Florida (including a dagger game at the end of the season that essentially knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs) he would take it to the next level. That hasn’t happened and I don’t know if it ever will…he’s such a curiously passive player given what he could be with that pure size and the soft hands around the net. I can only imagine the coaches are even more baffled. Bringing him home to Boston hasn’t worked and a lot of this is on Hayes- the team has tried a lot of different things to get him going (and we’ve seen what he’s capable of bringing) but he’s not responded in any meaningful, consistent fashion. That’s one of the reasons why he watched last night’s contest from the press box. He’s on the books for two more years, so the B’s either have to remain invested in him and hope he gets the funk out (Extreme reference!) of his game or they’ll have to take pennies on the dollar (and perhaps retain salary in the process) to get some other team to take him off their hands.

Connolly is even more maddening.

The sixth overall pick in 2010 flashes all of those tools that saw him selected before some pretty damn fine NHL players, but we see it only in fleeting fashion. The size and speed combo catches the eye for sure, but it’s what he doesn’t do with it that leaves you often shaking your head in disbelief. The scouting reports on Connolly coming out Prince George of the WHL near unanimously praised him for his hockey sense and killer instinct around the net, but the NHL version of Connolly flies in the face of those observations. If he’s not doing fly-bys in front of the opposition net or missing shots from prime position, Connolly can’t seem to do the little things that matter- battles for loose pucks, a net-front presence, won foot races- he often seems to be a step behind.

That’s not to say Connolly can’t be an effective fourth-line winger, but the Bruins didn’t give up not one but two second-round picks for a bottom line player. The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t draft him where they did for a checking/energy guy. He’s not yet 24, so you don’t want to completely close the door on Connolly, but at the same time- like Hayes- the B’s have given him a lot of different looks and chances and he simply hasn’t done much with it. 9 goals in 69 games with some healthy scratches thrown in there simply doesn’t cut it for a player as talented as Connolly is. Where’s the beef?

Frank Vatrano is the obvious player to give a chance as the season comes to an end over the disappointing duo. He just turned 22 this week and has 31 goals in 31 AHL games, not to mention another six goals in 30 NHL games after an earlier stint with the big club this season. My personal feeling is that right now- Vatrano is better off playing top line, PP and PK minutes in Providence as opposed to being on a lower unit with limited ice time. Of course, the B’s are only allowed four recalls after the trade deadline, so it isn’t as simple as just brining him up.

Having said all that, the B’s could do worse than giving the Springfield Rifle a shot- he’s got speed and energy to burn and just might give the Boston offense a shot in the arm. He’s a left wing who could replace Eriksson in the top-six and then Eriksson could move over to the right allowing coaches to move out either one of Connolly and Hayes. The issue for Boston (other than burning the call up and concerns about the defense factor of a Vatrano-David KrejciDavid Pastrnak line) is that in order to bring Vatrano up, they would have to put someone else on waivers, so right now, it appears that the business of hockey and economics are playing a more prominent role. I can’t argue with those who say that exposing Connolly and/or Hayes to waivers is no big loss, but if Sweeney is convinced he can eventually move them for some kind of return, you begin to understand his reticence to put them on the waiver wire where any team can put in a claim.

Either way, I think we see Frankie “Vats” in Boston next season in some kind of full-time capacity. Natural goal scorers like him don’t grow on trees and the B’s will want to cultivate some returns, especially if the club sees a key roster departure up front, which leads me to my next point.

3. Loui Eriksson– caveat emptor!

Let me get this out of the way- I like Loui. Always have.

He’s been unfairly maligned in the wake of the trade that sent Tyler Seguin (btw- that achilles tendon injury he suffered was gruesome- luckily for him, he may have dodged a bullet by only being out a few weeks versus how serious it could have been) to Dallas. He’s not flashy, but is just smart and consistent- you always know what you’re going to get with Eriksson. But, he’ll be 31 soon, and with what he brings you, 5 or 6 years at close to $6 million per if not more is simply not money/term well spent, and the Bruins need to walk away.

