Their postseason disappointment still palpable, Bruins management any hour now will offer preliminary indication what their roster will look like when they next convene on the ice in Brighton for the start of training camp in September.
Time changes everything, of course, and time mixed with playoff regret typically means a deeper cut. Last season’s dismissal by the Lightning led to waving goodbye to Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. In the weeks ahead, we could see unrestricted free agents Tuukka Rask and David Krejci (29 years of combined Spoked-B service), both members of the 2011 Stanley Cup team, likewise headed for the door.
Granted, this is open to debate, but the Bruins, even in the hours following their most recent loss, have the most identifiable roster among the town’s four major sports. Remarkable. Even though it has been 10 years since their last championship.
Roster identity alone clearly does not equate to championships, or even solid playoff runs, but it keeps the customers engaged. If the time has come for Rask and/or Krejci to move on, no matter by whose decision, the franchise’s valuable, fragile “Q” factor will take a significant hit.
Unfortunately, we’re getting used to that drill around here.
The Red Sox, not even three years past their most recent World Series win, have since bought full boat into the MLB “parts is parts” theory of roster building. We’ve gone from the big-name mind-set of Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Mookie Betts, et al, to a mulligan stew lineup cooked up in a hardball analytics lab. At Fenway, the motto is “numbers super nominibus” (numbers above names).
Out in Foxborough, they’re telling us the Brady-less, Gronkowski-less, Edelman-less Patriots could be back on the path to Super Bowl glory in no time. Trust the process. That’s the same process that told us a year ago to trust Cam Newton to run the offense, saw where that went, and then brought him back for seconds this fall.
And the Celtics, well, what’s to say other than, who are those guys? The Green’s last title was in 2008. Kemba Walker is the lone guy on today’s roster (check website for trade updates) to have turned 18 when the Doc Rivers Celtics beat the Phil Jackson Lakers. They lack star power. They lack all power. Remember Cooz and Russ? Come on, some of these guys would be challenged to remember Paul Pierce once wore green.
What the Bruins do have in common with all their Boston pro sports brethren right now is the need to be better. That 2011 title, as much fun as it was to witness, now stands as the lone Cup win here in the last 49 years. No one needs to school Black and Gold fans in the pain of unfulfilled playoff runs. Is it too soon to mention too many men on the ice?
The Bruins won five Cups in the first 47 years of the franchise. Now it’s one over the last 49 years, albeit with seven failed trips to the Cup Final mixed in as significant connective tissue.
The slight twist to this spring’s short-circuited run was that the Bruins entered the postseason with two scoring lines. Forever their playoff Achilles’ heel, scoring depth finally, and convincingly, appeared a non-issue. The long familiar cry of, “When are you going to get us a sniper, Harry?!” moved to the deep background, mainly because Taylor Hall, underperforming and disgruntled in Buffalo, jumped into their hands at the April 12 trade deadline.
Hall, Krejci, and Craig Smith instantly formed a formidable line and produced nearly in lockstep with the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak No. 1 trio for the month leading to the playoffs. The Bruins, especially five on five, looked like an unstoppable force.
Until they didn’t. The second-liners put up 8 points, only 5 fewer than the top guns, in the Round 1 win over Washington. But they faded vs. the Islanders, cobbling together but 11 points in six games while the big boys put up more than double (11-12—23). Hall was minus-5 and went 0-0—0 over the final three games, all losses.
To make it all the worse, offense from the Bruins’ third and fourth lines was nonexistent. The bottom-six forwards also failed to muster enough of the defensive pluck that so often can spark offense from the scoring lines.
Third-line pivot Charlie Coyle finished the postseason 2-1—3 in 11 games and was a team-worst minus-8. That’s a long summer.
The muckers didn’t muck. Too few of the scorers scored.
Finally, the crusher came when defenseman Brandon Carlo exited Game No. 3 with yet another concussion, drilled into the rear wall on a clean, stiff check by the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck. The Bruins already were without Kevan Miller on the right side, not to mention the earlier losses of depth guys John Moore and Steven Kampfer (both to surgery).
