For all the chatter regarding the underachievement of the 2016-17 Bruins, their predecessors from three seasons earlier are a better example of what it means to come up short.
The 2013-14 Bruins, the Presidents’ Trophy winners, were the last Black and Gold version to make the playoffs. They were built for a tear.
Tuukka Rask was doing his thing. Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton formed an excellent top defensive pairing. Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand were emerging as the best 200-foot tandem in the league with Reilly Smith riding shotgun. Musclemen Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla flanked David Krejci. Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson were chewing up bottom-six forwards and third pairings as third-line partners. The Bruins were deep enough to shrug off injuries to Dennis Seidenberg (knee), Adam McQuaid (ankle), and Chris Kelly (back), who didn’t dress for the playoffs.
So yes, the Bruins could have played into June if not for the force of nature known as Carey Price.
The franchise that lost to Montreal in the second round has not visited the postseason since. The Bruins are in danger of missing out for a third straight season. In taking a then-and-now snapshot, it is no surprise why. Consider the following:
■ Krejci’s wingmen are diminished. The Bruins traded Lucic to Los Angeles for Martin Jones, Colin Miller, and the No. 13 pick in 2015 (Jakub Zboril). Now in Edmonton with former general manager Peter Chiarelli, Lucic (seven years, $42 million) is averaging a career-low 1.09 points per 60 minutes of five-on-five play, according to www.corsica.hockey. Iginla, priced out of Boston, signed a three-year, $16 million contract with Colorado. The right wing hasn’t played in the playoffs since. Cutting ties with Lucic and Iginla made sense for the Bruins. But they have not found replacements despite investing $9.8 million annually in Matt Beleskey and David Backes, two potential No. 2 wingers. Beleskey (due $3.8 million per year through 2020) has two goals and three assists. Ryan Spooner, Frank Vatrano, Tim Schaller, and Danton Heinen have taken shifts as Krejci’s left wing. Backes, Krejci’s primary right wing, has 11 goals and 11 assists — OK production, but costly at $6 million annually through 2021.
|Brad Marchand||Patrice Bergeron||Reilly Smith|
|Milan Lucic||David Krejci||Jarome Iginla|
|Chris Kelly||Carl Soderberg||Loui Eriksson|
|Daniel Paille||Gergory Campbell||Shawn Thornton|
|Zdeno Chara||Dougie Hamilton|
|Dennis Seidenberg||Johnny Boychuk|
|Torey Krug||Adam McQuaid|
|Brad Marchand||Patrice Bergeron||David Pastrnak|
|Frank Vatrano||David Krejci||David Backes|
|Matt Beleskey||Ryan Spooner||Jimmy Hayes|
|Dominic Moore||Riley Nash||Noel Acciari|
|Zdeno Chara||Brandon Carlo|
|Torey Krug||Adam McQuaid|
|Kevan Miller||Colin Miller|
■ Smith out, Jimmy Hayes in. After a 13-27—40 output in 2014-15, Smith was declared expendable. On July 1, 2015, the Bruins swapped Smith and Marc Savard to Florida for Hayes. Five days later, GM Don Sweeney signed Hayes to a three-year, $6.9 million contract. The Dorchester native (2-1—3) has been a healthy scratch for 13 games, including the last six. Smith has nine goals and 10 assists while averaging 19:10 of ice time. Smith has not been a healthy scratch this season.
■ Swedes out, instability ensues. After 2014-15, Colorado acquired the rights to Soderberg, then signed the center to a five-year, $23.75 million contract. A little more than a year later, ex-Bruins assistant GM Jim Benning signed Eriksson to a six-year, $36 million deal in Vancouver. This season, Soderberg has four goals, six assists, and three years left on his deal. Eriksson is averaging a career-low 1.22 points per 60 minutes of five-on-five play. Meanwhile, the Bruins have yet to find stouter third-line replacements. The latest version was Riley Nash centering Spooner and Backes.
■ Hamilton traded for futures. When Hamilton told the Bruins he wanted out after 2014-15, Sweeney and team president Cam Neely could have taken Winnipeg’s approach with Jacob Trouba: Good luck with that. Instead, spooked by the threat of an offer sheet from Edmonton, the Bruins traded Hamilton to Calgary for picks used on Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Jeremy Lauzon. The prospects are developing well. But the Bruins now have been without a puck-rushing, right-shot defenseman for a year and a half. Hamilton, Mark Giordano’s top-pairing partner, is Calgary’s second-leading scorer (7-22—29) behind Mikael Backlund. Brandon Carlo, Hamilton’s successor as Chara’s partner, is a defensive defenseman (4-6—10).
■ add Johnny end Boychuk out, McQuaid and Kevan Miller in. Chiarelli tore up the dressing room by trading Boychuk before the start of 2014-15 to the Islanders for three picks, one of them used to draft Carlo. McQuaid and Miller play rugged right-side styles like Boychuk. But neither has Boychuk’s offensive side. In 2013-14, Boychuk scored five goals and 18 assists for 23 points, none on the power play. This season, McQuaid and Miller have combined for one goal and five assists. McQuaid is signed through 2020 at $2.75 million annually. Miller is in the first season of a four-year, $10 million deal. One, if not both, is likely to be exposed in the expansion draft.