For those who regularly read TSP  and listen to the podcasts (this blog for those who might not have had their coffee)- you know I was all in favor of moving Eriksson at the deadline and was surprised when the Bruins did’t. Of course- if you believe Cam Neely and the lackluster offers he claims were made for Eriksson, then it is understandable that the B’s would hold onto him and take their chances, and he’s continued to make timely contributions. Unfortunately, with two tough losses, it’s easy to revisit the wisdom in not moving Eriksson, especially when it stands to reason that he’ll either leave Boston in early July or the B’s will have to overpay significantly to keep him in the fold.

What to do?

The positives- even without the high-end foot speed, Eriksson is an ideal forward for Boston’s system. He’s smart, industrious, thinks the game at such a high level that he keeps the puck and makes the right decisions in every zone. Versatility is a plus- he’s proven he can play either wing. Eriksson is a smooth playmaker, goes to the net and finishes plays off in close, does good power play work, kills penalties and is a threat shorthanded (witness his shortie the other night against San Jose). He’s a quiet guy, but leads by example and has earned the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates alike.

On the downside- he’s a good player, not a great one. He’s going to get his money because teams out there with cap space to burn will give him what he and his agent are asking for. That means the B’s will either pony up or have to swallow hard and let him go, because unless Eriksson orders his agent JP Barry to stand down and decides to take a more team-friendly deal, they’ll get little in the way of a break. And honestly- why should Eriksson leave money and term on the table if he can get it elsewhere? I don’t begrudge him getting what he can, but that puts the Bruins in a tough spot.

Ultimately, I think that if the B’s are serious about getting a long-term but young enough defenseman to rebuild their blue line corps around, they need to trade Eriksson’s cap space to make sure they can invest that savings in a long-term deal. That means that if they aren’t willing to go beyond the four years they’ve already offered Loui (and that’s a risky proposition as it is with his concussion history), then they should offer him up to a team that wants the exclusive negotiating rights and is willing to give them a mid-round pick. It’s a far from ideal return, but if the Neely claims are true, getting a fifth-rounder for him isn’t that terrible. After all- Jamie Benn was a fifth-round pick once upon a time, right (it could happen again…yeah, right!)?

I guess we’ll find out, but at some point, the Bruins will need to see if the young crop of forwards in their system can play. Keeping a known (and relatively safe) commodity like Eriksson benefits them in the short term, but leaves them little wiggle room if he skates off a cliff at age 33 or 34 or something unforeseen happens to his health. Marc Savard and Seidenberg are recent reminders of just how rapidly a player and team’s outlook can change when devastating injuries happen.

But in getting back to Loui and why he wasn’t moved, I can only surmise it is because the team and coaches trust him to give his level best each and every night.  That trust factor is why keeping Loui made far more sense for Boston than dumping him for a mediocre futures return would have. It’s easy for fans to say- just take the second-round pick so he doesn’t walk for nothing on a team that has no chance to win! But fans don’t work, sweat, bleed for the team- they can make detached pronouncements on Twitter, internet message boards and over the radio airwaves and don’t have to be accountable for them. Dumping Eriksson would have sent a message to the team that in my mind would have been far more detrimental. If you’re a prospective free agent who might be considering whether to stay or go, or you’re thinking you might like to sign with the Bruins down the road, does your trust that the team is committed to winning go up or does it go down if management hurts a playoff-bound roster at the deadline? Players get the business of hockey, sure- but they also want to feel like the GM has their back. They are…after all…human.

TSP doesn’t have the definitive answers for what ails the Bruins and how to fix it.

Winning the Stanley Cup is hard- only 1 out of 30 teams can do it every year. This team deserves credit for fighting hard and exceeding expectations this season, but it’s hard to get past what we’ve seen in terms of how they match up against the better clubs around the league.

To expect the Bruins to win every night and then be angry when they don’t is a fool’s errand, but at the same time- management’s job is to make this team viable not just for this year but in the seasons to come. Last year, we heard about “passengers” and the B’s still seem to have a couple of those. The defense tries hard, but they don’t have the ability to seriously compete for a championship.

The Stanley Cup window is barely open for the B’s, but it isn’t shut. Whether they can force it open more to match up better with the NHL’s big dogs in the next 1-3 years is very much an unanswered question at this point.

This will be a pivotal couple of months for Sweeney and his legacy as GM in Boston.