The Bruins chiseled out a 2-1 overtime win the night Carlo exited, and then were outscored, 15-7, over the next three losses. Rush after rush, Islanders forwards blitzed into the Boston end, rarely, if ever, suffering the rude awakenings they might have been dealt had Carlo and Miller been on duty. The backline turned soft and porous, a bad combination in February, and lethal in the spring.
No telling now if general manager Don Sweeney, after allowing Chara and Krug to leave town, will retain Rask and/or Krejci. The two are pricey, aging, and their performances at times can be, shall we say, frustrating and uneven.
Undeniable, though, is the fact that Rask and Krejci have logged long, valuable, and distinguished service here, very much contributing to a positive team identity that the other three major pro teams now find themselves, to varying degrees, unable or unwilling to match.
Fail though they have yet again, the Bruins overall have succeeded in constructing an engaging and entertaining product full of very recognizable roster faces. Not long ago, all the rosters were like that here in the city of champions. Not so anymore.
We’ve learned upon seeing some of these guys leave, even those far from perfect, that their equals aren’t walking through that door to pick up where they left off.
SEASON OF SETBACKS
DeBrusk looking to turn the page
The best to be said about Jake DeBrusk’s season is that it’s over. After three promising seasons on his entry-level deal, with flashes of brilliance and promise that earned him a two-year extension with a $3.675 million cap hit, the amiable Bruins left winger came up empty in the top- or bottom-six roles.
Now it’s up to GM Don Sweeney to decide if there’s realistic path to recovery here, or if he’ll shop DeBrusk in the days leading to the July 21 expansion draft. Even with his poor season, he still has trade value, albeit not for a return equal to where he was chosen (No. 14 overall) in the 2015 draft.
A couple of significant mitigating factors when assessing DeBrusk’s performance: 1. He had a two-week tour on the COVID-19 “unavailable” list, a protracted, isolating interruption that factored largely in his playing only 41 of 56 games; 2. Because of an abundance of lefthanded shots up front, he was often bumped to his off wing, his game looking especially wrong on the right side.
Both factors, in concert with his diminished market value, likely convince Sweeney et al to give the 24-year-old a do-over in 2021-22, with the hope that he can produce again in the 40-50-point range.
“A couple of setbacks this year, for sure,” DeBrusk acknowledged Friday, saying that he needs “to revamp some stuff” to get his game back on track.
After noting that there were elements of the season he could and could not control, DeBrusk added, “I dealt with a lot of negativity as well ... one of those things that, you know, you sign up, and I’m a big boy and I can handle that, some of it is [I] just became an easy target, so … my haters had a lot to say this year.”
DeBrusk’s aim going into next season, he said, will be proving “a lot of people wrong.”
DeBrusk was asked by your faithful puck chronicler to identify the source of negativity, be it from fans, media or coaching staff.
“I don’t really know … if that makes any sense,” he said. “I just felt like there was a lot. Just one of those things, you can just feel it … not really pointing out anyone. The one thing that I did learn was that you obviously play for your teammates and for people in this room — and that’s all that I really look for, doing it for the guy beside you.”
No certainty where this goes. Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, and DeBrusk were positioned not long ago as prized “push-through” candidates among the kiddie corps of forward prospects. All but DeBrusk have been dealt. None has fulfilled his promise.
To this point, either the promise was false or misguided or miscalculated, or there’s a missing link in the chain of player development. Whatever the answer, it needs fixing.
Habs continue Cinderella story
Those Cinderella Canadiens (take a drink, Bruins fans) take on the Vegas Golden Knights Monday night in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup semifinal.
As hard as CH success is on the eyes of Black and Gold nation, imagine how Maple Leafs fans feel, their Blue and White darlings making it beyond the first round but once since 2002. They lost to the Habs in Round 1 this year. More striking, in three-plus postseasons, the newbie Knights already have 36 playoff victories, one more than the Leafs have accumulated since the spring of 2001.
The Habs, though underdogs entering the matchup with the Knights, edged the Leafs in seven, then went on to jumble the Jets with a 4-0 sweep. Karma dressed as a 19th skater on the Habs’ bench after the outrageous, predatory slam Mark Scheifele delivered as the punctuation mark to Game 1 of the series. The Habs then ran the table, outscoring the Jets, 9-3, over the final three games with Scheifele suspended.