■ Nothing behind Rask. Chad Johnson (17-4-3, 2.10 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) was a perfect backup: dependable, low-maintenance, and a good teammate. The Bruins thought they had younger, cheaper, and possibly better alternatives in Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban. Svedberg is in the KHL. Subban (4-9-4, 2.96 GAA, .905 save percentage in Providence) is looking like a bust. Anton Khudobin, considered an upgrade over Jonas Gustavsson, was assigned to the AHL on Jan. 6. Zane McIntyre (0-3-1, 3.70 GAA, .868 save percentage) has yet to develop NHL traction.
■ A stunted pipeline. In 2014, making the playoffs for the seventh straight season cloaked an entrenched deficiency: rotten drafting. The previous June, the Bruins were without a first-rounder, ceded to Dallas in the Jaromir Jagr trade. Before that, their No. 1 picks were Subban (Providence), Hamilton (traded to Calgary), Tyler Seguin (traded to Dallas), Jordan Caron (traded to Colorado), Joe Colborne (traded to Toronto), and Zach Hamill (traded to Washington). Second-rounders include Linus Arnesson (Providence, injured), Alexander Khokhlachev (signed in the KHL), Spooner, and Jared Knight (not tendered, playing in Denmark). David Pastrnak, the No. 25 pick in 2014, looks like a four-bagger. Carlo is a keeper. Senyshyn, Forsbacka Karlsson, Lauzon, Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Charlie McAvoy are coming. But because of the current shortage of internal candidates, Sweeney has used free agency to sign Backes, Beleskey, Nash, Schaller, Khudobin, John-Michael Liles, and Dominic Moore. Combined, they count for $15.4 million in cap space this season.
The Bruins have progressed in some areas. Partly because of Pastrnak’s development, Bergeron’s line is better this season than in 2013-14. Rask is Rask. The fourth line has improved. Prospects are approaching. The Bruins are not in imminent cap trouble.
But the roster remains under construction.
Capuano didn’t stand a chance
Last summer, the Islanders let No. 1 right wing Kyle Okposo (22-42—64) walk. No. 2 center Frans Nielsen (20-32—52) signed with Detroit. The Islanders weren’t interested in re-upping fourth-line thumper and popular teammate Matt Martin (10-9—19, 119 penalty minutes). Amid a compressed schedule that doesn’t even give No. 2 goalies enough action, the Islanders brought back all three puck-stoppers: Thomas Greiss, Jaroslav Halak, and Jean-Francois Berube. Halak, due $4.5 million through 2018, was assigned to the AHL on Dec. 31.
To demand Jack Capuano todeliver another playoff qualification was asking the impossible.
The native of Cranston, R.I., dismissed add as coach end on Tuesday (one day after blanking the Bruins at TD Garden, no less), had John Tavares, Nick Leddy, and little else to qualify as chicken salad. Andrew Ladd, a Harley-Davidson of a left wing in a league full of Ducatis, does not appear to be worth a seven-year, $38.5 million investment. Despite little support behind him, Tavares had 32 points in 42 games — with Josh Bailey and Anders Lee as wingmen, no less — while going up against every high-end shutdown pairing and top line. The seven-year, $42 million extension granted to ex-Bruin Johnny Boychuk is not trending to be a team-friendly pact.
Even before he dismissed his fellow ex-Maine Black Bear, GM Garth Snow did not do Capuano any favors.
“One hundred percent,” Snow said during a conference call when asked about his responsibility in the team’s shortcomings. “I don’t think there’s a player on our roster that I haven’t had a hand in either drafting, picking up off waivers, a trade, free agent signing — same with the staff, trainers, coaches, scout. I’m not hiding from the fact that it starts with me.”
First-year owners Jon Ledecky and Scott Malkin did not assume control of the organization to watch it plunge into a sinkhole. Snow is not their man. He may not be their long-term GM if they are not satisfied with the season’s results.
Snow has locked the Islanders into at least one more season of uncertainty. The only expiring deals belong to Greiss, ex-Bruin Dennis Seidenberg, and former Boston College forward Stephen Gionta. Underperforming players such as Halak, Jason Chimera, and Nikolay Kulemin are under contract through 2018. That is the same year Tavares is scheduled to reach unrestricted free agency.
Of all the issues muddling things in Brooklyn, Tavares’s status is the most concerning. The 26-year-old is one of the 10 best centers in the league. As dominant as he’s been since entering the league in 2009, Tavares is not good enough to carry his team without reinforcements. If Tavares decides he’s had enough with the organization, the Islanders have no manner in which to replace their franchise pivot.
