(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com )
In 1992, NBC was moving along on the Saturday morning teen comedy beat with the success of Saved by the Bell. Today, the biggest rivalry in teen girl dreamland is a battle between some vampires, but back then it was between Zack Morris and A.C. Slater. Luckily for my fellow males, we had no choice. Kelly Kapowski was the first, last, and only choice. Lisa Turtle was too much a high-maintenance diva and Jesse Spano was a tree hugger with a drug problem.
The big wigs at NBC saw the popularity of the kids at Bayside High and came up with a spin-off of sorts in California Dreams. This group of high schoolers was able to keep up in the mad world of high school bar bands while solving all of the world's issues in 30 neat minutes.
The problem for NBC was that while California Dreams was a nice enough show, it didn't have the star power or pop culture enormity of Zack, Screech and Mr. Belding. Sure, the setting was mostly the same and the storylines were pretty similar... But something was different and the results were not the same.
Fast forward 18 years to another group of executives with spin-off issues - the Boston Bruins.
Last season, the B's were a popular group, running on all cylinders and winning games. People could identify with the team and there seemed to be a true marriage of the product on the ice and support from the Boston fan base.
Turning to this year's spin-off and the issues are abound. Sure, some of the faces seem the same, but the performances being turned in are vastly inferior. Some cast members demanded a pay raise and were killed off. Others received higher compensation and have not earned it. Still more have had issues requiring them to be written-out of storylines for extended periods of time.
All of those preseason prognostications of a smash hit have gone by the wayside (not Bayside) and the director (Claude Julien) and producer (Peter Chiarelli) have been scrambling just to fill the cast list on some nights.
The problem is that in the NHL - just like show business - the show must go on.
With the simultaneous injuries to the top-two centers on the Bruins in Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron and the general lack of scoring regardless of whether or not those two were in the lineup, there are serious questions about the sustainability of this team. Will it survive the season? Is cancellation imminent? Or are the B's one "very special episode" away from increased ratings and a drive to an Emmy?
The answers to those questions and a look at the "California Dreams" facing the Bruins this week in today's edition of 'Five Minute Major" ...
1. Last week was "one step forward, two steps back" for the Bs. After a serious tongue lashing from Julien in New York, the Bruins pasted Ottawa in Canada, 4-1. The team clicked on all levels and looked like the attacking team people expected after last season.
Then, for about seven minutes on Thursday it appeared as if the Bruins were prepared to take down the best team in the league, Chicago. However, the better team won the game as the Blackhawks steamrolled the Bruins with five-straight goals. On Saturday, the Bruins didn't really show up for a big game with the Rangers, falling by a 3-1 score for the second loss to New York in a week.
The problem, as always this season, with the Bs is a lack of complete effort. Some games, they show up for a few minutes and think that is enough to win. Others appear to be mailed in completely. If it was a general lack of talent, the results could be acceptable. That isn't the case, however.
For whatever reason, this team appears incapable of readying itself on a nightly basis for the rigors of the NHL schedule. Some players - Blake Wheeler, Steve Begin, Matt Hunwick, Johnny Boychuk - appear to be ready to play every night lately. That is too low of a percentage and needs to be trending more towards 100 percent than 20 percent.
2. People who cover the NHL often get laughed at for making note of the playoff standings early in the season. Why does it matter how far ahead you are in the standings in December when the season lasts until April?
The reason the standings as it pertains to the conference are important all year is simply because too many teams are in the playoff chase. Sure, it doesn't matter if the Blue Jays or Orioles have a three-game lead in May because there are 100 games left and there are only winners and losers. In the NHL, a team can gain ground on you in the standings even if you both lose.
If the Bruins lose in regulation and the Canadiens lose in overtime or in a shootout, the Habs get a point while the Bruins get none. That is what makes the 3-2 loss in New York last Monday so devastating. Sure, the Bs didn't deserve to win, but they almost stole a point. If that happened, they would have a two-point lead on the Rangers in the standings instead of one.
