I truly discovered my love for hockey in 2009, my freshman year at BU. I was loyal to my Islanders, but couldn’t help being swept up by the passion New England has for its hockey teams. Chief among them being the big, bad Bruins.

Those were the days, huh, Boston? Chara, son of a prominent Greco-Roman wrestler, was a humongous anomaly on skates who could still do things like this, Tyler Seguin was eliciting lascivious signs from a harem of admirers, Dougie Hamilton was rounding out, as expected, into the future of the blue line, and how about that fourth line? A bunch of hahd workers if you ask me.

So what happened? A friend of mine from Colorado asked me this very question before the start of a 6-2 Bruins victory over the Avalanche earlier this year. “Don’t poke the bear,” used to be an apt response. Instead, I found myself trying to sum up the rise and fall of the Bruins in the confines of a text message.

As the saying goes, the Bruins were a victim of their own success. They won a cup in 2011, were ousted the next year by the Caps in seven games in the opening round, and then bounced back to take the Hawks (a contemporary dynasty that you would have to be blind not to acknowledge . . . whatever Nick, leave it in the comments section) to what should have been a seven game series in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013. Most organizations would love to have that kind of pedigree, and if you have that kind of success no one would blame you for locking up your core. The problem is that the Bruins were achieving success with a ticking time bomb of an identity crisis in the form of “old school hockey” – chasing out young, individually game changing players in favor of two-way players at high prices, and never developing the talent pipeline. Last year they narrowly missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and this year, minus that offensive outburst against the Avalanche (a whole different crop of difficulties), they have shown signs of heading towards the unthinkable: a rebuild.

Let’s beak this down year by year with a lazy brief overview starting in 2010.

2010 – 2011: The Cup

Far and away the best cup run I’ve ever seen from a team. The Bruins were at their peak in playing Claude’s hard-hitting, two-way, “old-time hockey” style of play. Granted, that’s not terribly tough to do with a productive Lucic, Horton, Krejci, Recchi, Ryder, Bergeron, Marchand, etc. Plus, the Bruins were adept at getting those clutch guys (Peverley & Kelly) and finding big name final pieces to the puzzle to round out the team. In 2011, that piece was Tomas Kaberle. Sure, he wasn’t as productive in Boston as he was in Toronto, but the one thing no one can debate is that they won a cup with him.

If CBS really wanted to remake The Odd Couple then look no further.

If CBS really wanted to remake The Odd Couple then look no further.

For a team, and sport, that prides themselves on grit and character, ousting Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver in nail-biting seven games each while exercising the previous year’s demons by sweeping Philly showed plenty of it. And good news for B’s fans, as Tyler Seguin sure looked like the offensive juggernaut they hoped for in that Tampa Bay series right? I’m sure he’ll be sticking around by the time this article gets to the current roster. A note of concern: 33 year-old Chara signed a contract extension for 7 years, at $45.5 million.

Let’s mark Chara down as the first of a series of those questionable core lockups. Chara is a franchise defenseman, no doubt about it, but giving a 30+ year old player a contract for 7 years can, and will, be a problem when the B’s need the cap flexibility.

2011 – 2012: Wheels coming off?

This was a pivotal year for the B’s, as they could have either established themselves as perennial cup contenders (a la Hawks) or coasted on their recipe for success. Coasting doesn’t seem such a bad option considering the regular season on-ice success. Tyler Seguin had become the leading scorer for the team during the regular season. Sure, Ryder and Recchi left, but Peverley put up 42 points in 57 games. There was also a “problem” of having two very legitimate starters in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask battling for net supremacy. However, the defending champs were ousted in seven by the Capitals on a Joel Ward goal. Let’s skip the reaction to that one, and let’s focus on the fact that the Bruins seem incapable of being that team last year that showed so much character in those pivotal moments leading to their cup the previous year. Furthermore, there was a real problem with the prospect pool as Jordan Caron, Chris Bourque, Ryan Spooner, and Zach Hamill were competing for who could be the biggest letdown on the roster.

The blue-collar, old-school hockey identity doesn’t work. It’s hard to replace guys like Recchi in the line-up, and they certainly aren’t able to do it internally with their farm system.