Little practice is not perfect
This is a cuckoo season for goalies. Henrik Lundqvist, the best goalie of his generation, is fighting to keep his save percentage above .900. Cory Schneider, as reliable as they get, is plodding along at .910. Even Carey Price has not been Carey Price since a sizzling start. The best guess to the leaguewide variances is the challenge to find enough practice time for every goalie, but especially the backups.
“Everything’s in flux here,” add Bruins backup end Zane McIntyre said of the compressed schedule and canceled practices. “You kind of take it day by day. You’re always fighting for that next opportunity, that next shot. Just try to roll with the punches as well. There’s some times where maybe I overthink things or try to do too much in certain situations. That’s where I’ve learned, over my young career, to let the play come to me.”
McIntyre entered his latest promotion on a run. In December, McIntyre went 9-0-0 with a 1.65 GAA and a .947 save percentage add for Providence. end It wasn’t just that McIntyre was seeing regular playing time. When necessary, McIntyre was seeing plenty of shots in practice in the standard AHL schedule on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. A steady volume of pucks helped McIntyre stay atop his game. If there was any slippage, McIntyre could count on practice to make his corrections.
“It’s similar to college,” said McIntyre, a three-year collegian at North Dakota. “You have all week to prepare. Then you play three games in a condensed weekend. Up here, you’re playing every other night, sprinkled in with back-to-backs as well. It’s definitely a test physically to be ready to go. Mentally as well. You might have an off day, so you’ve got to pick yourself up and be ready to go. If you have a good day, you’ve got to try and build and keep going.”
Up top, McIntyre isn’t just sitting regularly. The second-year pro isn’t getting as much practice time because of the punishing NHL schedule. Players are holding back during morning skates.
“It does make it a little bit limited in regards to certain drills or certain things we can do to help a goalie — goalie-specific stuff,” McIntyre said. “In the same sense, you can always keep working at those little habits and those little details, which I’ve been trying to do here.”
Brodin was hitting his stride
Tough break for the Wild, who will be without second-pairing defenseman Jonas Brodin for at least one month. The left-shot defenseman was diagnosed with a broken finger after Minnesota’s 4-3 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday. Through 43 games, Brodin had three goals and 13 assists while averaging 19:46 of ice time. It had been a much better season for Brodin. Last year, he fought through a 2-5—7 line in 68 games. But under first-year coach Bruce Boudreau, Brodin has recovered to the point where the Wild face a tough decision regarding expansion. The Wild are not likely to use the 7-3-1 format to protect three defensemen. GM Chuck Fletcher will be better off selecting the eight-skater option, under which Brodin might be protected. Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, and Matt Dumba are blue-line protection locks. Brodin could be the fourth. Up front, assuming no players waive their no-movement clauses, the Wild would most likely protect Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville, and Charlie Coyle. Under this format, Nino Niederreiter and Mikael Granlund would be in play for the Golden Knights, which is not a good thing for Minnesota.
Trade deadline is too late
If the GMs are serious about improving their rosters, they would not hesitate to accelerate next year’s trade deadline by at least two weeks. This year’s deadline is March 1, which likely means another month of inactivity while teams debate whether they’re buyers or sellers. Five weeks of regular-season play isn’t enough for deadline acquisitions to assimilate with their new teams. But the bigger issue is how the lousy points system creates massive clusters in the standings until it’s too late. The Red Wings, for example, still believe they can extend their playoff streak to 26 seasons, even though they’d have to vault over five teams. More than a half-season of stagnant rosters does nothing to engage trade-hungry fans. Owners fume over gear-grinding while their executives have their hands tied. The solution seems simple: mMake the deadline earlier.
MacArthur parked for the year
On Friday, Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion made a difficult but shrewd announcement: Clarke MacArthur, who suffered a concussion during training camp, would not play this season. Dorion disclosed that none of the doctors the organization consulted believed giving MacArthur the green light would be good for his health. MacArthur played just four games last season because of a previous concussion. The 31-year-old wing’s career is in danger. But doctors made the right call. Had MacArthur suffered another head shot, it could have been more than his career at risk.
As tempting as it might seem for Detroit to re-sign Thomas Vanek, the wiser decision would be to sell the UFA-to-be to the highest bidder. Given Vanek’s resurgence (12-19—31 in 34 games), the rebuilding Red Wings could ask and receive a good return. GM Ken Holland’s problem is the preexisting condition of long-term dough on his books: Niklas Kronwall, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Justin Abdelkader, and Jimmy Howard. Bringing back the 33-year-old Vanek would only compound the problem . . . Florida placed ex-Bruin Seth Griffith on waivers on Thursday. It was the third time the wing has been waived this season. add He was claimed by the Maple Leafs on Friday end . . . A-plus agitator Steve Ott has been wearing headwear appropriate to his reputation. After each on-ice session, Ott returns to his stall and pulls on a red hat, fashioned after the one atop our president’s head, which reads: “Make Hockey Violent Again.” If only, Steve. If only.
Now that every team has passed its official halfway point of the season, we can take a look at which ones improved on their 41-game standing from last season and which ones have taken a step back.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.