“I thought I was going to be tried to be shut down by Phillip Danault,” the tone-deaf Scheifele said on Jets pack-up day. “Instead, it was the Department of Player Safety that shut me down. So that definitely sucks.”
Some of these guys, and their enablers, won’t ever get it.
Meanwhile, the Habs roll on, first and foremost because Carey Price has returned to playing like a goalie with a $10.5 million price tag (of whom he is the only one, of course). Headed into the semis, the reborn stopper owned the best save percentage (.934) and second-best goals-against average (1.97) of the four remaining No. 1 netminders.
Part of Price’s recovery can be traced to the hiring of Sean Burke as the club’s director of goaltending. A pro scout with the Canadiens the last four seasons, Burke took on the new gig after Stephane Waite was moved off the job.
Waite initially survived the purge following Claude Julien’s abrupt dismissal as coach after 32 games. Perhaps a move to Burke earlier, to help counsel Price, would have Julien still behind the bench.
Through their 11 games leading to the semis, the Habs had no one contributing a point per game to the offense. The closest was ex-King right winger Tyler Toffoli (4-6—10), who came aboard as a free agent in the offseason after a successful though brief tour with Vancouver following his trade there in February 2020.
Headed into the series against the Knights, the Habs’ most dynamic line has veteran Eric Staal, a deadline pickup from Buffalo, centering fellow older Corey Perry and Joel Armia (once a Sabres draftee, by the way). Size, experience, and grit.
The Habs probably don’t have enough to prevent the Knights from reaching their second Cup Final in four seasons of existence (take another drink, the bar’s open), but both the Leafs — who had a 3-1 series lead — and Jets have paid the price of underestimating the distant sons of Vincent Damphousse.
David Krejci, soon able to sign with anyone in the Original 32, was oddly evasive, or uncomfortably uncertain, when asked Friday about his future plans. “I’m going to need a few weeks,” he said, “think about lots of things, talk to lots of people. I love Boston, see what happens.” After inking contracts in Boston valued at just over $70 million, he says his next deal won’t be about money. Other than that, he wasn’t ready to say what it will be about … A few statistical leftovers from Bruins-Islanders Round 2: The Bruins held a lead in all but the last game, while the Islanders logged 00:00 of lead time in only Game 3. For the series, the Islanders finished with a tiny edge in lead time: 110:15 vs. 108:07. The Bruins went a hefty 7 for 14 on the power play while the Islanders delivered at 6 for 16 (37.5 percent). Uncharacteristically weak on the draw in Games, 2, 3 and 4, Patrice Bergeron clicked in Games 5 and 6, winning 26 of 43 drops (60.5 percent). Tuukka Rask allowed eight goals on 43 shots over his last two appearance (five periods) for a lowly .814 save percentage. The Bruins squeezed off 414 shot attempts across the six games to only 312 by the Islanders … The Blue Jackets on Friday named ex-winger Brad Larsen to replace John Tortorella as coach. An assistant the last seven years, first under Todd Richards and then Tortorella, Larsen played his four junior seasons at WHL Swift Current, three of those under now Kings coach Todd McLellan … Stung by an unpenalized high hit by Kyle Palmieri on the opening shift of the second period Wednesday, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy was ordered to the room for what amounted to some six minutes of playing time. On Friday, he sounded more disgruntled about being ordered off (suspected concussion) than the hit. “Mandatory. I had to take a concussion test, or whatever it’s called. I didn’t think it was necessary, to be honest it was already over.” As for the non-call, he added, “It is what it is. It’s over.” … Gotta love Brandon Carlo’s spunk, when asked about the Cal Cluttlerbuck hit that left him in concussed in Game 3 of the Islanders series: “Great hit, I had no issues with it whatsoever. He went right through my chest, I can respect that any day of the week.” It was at least the third concussion Carlo has endured in his time with the Bruins, the other two delivered by Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson. Asked if he is worried about the number of concussions and the potential impact on the longevity of his career, Carlo added, “No, not at this point, not at all. I think this year was obviously a struggle through these injuries. It’s no fun, but I am not going to sit here and get discouraged, thinking my career is headed down the wrong path because of a couple of concussions. I hope this is my last one and I can play for as long as possible. From how I’ve recovered from these, I don’t think there’s any issue there.”