2012 – 2013: Back to Form

Lockouts suck, but a lockout-shortened season where every game mattered that much more was very much the opposite of suck. It didn’t hurt that my Isles made it back into the playoffs, but it did hurt that Nabokov couldn’t stop a beach ball with an LED light stuck in it – sorry, sorry, let’s stick to the B’s.

The front office mentality continued to be locking up guys who historically have performed well for them. Again, normally not a bad idea, but it was when Chris Kelly (9 points in 34 GP) got 4 years for $12 million and Rich Peverley got 3 years for $9.75 million. I will say that Brad Marchand’s 4 years for $18 million was a great exception to the bad contracts previously mentioned.

Despite the shortfalls, this year’s on-ice success was fantastic as the B’s took the Hawks to 6 games in the Stanley Cup Finals. The farm system came through big in the form of an offensively gifted, yet physically diminutive, Torey Krug. The Bruins got that coveted final piece in Jarome Iginla Jaromir Jagr, who had fantastic puck possession but failed to register a single goal in the playoffs. Tyler Seguin registered a goal, *checks notes*, hm, okay yeah only one goal. But I’m sure he got a mulligan on that considering how good he’d been. Also, some people tried to put the blame on Rask, especially after those two quick, late strikes by Chicago to end things in Game 6. To those “some people,” here’s a fun table comparing Rask’s playoff performance to Thomas’s acclaimed, superhuman performance in 2011:

Post Season YearPlayerSave PercentageGoals Against Average (GAA)
2013Rask0.9401.88
2011Thomas0.9401.98

The following offseason was where that front office mentality really broke down. Tyler Seguin was continually facing criticism that he didn’t fit in the Bruins system – not a two way player, too flashy, etc. Rather than adapting to a budding offensive talent, the Bruins remained rigid with their style of play and shipped him off to Dallas:

Bruins GetStars Get
Loui ErikssonTyler Seguin
Joe Morrow (In and Out of the Lineup)Rich Peverley (Poor Guy)
Reilly Smith (Traded to FLA for Jimmy Hayes)Ryan Button (Now in Germany)
Matt Fraser (Now in WPG Farm System)

You just don’t get rid of a player like Tyler Seguin, who continues to be one of the premiere offensive talents in this game. At the time, this was palatable for a lot of Boston fans and media because he didn’t fit the system. But you don’t need every guy on the roster to be a two-way forward. What every team does need is goals, and Seguin provides them. It really felt like his postseason in 2013 was the excuse management was looking for to get rid of what they felt was a “problem” in the locker room. Furthermore, there were the questionable contracts for Kelly and Peverley (granted the last one was taken care of in the Seguin trade), which hurt the team over the long term. Even though Kelly’s contract isn’t too monetarily offensive, you can fill his spot with a cheaper, better player. The fact that the Bruins don’t do that says something scary about how they value their players.

However, if you’re going to ship off a 21 year-old Tyler Seguin who makes a very reasonable $5.75 million for the next 6 years while simultaneously offloading Peverley’s contract, I suppose getting a 28 year old useful offensive talent in Loui Eriksson, a 1st-round defenseman who may still have something to show in Joe Morrow, and a touted younger offensive talent in Reilly Smith is pretty good. And for the next year it plays out okay, right?

2013 – 2014: We’re OK, right? Right?

It was a big offseason for the B’s as they continued to lock up and define their core:

 

  • Lucic: 3 years, $18 million
  • Krejci: 6 years, $43.5 million
  • Seidenberg: 4 years, $16 million
  • Rask: 8 years, $56 million
  • Bergeron: 8 years, $52 million

Two of these contracts are not like the others, two of these contracts are good. (Hint: It’s the last two. I did that on purpose.)

Also, the B’s actually got Jarome Iginla on the roster, *waits 24 hours*, yup, cool, Iggy was on the roster. Smith was a 20 goal scorer and coming into his own, Eriksson was  . . . hey look at Reilly Smith, he sure was a 20 goal scorer and coming into his own. And Torey Krug continued to make a big impact following his 2013 postseason performance with a healthy boost to the Bruins blueline production. The B’s took home some regular season hardware in the President’s Trophy (most points in a regular season), and Tuukka took home the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender during the regular season). Despite the regular season success, anyone who closely watched the Montreal series could see that the B’s didn’t look like the B’s. Similar to the Washington series in 2012, in the face of adversity the B’s crumbled under it.