More importantly, the Bruins' recent struggles have closed the gap between them and the teams behind them in the standings. The position the Bs currently hold remains the fifth seed. However, three teams are within three points and another two are within five. The worrisome aspect is that four of those five teams are playing much better hockey than the Bruins right now and that those four teams have all whupped the Bruins at varying points this season.
3. So, are the Bruins in actual danger of not making the playoffs? In a short answer, Yes.
The Bruins appear to have lucked out a bit with the injuries to Bergeron and Savard as each will be out on the shorter end of possible time periods. Still, the B's will go the next two weeks without their two best players.
David Krejci is a nice player but is struggling this year. Now, he is the first line center. Steve Begin is back playing an offensive position. Vladimir Sobotka is no longer a checking-line winger or center and will be counted on for scoring. Trent Whitfield is up from being a veteran presence for the minor leaguers and playing regular shifts. None of those players scare opposing coaches or players. Not one of those centers, except Krejci can be counted on for any serious offensive ability.
Simply put, this team as currently constituted is not going to come back from too many deficits. They will not win many 4-3 games. Tim Thomas needs to get his head on straight or allow Tuukka Rask to get a shot. Rask has been the more consistent goalie all season for the Black and Gold.
Solid goaltending is needed more than ever at the moment and Julien may need to sacrifice Tank's ego for a while to stay afloat. If not, by the time the Olympic Break comes along and Bergeron and Savard are in the lineup, the Bruins could be on the outside looking in on the playoff chase.
4. One thing that TV people have to fall back on when ratings are lagging is a "very special episode" with some guest stars to shake things up. The question Chiarelli and his staff have to figure out is whether or not the ratings bump from signing a new star to the cast is worth the cost at this point.
Everyone knows that the Bruins have a plethora of high draft picks at their disposal. Will Chiarelli deal those in order to bring a high priced rental to Boston? The guess here is doubtful.
The problem for Chiarelli is that he actually has no idea how his team would have been playing if completely healthy. If you look back at this season, there have been maybe two-or-three games where the Bruins had the 20 players they expected to count on this year in the lineup. If Savard and Lucic didn't get hurt early and often, would the Bs be in fifth place and falling like a rock? Probably not.
Hypothetically speaking, if the Bruins were in second or third in the conference and on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders, the probability of a big deal to solidify the Cup chase would be high. The cost of trading a first round pick relative to winning the cup is low.
However, is it worth trading two draft picks and two players (the expected asking price) for Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk with no guarantee that he will sign an extension with the team? The bet here is that rather than make a rash move right now and trade the farm for a short-term fix, Chiarelli will wait and see.
If the B's hold ground and stay in the playoff race without Bergeron and Savard, he will make a trade or two to give the team depth and options, much like he did last year. The pipedreams of adding a superstar in order to go for broke is less likely, unless the Bs show they are the proverbial "one player away" when everyone is healthy.
The Maple Leafs are off their hot streak and are the third-worst team in the NHL. I would guess Chiarelli would rather have a top-three draft pick in the draft than dealing away that pick for a guy who won't stay long-term with the team or lead them to a Stanley Cup.
5. In the more immediate future is Boston's own "California Dreams" on a three-game road trip this week. The Bs have back-to-back games at Anaheim and San Jose on Wednesday and Thursday before a game Saturday in Los Angeles.
Normally, a three-game roadie on California during January is a nice respite for a team. However, don't expect any trips to Disneyland. These will be tough games for the Bruins - as will all of them from here on out. Anaheim ran them over at home earlier this season, while San Jose is one of the top-five teams in the NHL. L.A. has been a surprise this season and is playing good puck. The prediction here is that the Bruins will be lucky to escape with two points.
Of the three games, tomorrow's tilt with the Ducks is the best chance for a win. Having to come back the next night at San Jose will be tough and a Saturday afternoon game against the Kings will be a difficult win. All three of these teams play a more wide-open style of hockey than the Bruins, and if they get their high-octane offenses rolling, this trip will be more of a nightmare for the Black and Gold than a dream.