Monday, February 8, 2010

What's Wrong with the Bruins?

milan lucic winter classic bruins bourqueThere were big expectations from the Bruins this year after two back-to-back surprising seasons. After posting a 35-41-6 season in 2006-2007 and being thoroughly lambasted by the media for dealing star-forward Joe Thornton to the Sharks the previous year, the Bruins finished with an unexpected 94 points. That was good enough to squeak into the playoffs as the eight seed. They even pushed a heavily favoured Montreal squad to seven games. Last year, the Bruins shocked many pundits by winning the Eastern Conference by a wide margin and narrowly missing the President’s Trophy by only one point. The Bruins were eventually ousted in the second round, but their young squad appeared set to contend with the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. It hasn’t exactly worked out that way so far this year. In fact, the Bruins sit tied for 9th in the East and just recently snapped a 10 game winless streak by beating the Canadiens in Montreal. So what’s wrong with the Bruins? What happened to last year’s powerhouse?

1. Pedestrian goaltending by Tim Thomas

Last year’s Vezina Trophy winner hasn’t looked bad statistically (he has a .915 save percentage, which is 17th in the league, and 2.52 goals against, which is 18th in the league), but he’s only won 13 games and is being totally outplayed by the young Tuukka Rask (.925% and 2.11 GAA). Rask's emergence makes Thomas’ 4 year, $20 million dollar contract seem like a bad investment. This is especially true when you consider the Bruins had to let Phil Kessel go due to cap reasons and are currently the lowest scoring team in the league. Thomas’ name is surfacing in rumours, with teams like Chicago and Washington being linked to the Bruins.

2. Injuries

Injuries have hammered the Bruins so far this year. Marc Savard has missed 23 games, Milan Lucic has missed 32 games, Andrew Ference has missed 14 games, and both Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron have missed 6 games. The only players to play in all 57 games so far are Zdeno Chara, Blake Wheeler, Mark Recchi, and Michael Ryder.

3. Regression by young players

The Bruins benefitted from career years from almost all their young players last season. David Krejci scored 73 points, Dennis Wideman scored 50, Blake Wheeler scored 45, and Milan Lucic scored 42 (while drawing premature comparisons to Cam Neely). This year, Krejci is on pace for 43, Wideman 25 (with an ugly -16), and Lucic 16 (also a -8). Only Blake Wheeler is on pace to match last year’s production (on pace for 43 points), which isn’t overly prolific.

4. The loss of Phil Kessel

It remains to be seen whether or not the two first round picks the Bruins received from the Leafs provide better long-term value over Kessel (probably), but the loss of Kessel certainly hurt the Bruins in the short-term. Losing Kessel removed a 36 goal scorer from the Bruins line-up without any adequate replacement. Kessel, despite missing the first month of the season, already has four more goals than the Bruins’ highest scorer and is one pace to score 29 (that’s more than any other Bruins player aside from Kessel scored last year). Everyone questioned whether or not Kessel could succeed without Savard, but it looks like Savard is having a harder time adjusting to playing without Kessel.

5. Reliance on older players

If a team is to remain successful without meaningful contributions from their young players, they need to receive production from their veterans. Unfortunately, Savard has been hurt and the rest of the Bruins veteran players have produced little. Ryder is on pace for only his second sub-20 goal season; Mark Recchi is playing well above his head, but only has 29 points; and Marco Sturm is looking more like the 40 point player he was in San Jose, rather than the 50+ point player he was before signing an extension to stay with the Bruins. The lack of goals got so bad that the Bruins signed former Evgeni Malkin coat-tail rider, Miroslav Satan, for the remainder of the season.

At this point the Bruins do not look like a playoff team. They still have 25 games remaining to prove otherwise, but it seems like they will need to make a major move at the deadline to solidify their spot in the post-season. Otherwise, they can continue to plummet and end up with the number 1 and 2 picks in the draft.


TannerGlass said...

You just have to look at the Boston lineup and you can see that it's unstable. Your comment about Kessel was right on track, without him there's not quite the same offensive threat. I think Bergeron will probably turn back into a 70 point player, and Wheeler will get there too, but right now, there's just not the same energy without Phil. Add on the bizarro version of Tim Thomas in net this season, and that's enough to put the Bruins on the outside looking in.

That being said, I give them 2-3 years to become a powerhouse, with the Leafs first round picks as well as their own, they could quite feasibly end up with two top-ten picks in both this years and next years drafts... That's scary.

Matt Horner said...

If I was a Bruins fan I would be really worried about management making a panic deal at this deadline. They realistically aren't Cup threats, but, like you said, within a few years could become a powerhouse with the amount of talented young players they have (plus draft picks). If they are desperate to just make the playoffs then they could potentially sacrifice this by giving away someone like Krejci.

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