The B’s all but locked up their core with Chara, Marchand, and the above contracts. If the core isn’t working, management hasn’t allowed themselves any cap flexibility to fix that. Furthermore, while Krug continues to be a shining example to what is normally a lack of prospect depth, he’s a shining example that needs to be signed to a contract that will demand a lot more money than his entry-level deal.

2014 – 2015: The Wheels are Off
"Pastrnak" is actually Czech for "noble-hearted savior". When Claude learned this he said he's going to have to save his own ass if he doesn't back check.

“Pastrnak” is actually Czech for “noble-hearted savior”.

The B’s entered the year $800,000 over the cap and needed to sign both Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Despite how well Iggy fit (because he’s Jarome freakin’ Iginla), the B’s had to part ways with him. Also, fan-favorite Sean Thornton left for Florida, and, my favorite move of all, Johnny Boychuk went to the islanders for a second round pick in the next two drafts. Seidenberg and McQuaid staying over Boychuk was preposterous. Granted, Boychuk was going to demand some big bucks when his contract expires next year (the Isles would go on to extend him for 7 years, $42 million) but he only made $3.36 million that year. That’s not much of a cap relief considering that currently Seidenberg makes more, McQuaid makes $2.75 million, and Chris Kelly still makes $3 million. The return from my Isles was lackluster for a player of that caliber making that much, but they were able to do it because the B’s were a team desperate for cap relief.

The B’s missed the playoffs by two points this year. They couldn’t score goals, and very much looked in need of having a main offensive threat like Tyler Seguin. They didn’t have the cap flexibility to add big names and instead underwhelmed everyone with the additions of Gagne and Talbot to the roster. Reilly Smith did not build off his first year with the squad and was frequently a member of the third line. Loui Eriksson did alright as he, Bergeron, and Marchand were the only ones to break the 20 goal plateau (22, 23, and 24 respectively). Zdeno Chara was starting to show signs of rust and missed some time due to injury. Lucic, well, give me a second on him. There were some bright spots, recently-drafted David Pastrnak created some stir and looked to be a special player in the immediate future, and Dougie Hamilton was filling the hole on the blue line. He recorded 42 points in 72 games played at the age of 21. There’s no way they would trade him right?

2015 – Present: Bear with us?

Now we can finally come full circle to the B’s as we know them today. When last season was over unexpectedly quicker than anyone thought, the B’s and their fans were forced to look at the skeletons in their closet. Peter Chiarelli was fired, and with it were supposed to be all the questionable signings and trades. No one wanted to see another Seguin.

Look at this doe-eyed innocent. Look at him!

Look at this doe-eyed innocent. Look at him!

But new GM Don Sweeney pulled another Seguin and traded restricted free agent Hamilton for the 15th, 45th and 52nd picks in the 2015 Draft. A wealth of trades in what was heralded a deep draft is a good idea, but outside of Pastrnak the Bruins haven’t been the best at drafting recently. Worse than that, we see the Bruins trying to damage the character of a kid who’s probably never said a cuss word on the ice, let alone in his entire life. Even worse, it works with Bruins fans who at times are representative of that front office mentality in that they don’t want to stray from the tough, bruiser hockey they play. If Hamilton is “uppity” then they don’t want them in a blue-collar squad like the B’s, “Who let the Hahvahd kid into the local Irish pub?”

But that’s not the game anymore. The current level of skill in hockey players today is greater than we’ve seen before. These guys can really skate, and teams are electing to roll the dice on cheaper, younger players rather than sign veterans to million-plus dollar contracts as the cap gets tighter. And with this infusion of skill means that the role of enforcers in the game is in decline. The entire fourth line is gone, and Lucic was finally traded. This was one of Sweeney’s better moves as they got a first round pick, Marty Jones (who they traded for another first round pick and a good prospect in Sean Kuraly) as well as the possibly good Colin Miller. Again, B’s fans were upset that Milan Lucic their long-time hero and all those “intangibles” like spearing someone in the nuts were no longer part of the team. Lucic wasn’t and isn’t old-time hockey, and seeing the B’s reward him with a hefty $6 million per year contract hurt. He’s a guy who had some years performing above his pay grade, but was never a leader in the locker room. In those moments of adversity you could count on Lucic to do something dirty rather than rally the troops. More importantly, Campbell, Paille, Thornton and Lucic were guys that were part of Claude Julien’s system. All eyes are on Claude as GM Sweeney has now told the media they are looking to play a new style of hockey and yet elected to retain a coach that is known for being able to play only one outdated style.

