For the 10th straight year, the Bruins had their season end without the thrill of lifting the Stanley Cup. On June 9th, the New York Islanders knocked Boston out of the playoffs with a 6-2 win at Nassau Coliseum. It was the third time in 5 campaigns under Bruce Cassidy Boston was bounced in the second round.
After winning game 3 on Long Island, Boston’s year concluded after dropping three straight contests. Bruins fans spewed their wrath all over the organization after yet another postseason run ending in disappointment.
No surprise, Tuukka Rask shouldered much of the blame after allowing 4 goals in both games 5 and 6.
Cassidy faced criticism as well for starting an injured Rask, who will need hip surgery this off-season, and not adjusting to the Islanders’ aggressive forecheck.
In his first year as Bruins captain, Patrice Bergeron was neutralized by J.G. Pageau and held to just 1 assist in Boston’s final 3 losses.
After Brandon Carlo got hurt during game 3, Boston’s defense was in shambles, and Mathew Barzal and co. ran amok in the Bruins’ defensive zone.
Skating between David Krejci, Taylor Hall and Craig Smith combined for 1 assist in Boston’s final 3 games.
The bottom 6 gave Boston nothing offensively. In Boston’s last 3 contests, Charlie Coyle, Nick Ritchie, Jake DeBrusk, Curtis Lazar, Sean Kuraly, and Chris Wagner combined for zero points.
But Bruins fans need to dish out a healthy serving of blame pie to 2 other people. Don Sweeney, the Bruins general manager and Cam Neely, the Bruins President, have had an underwhelming tenure.
Bruins management consistently mismanages
Since Sweeney took over as general manager in May of 2015, he has not effectively surrounded Boston’s core with productive depth players. Bruins fans should have known this was going to be a problem from the get-go. Sweeney, and the rest of the Bruins management, botched their first draft in 2015 to an incredible degree.
With 3 straight picks, 13-15, the Bruins chose Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zachary Senyshyn. DeBrusk had 2 solid seasons before seeing a significant drought in scoring production. Cassidy scratched him multiple times this season, including game 5 against the Islanders. Zboril showed flashes of NHL readiness for the first time this season but fell out of favor towards the end of the season. Senyshyn has put up 3 points in 14 NHL games and has not appeared in a single postseason game for Boston.
The Bruins chose these 3 players over prospects dripping with promise, such as Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot, Travis Konecny, and Sebastian Aho, among others.
Wait, there was one other player.
Who was that?
His last name starts with a B? He is an electric factory playing for the Islanders?
I am sure it will come to me.
That draft failure looms lager every year. Other than Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and (very debatable now) Jake DeBrusk, Sweeney has not been able to find players in the draft who could come in and immediately make a positive impact. Some of these picks are still question marks, to be fair. But the bottom line is Sweeney has missed on too many critical selections over his 6 years as Bruins general manager.
Also, Sweeney’s miscalculations are far from just draft specific.
Bruins management problems; Draft, trades, free agency
In free agency, the Bruins swung and missed on Matt Beleskey and David Backes in back-to-back off-seasons. They paid those 2 a combined $49 million for 139 total points over 7 seasons. This past off-season, they also chose to not bring back Torey Krug or Zdeno Chara. Having 40 plus minutes of left-side defense leave in the same off-season really hurt this team’s chance of winning a championship.
Young defenseman, Jeremy Luazon, Connor Clifton and Zboril all had up and down years managing the massive uptick in minutes. They also chose to bring back the often injured Kevan Miller, who again missed time this postseason.
While Krug was expensive and Chara did not want to come back at such a deceased role, the fact is the current defensive unit got exposed in the postseason with those 2 flawed, yet still valuable, players departed. Other than McAvoy, there was practically zero stability from the back-end. Mike Reilley (who Boston traded for during the season after the young defenseman were not getting the job done) and Matt Grzelcyk saw increased ice time and did not excel dealing with a physical Islanders squad.
There are just too many underwhelming free agent signings, trades, and draft picks to list all of them here.
Answering the pressing question
Do you want to know why the Bruins have not won a cup since 2011?
It is not because of Rask folding under pressure or the top line slumping at critical times.
They consistently come up short, because Bruins management fail to build an effective bottom of the roster. Boston cannot survive if any of their top players falter. One small dip in productivity from any of them renders the team hopeless.
If the top line is not producing a ridiculous amount of points, they will not score in the playoffs. Other than Krejci, who else on this team can pick up the slack? With Hall going through a slump against N.Y., the bottom 6 literally gave them ZERO points the second half of the Islanders series.
The defense is consistently not deep enough to withstand any adversity. Carlo goes down, the team is all but cooked in their defensive zone. Their back-end pieces are consistently either ineffective, unreliable or unproven.
Even though some disagree vehemently, Rask has been a very good playoff goaltender for the Bruins. But if he plays subpar for a game, or God forbid a series, this team is never well-rounded enough, either offensively or defensively, to survive.
And that falls on Sweeney, Neely and the Bruins management for poor roster construction and decision making.
There are some specific games and series when Boston wanted their big guys to deliver. Most think of 2019. And they should not be immune from criticism, especially since they receive the credit when things are going well.
Need balance to win
But the NHL playoffs remind us time and time again teams cannot rely on the top players to always be great. Nobody is consistently excellent for 4 postseason rounds year after year.
Look around at the teams that have recently won cups or are doing well this postseason. Organizations like Tampa Bay, Chicago in the early 2010s, and Pittsburgh in the late 2010s had high-end talent, absolutely. But the bottom parts of their roster were all competent to critical in their Cup years. The Lightning won it all last year with Steven Stamkos playing in only 1 playoff game. Could you ever see the Bruins pulling that off with Bergeron?
It is easy to look at Rask, Bergeron, Marchand, and Krejci as the reasons why Boston always comes up short in the spring. They have been here for a generation now. But the other constant throughout this run has been Bruins management’s inability to find serviceable role players to occasionally impose their will on a series when the top guys are not firing on all cylinders.
Boston has been incapable of winning around if one of their top guys is off at all. Of course, it is fair to criticize these players when their production falls off against the stiff competition. But the fact of the matter is that Bruins management is the biggest reason why they have only raised one banner this era. For the most part, Boston’s core has held up their end of the bargain. It is time for Sweeney and Neely to start holding up theirs, or the Bruins should find other people who can.
Photo courtesy of Causeway Crowd.
Story by Chad Jones
Follow Chad on Twitter @shutupchadjones