The Bruins postseason book of revelations is a slow read. Once they exit the playoffs without a Stanley Cup — as they have every time but once over the last 49 years — their modus operandi is to express regret and disappointment, provide few specifics, and await the release of the next schedule and the promise of a new season.
Coach Bruce Cassidy held his season-end Zoomer Monday morning and it was, true to Black-and-Gold form, a respectful yet unrevealing 27 minutes.
The only real focal point came with about three minutes to go when Cassidy noted a need for an established NHLer to ride with Brandon Carlo on the No. 2 defense pairing.
“I think that would help us at the end of the day,” he said, “and I think we all realize that. So that will be the discussion going forward.”
Perhaps, added Cassidy, the answer will come from among the blue line kiddie corps, which includes the likes of Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jeremy Lauzon. He didn’t mention whether Mike Reilly, an April deadline acquisition for the backline, would be a candidate.
So the band plays on. Look for the NHL to release that 2021-22 schedule in the next 4-6 weeks.
Cassidy, 33-33 in his five postseasons here, is a sharp coach, able to improvise in games, the best coach here since Harry Sinden walked away after the ’70 Cup win. He is eminently qualified and capable of steering a team to the Cup. He came within 60 minutes of winning it on Causeway Street in the spring of 2019.
To close the deal, however, there’s more help needed than that No. 2D soft spot, which falls to general manager Don Sweeney, his player development crew, and his scouting staff. Better groceries needed, immediately, because it became achingly evident these last two playoff seasons that the so-called “closing window” — the hope of winning with a handful of talented 2011 Cup vet leftovers — has gone from closing to c-l-o-s-e-d.
Please, let’s all stop that narrative. The window slammed shut with the 6-2 loss to the Islanders last Wednesday in Game 6. We’ve clung to it here, media especially, as if Cliff is still in his corner seat, Sam is behind the bar, and “Cheers” again will rank No. 1 in the Nielsens. The tap line has been drained, folks.
Keep in mind, it took Sweeney’s Taylor Hall-Curtis Lazar-Reilly XXL tire patch in April to pump up a team that was otherwise destined for a first-round playoff blowout. Crafty work by Sweeney, but the emergency repair was as much an indictment on roster engineering, development, and execution as it was a heroic 11th-hour roadside rescue.
Similar to last playoff season’s erasure by the Lightning, the Islanders were faster and stiffer and better scorers than the Bruins, something that largely would have been true even had Carlo and Kevan Miller not been injured and the backline fully coherent. Granted, had those two been back there, the Islanders probably would not have breezed to such an easy win around the Bruins’ second-period collapse in Game 6.
But overall in the series, the Sons of Lou Lams were faster, dogged, relentless on the forecheck, and sharper, more persistent finishers. Oh, and their D corps was bigger, stronger, and more efficient. Just too good.
The end wasn’t identical to the dismissal Tampa Bay handed the Bruins in the ’20 postseason, but it was close. The two KOs in tandem should be prima faceoff evidence to the front office that, yes, the backline needs shoring up and of course it needs to stay healthy. Happy hour on the S.S. Obvious, top deck, begins every night at 6.
Of equal need, however, is for the pack of 12 forwards to be faster, more efficient hunters and checkers. Exhibit A: Tune in Tuesday night when the Lightning and Islanders clash in Game 2 of their Cup semifinal. Their pace is frenetic, be it off the rush or on the forecheck.
While speed alone doesn’t guarantee success (reminder: there are no guarantees around a chunk of vulcanized rubber), it has been central to both efficient dismissals of the Bruins these last two postseasons. The Bolts sent them packing in five, the Isles in six, and both outcomes could not be reasonably subject to a recount.
Other than Jake DeBrusk, the six amateur drafts under Sweeney’s watch have not delivered a single primary or secondary scorer, or even valuable bottom-six role guys, to the forward lines. Zero.
An emerging DeBrusk looked capable of delivering the goods in his first three seasons, but the left winger got lost in a crossfire hurricane of COVID, confusion, and inconsistency this year. Cassidy said Monday it would have been “too raw” to talk with DeBrusk immediately following elimination. But the talk is coming … and maybe a trade.
Under Sweeney’s draft watch, the Bruins since June 2015 have selected 20 forwards. DeBrusk was the only one to play this postseason. There could be viable prospects in the likes of Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Jakub Lauko, perhaps Curtis Hall and John Beecher. But 19 of the 20 brought nothing this postseason and DeBrusk brought next to nothing.
The spotlight of this painful discussion forever will shine brightest on the 2015 draft, in which the Bruins selected Zboril at No. 13, DeBrusk at 14, and winger Zack Senyshyn at 15. In so doing, they passed on the likes of forwards Mathew Barzal (16), Kyle Connor (17), Travis Konecny (24), Anthony Beauvillier (28), and Sebastian Aho (35). All five have proven to be excellent, and in some cases elite, choices.
We’re left to wonder what the outcome of the last three postseasons, including that ’19 Finals run, would have been if any combination of those fab five forwards had been picked at 13, 14, 15.
With the acquisitions of Hall and Lazar, Sweeney continued a trend of trying to piecemeal together a group of forwards capable of carrying a team to a Cup, be it via trade or free agency. He’s done well there at times with the likes of Craig Smith, Charlie Coyle (this playoff year aside), Marcus Johansson (in ’19), and Hall.
Nonetheless, some of Sweeney’s misses have been very pricey and highly ineffective, particularly free agents David Backes and Matt Beleskey, and to a lesser extent John Moore. Little bang for big bucks. Trades for Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase both capsized because of concussion issues.
Roughly four months from the start of a new season, Sweeney now must decide whether to keep a 35-year-old David Krejci as his No. 2 center, whether to retain/sign Hall as the No. 2 left winger, and whether Patrice Bergeron, 36 next month, can still be expected to drive a No. 1 line through 82 games and the playoffs. Bergeron is an elite, unique performer, but birth certificates don’t lie.
“It’s been five years, so I’ve been through it,” said Cassidy when asked Monday what it’s going to take to win it. “Not as much as the Bergerons of the world, but certainly through it, and hopefully we get another chance.”