The remaining Bruins core is making a combined $42,291,667 which is about 59.6% of their cap (63.4% if you count the salary retention on the Lucic trade):

PlayerPositionCap Hit
David KrejciC$7,250,000
Patrice BergeronC$6,875,000
Brad MarchandLW$4,500,000
Chris KellyC$3,000,000
Zdeno CharaD$6,916,667
Dennis SeidenbergD$4,000,000
Adam McQuaidD$2,750,000
Tuukka RaskG$7,000,000

David Krejci is making $7.250 million, good enough to make him the ninth wealthiest center in the league. Just a quarter of a million dollars more is a three-way tie between Datsyuk, Spezza and Stamkos (for now). Just a quarter of a million dollars less and you can buy yourself a Henrik Sedin or Paul Stastny. Over the last three years, Krejci’s point-per-game (PPG) production ranks towards the bottom among the group:

PlayerPPGCF %Salary
Stamkos1.0157.1$7,500,000
Seguin0.9755.8$5,750,000
Datsyuk0.9458.1$7,500,000
H. Sedin0.8457.1$7,000,000
Spezza0.8253.4$7,500,000
Krejci0.7653.6$7,250,000
Stastny0.7052.9$7,000,000

His possession numbers, CF % or Corsi For %, which is a measure of shots on goal at even strength relative to the other team, are still good. They’re better than Spezza and Stastny, but the latter only played 5 games in 2012 due to injury. However, compared to players in that stratosphere it’s just not there. At 29 it’s doubtful these numbers will get any better, but plateau for a couple of years before declining. Especially, if he doesn’t click with this new linemates. Also, for reference, Tyler Seguin is the 25th highest paid center (tied with Travis Zajac, blegh) who ranks second behind Stamkos in PPG. However, in fairness to Krejci, he has outperformed plenty of players in the Seguin pay range, like aforementioned Travis Zajac. I show Seguin to show the cheaper, higher producing center they elected not to keep.

It will be interesting watching what and how the Bruins do this year. Despite Hamilton they made some good moves in the offseason, and additions like Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes could provide some offense and depth. If they decide to rebuild, what it looks like could vary anywhere from personnel changes like moving Chara to a simple coaching change from Claude Julien. Do they move some of those core players and sacrifice that tightly-held identity for cap flexibility? If the B’s give up some of the core, what does that spell for Claude Julien’s time behind the bench? Also, is he able to adapt to the message GM Sweeney is delivering?

Dustin Byfuglien (I actually spelled that right on the first try) or Keith Yandle have been rumored to bolster a dismal blue line. And make no mistake, the blue line needs bolstering. Chara helped in his first game back, but he was getting beat to the puck and still showing signs of rust. Seidenberg will hurt, not help, and I’ve never seen a B’s team give up more open passing lanes to the opposition before. This of course is now leading to outcries that Rask isn’t as sharp as he used to be. Rask is 28 and 2 years removed from winning that Vezina trophy mentioned earlier. Last year he did everything he could to keep the team in the playoff hunt, and saw a little less than 400 more shots and played over 600 more minutes. Despite the monster workload, he still put up a 0.922 SV% with a 2.30 GAA. While the Bruins do have some interesting goalie prospects, if Rask is moved that would complete the trifecta of forcing out the offensive, defensive, and goalie foundations of the team.

The biggest question remains if the B’s and their fans can come to terms with what most likely has to be a culture change for the black and gold. The system needs to be expanded to allow individual players to shine, and the team in general needs to generate more offense. Furthermore, if the Bruins are going to keep up with the other rising teams in the league they’re going to need to either draft better or trade for young bodies that can provide value at a minimal price. If the Bruins can’t adapt and the core continues to be questionable, the cap-restricted B’s will see the sun set early on a team that had given every indication of being a perennial playoff force.

About The Author

Nick Russo

Nick Russo is one of those fifty-year-olds trapped in a yuppie’s body you hear about on the news from time to time. He works at a company called Genzyme, irritating his coworkers on a daily basis, and is ecstatic about his part-time enrollment in the Public and Non-profit MBA program at Boston University. He loves dogs, hockey, books, and, when he’s feeling vulnerable, a simple hug.

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