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FLUTO SHINZAWA | ON HOCKEY

Several factors at work as Bruins’ slump continues

The only player the Bruins have left from the drafts of 2007-09 is Jordan Caron, who hardly ever plays.
The only player the Bruins have left from the drafts of 2007-09 is Jordan Caron, who hardly ever plays.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/File/Boston Globe

ST. LOUIS — It has come to this for the Bruins: a Friday showdown against the mighty St. Louis Blues, a 21-year-old goalie asked to stop a five-game winless streak in his NHL debut, no trade reinforcements on the way, andonly a 1-point lead over the ninth-place Panthers for the last playoff spot.

Just 17 days ago, the Bruins were 7 points ahead of Florida. They were just 1 point down on the Rangers and Capitals, in line to escape the danger zone of the No. 8 seed.

Now, an eighth straight postseason appearance is no longer guaranteed.

“If we look at where we are right now, I think the biggest, biggest focus is to make sure we get ourselves into the playoffs,” coach Claude Julien said. “We’ll deal with the rest afterward. But we have to make the playoffs first.

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“It’s important for us to go out there, find our game, and not worry about finishing first, second, third, whatever. Let’s just get in there. If we play good hockey, as you know in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter where you finish.”

How did they get here?

The tumble down the Eastern Conference standings started Feb. 4, when the Bruins lost to the Rangers, 3-2. It was the first of six losses this month.

But their downturn is a collision of several factors:

■   The salary cap for 2015-16 is unclear, mostly because of the Canadian exchange rate. This is making general managers, including Peter Chiarelli, wary of acquiring players with term remaining beyond this season.

■   The Bruins are tight against this year’s cap. They are carrying an overage penalty of approximately $4.75 million, mostly because of bonuses accrued last year by Jarome Iginla. That’s the average annual value of a good defenseman or right wing, both of which the Bruins desperately need.

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■   The Bruins have lost confidence in Niklas Svedberg. The backup goalie has been pulled in two of his last three starts. They’ve had to ride Tuukka Rask for 15 straight games and 24 of the last 25. No goalie can sustain that workload.

■   The Bruins drafted poorly during Chiarelli’s first years. Their only remaining NHL asset from 2007-09 is Jordan Caron, a regular healthy scratch. Those misses have led to a thin prospect pool. To restock to a healthy level, the Bruins have to retain and develop their picks instead of trading them for immediate help.

■   Too many players have gone cold. Carl Soderberg hasn’t scored a goal in 11 straight games. Reilly Smith has two goals in the last 20. Daniel Paille scored his only goal on Nov. 21. Milan Lucic and David Krejci are not creating consistent offensive chances. Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid are not playing reliable defense.

The result of all that: a skittish and fragile team that shrinks at the first sign of trouble.

“Guys are feeling the heat,” Julien said. “They’re feeling the stress of the expectations. I’ve been trying to get these guys not to relax as far as the game’s concerned. We’ve still got to play better. But just mentally, we need to be a little bit more relaxed to be able to execute and think properly out there.”

The Bruins still believe in their group. First, they have to clear their heads. They can’t make mental mistakes the way they did on Edmonton’s first goal Wednesday. Soderberg and Torey Krug chased after Derek Roy behind the goal line, which left Nail Yakupov open for an easy strike.

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They may have no choice but to believe. It will not be easy for Chiarelli to upgrade because of the circumstances: little cap space and not enough assets.

Had the Bruins drafted better, their core would be stronger. This is the case around the Northeast Division. Montreal (P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty), Tampa Bay (Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman), Detroit (Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar), Florida (Dmitry Kulikov), Ottawa (Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, Robin Lehner), Toronto (Nazem Kadri), and Buffalo (Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno) have picks from 2007-09 playing go-to roles.

In comparison, the Bruins whiffed. In 2007, they drafted Zach Hamill with the No. 8 pick. Hamill played 20 games for Boston through 2012 until he was traded to Washington for Chris Bourque. The 26-year-old Hamill hasn’t played in the league since then. No other player the Bruins drafted in 2007 has logged an NHL game.

They traded Joe Colborne, their first-round pick in 2008, to Toronto in 2011 in a package for Tomas Kaberle. They have no remaining assets from 2008. They did not tender third-round pick Michael Hutchinson, who is now contending for the No. 1 goaltending job in Winnipeg. Their only NHL player from 2009 is Caron.

The Bruins masked their draft deficiencies well. Chiarelli executed good trades (Soderberg, Seidenberg, Paille, Chris Kelly) and free agent signings (Krug, Kevan Miller).

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As their currency, the Bruins used picks, prospects, and cap space to build their player pool. The problem they’re facing now is they’re short in all three categories heading into the March 2 trade deadline.

Since 2011, the Bruins drafted Dougie Hamilton, Malcolm Subban, and David Pastrnak in the first round. These were good picks. Hamilton will grow into a top-two defenseman. Subban projects to be a good NHL goalie. The 18-year-old Pastrnak looks like he’ll never play in the AHL again.

The Bruins are not in a position to trade their 2015 first-rounder, which will be the starting cost for some of the top rentals out there (Andrej Sekera, Jeff Petry, Antoine Vermette).

They have two second-rounders: their own, plus Philadelphia’s via the Islanders, which they acquired as part of the Johnny Boychuk trade. The Bruins are willing to trade one of the second-rounders. So far, that hasn’t been enough to land help at forward or defense.

The Bruins might have to part with prospects. They don’t have many to deal.

They believed Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khokhlachev would push for NHL playing time this year. Neither has deserved a full-time promotion. They’ve combined for zero points in eight total NHL games. David Warsofsky went unclaimed on waivers.

Their play this season has lowered their value on the trade market.

The Bruins do not want to deal Joe Morrow because McQuaid is restricted and Seidenberg might have to be moved in the offseason to clear salary.

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Their most precious chip is Subban. The Bruins had good luck using Chad Johnson and Anton Khudobin as inexpensive backups. They could follow that model and flip Subban to a rebuilding team (Edmonton and Carolina are candidates) for a non-rental acquisition. Rask is under contract through 2021 and in no danger of being displaced as the ace.

Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said not making the playoffs is unacceptable. Chiarelli and Julien could pay the price if the Bruins’ season ends after 82 games. Neither is ready to be unemployed.


Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.