In the past four seasons, the Bruins have won more regular season games than any NHL team but the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have been to a pair of Stanley Cup finals. They have won the Presidents’ Trophy. They claimed their first league championship since 1972.
And yet, like many of you, I look at the Bruins this year and have a disturbing feeling.
Bounced by the dastardly Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs last spring, the Bruins began their 2014-15 preseason last night with a meaningless loss against les rats at the Bell Centre. The Bruins still have two weeks to go before they open the season for real against the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 8 at the TD Garden, and even then they may not play a truly meaningful game until the 2015 Red Sox show up for work at Fenway Park.
This is the problem with being, well, good. The standards change. The expectations peak. The Bruins of today generally have a core of experienced players in the primes of their careers, and they know how to win. (At least we think they do.) We don’t talk about trivial things like making the playoffs anymore. It’s Cup or bust.
Bruins officials undoubtedly know this, which is why their measured approach to the offseason now sits in the stomach like bad escargot. Bruins fans look at last spring’s loss to the Canadiens and see poor decision-making, an absence of discipline and a lack of scoring touch. Bruins officials seemingly see nothing more than bad luck. In the months since, the Canadiens have bolstered their roster while the Bruins have trimmed, opting to replace departed first-line winger Jarome Iginla with a third-liner (Loui Eriksson) who scored 10 goals last season.
Meanwhile, Reilly Smith and Torey Krug are holdouts. Milan Lucic is recovering from wrist surgery. Zdeno Chara seems to be aging more rapidly and Peter Chiarelli couldn’t wedge the blade of stick between the Bruins and the NHL salary cap.
What are the Bruins planning? Impossible to say. But at the moment, it certainly feels as if the Bruins are standing on 17 and hoping the house busts.
Last season, while rumbling to 54 wins and the best record in the league, the Bruins took a measured approach at the trading deadline. They paid the consequences. Teams like the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers brought in people like Marian Gaborik (a league-leading 14 postseason goals) and Martin St. Louis, then met in the Stanley Cup finals. The Bruins opted for Andrej Mezsaros, who appeared in four postseason games, then failed to get out of their division.
The obvious lesson: you get what you pay for. And you deserve what you get.
In and of itself, the loss of Iginla is not a backbreaker. But the failure to replace him (or make any substantive changes to the roster at all) sends a bad message, to fans and players both. In the case of the latter, the Bruins certainly seem to be suggesting that an underachievement is acceptable, even rewarded. (David Krejci has a shiny new seven-year contract.) In the case of the former, ticket prices keep going up.
Are the Bruins locked into their current roster for the season? Of course not. Changes always can be made. In the wake of last season’s failures at the trading deadline, maybe the Bruins have decided they will act later rather than sooner. Maybe they are willing to sacrifice some success in the early part of the season for more success in the later part of the year. Shoukld that be the case, almost nobody would complain.
But at the moment, it certainly feels as if the Bruins are biding their time.
Could this be the dreaded bridge year?
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