The Top 5 New Year's Resolutions for the Boston Bruins
Boston Bruins winger Milan Lucic made a sufficiently simple statement when reflecting on the past calendar year. Per Caryn Switaj of the team’s website, in the wake of Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to Toronto, Lucic offered this to the assembled press corps:
It wasn’t a good 2014. I’m happy it’s over. Looking forward to 2015. So hopefully we can turn things around. Not much good has happened in 2014 for myself and for the team and just looking forward to 2015 and turning things around, and hopefully it will be better than this year.
Plenty of key on- and off-ice figures within the Spoked-B circles could have said the same. The freshest sample of the year’s developments especially accentuated the club’s rightful craving for a clean sheet.
Ill-advised roster moves, a sub-average stretch of fortune on the health front and a subpar effort to overcome that have downgraded Boston’s outlook. The Bruins will be 19-15-4, good for a back-and-forth wild-card derby, when they embark on their first game of 2015.
Including the upcoming Saturday matinee against Ottawa, there will be three more engagements before the regular season hits its halfway mark. That may not be enough time for on-the-fly reformation to take shape and salvage this particular season.
Nonetheless, if the Bruins act upon the following resolutions, among others, they may at least usher out 2015 the same way they have most of the years immediately preceding 2014. Whether they take one winter or one year to kick in, these are the steps the club must take to regain its bona fide contender’s persona.
5. Prospect Priorities
Although he is on the NHL roster as of Friday, Jordan Caron is essentially Zach Hamill all over again.
Hamill, the former 2007 first-round pick spent four-plus seasons shuttling between Providence and Boston before journeying to other organizations in 2012. According to Caron’s transactions record on his scouting report from The Hockey News, the former 2009 first-round draftee has now been reassigned and recalled 14 times since turning pro.
By keeping him under their auspices for as long as they have, Bruins have done Caron and themselves a disservice. Based on Hamill’s career path, it might be too late for a change of scenery to help Caron. But if it is not, sooner is better, and the same holds true for Boston and its pipeline.
Meanwhile, third-year pro Ryan Spooner has hit an unexpected roadblock in his development. Contrary to offseason and preseason logic, the Bruins brass decided the budding center needed more refinement in Rhode Island for 2014-15.
One month ago, the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver spoke with P-Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy after Spooner switched from wing back to center. In that interview, Cassidy pointed to Spooner’s goal-scoring finish as one area still screaming for improvement, then added, “His two-way game will always be a work in progress. He knows that and I know that. We’ll continue to harp on it.”
Spooner’s own THN profile underlines his positional flexibility, shortage of size and two-way potential. If Boston is to avoid wasting yet another promising offensive prospect, 2015 is the ideal year to remedy Spooner’s shortcomings and mold his versatility into an NHL-caliber center.
The sooner the Bruins turn things around with Spooner, the sooner they will instill confidence to their fans over other prospects.
4. Injury Preparedness
Yes, the circulation-cutting status of their belts on account of the salary caps means there are no easy fixes on the trade market. (Per CapGeek, the Bruins have only $966,750 in open salary space as of Friday.) And yes, there are times when an injury will strike in spite of collective diligence.
But between Zdeno Chara and David Krejci, in particular, the Bruins showed a shortcoming in the way they handled prolonged key absences this past autumn. In those situations, it is on the padded personnel to ensure that physical ailments to a teammate do not spawn psychological inhibitions across the bench.
Lucic was one egregious testament to this problem. Without Krejci, his fellow first-liner and fellow eighth-year NHL staple, Lucic was left as one of the few veterans in the higher echelons of the depth chart. Instead of helping greener strikers burgeon, as he should have, he let the transition tug down his production rate.
Lucic with Krejci in 2014-15: 17 games, three goals, seven assists. Lucic without Krejci in 2014-15: 20 games, three goals, five assists.
But as Lucic mentioned in his aforementioned Wednesday night statement, all he and his allies can do is keep their focus forward. Where the Bruins are in the wake of their rocky autumn, they need to make learning experiences out of their losses.
As they did in 2013-14 and 2009-10, in particular, they need those who were pressed into baptismal fires to start bringing heat of their own. Team-wide health or not, that is the only way the ongoing season will yield anything worth building upon.
3-2. Get and Protect the Lead
Consider this a two-in-one resolution.
Excluding overtime goals, the Bruins have taken 21 leads and allowed 15 subsequent equalizers since Nov. 10. They have gone 10-9-4 in that span, needing overtime or a shootout to finish four of those victories.
Before any of that, they blew nine leads over their first 11 games in October, settling for a 5-6-0 start. In between, while they reeled off five consecutive wins, they fell behind six times along the way, culminating in New Jersey’s icebreaker in the Nov. 10 seesaw affair.
Those alternating habits of accepting early deficits and letting trailing opponents hang around comprise more than the antithesis of a winning approach. It reflects the rancid regression of a core group that went 41-6-2 when scoring first and 41-2-2 when leading after two periods last season.
If the Bruins want to restore their identity in time to salvage any dignity for 2014-15, getting back to flexing their finish is recommended.
Even if their one-time approach of raising a laser-beamed defensive fortress does not work, new methods can restore old characteristics. More of what spawned the 3-1 first-period lead en route to this past Monday’s 5-2 win over Detroit is a proper objective.
1. No More Personnel Giveaways
Has the temptation to employ the silver-platter platitude ever held quite the same sway as it does when one wants to describe some of Peter Chiarelli’s recent moves?
On the eve of the regular season’s opening week, Chiarelli dealt a consistent core defenseman in Johnny Boychuk to Long Island. All he retrieved in return were second-round draft choices for 2015.
Granted, there was some merit to the Boston general manager’s subsequent reasoning that he needed to shed a hefty cap hit. But there were enough hypothetical options outside of Boychuk to avert a deal where the losses and gains sat so far apart.
But to close out the calendar year, Chiarelli went from dealing one decent established player for figuratively nothing to fumbling another one for literally nothing. For whatever reason, in the wake of last Saturday’s 6-2 drubbing via Columbus, he waived Matt Fraser while calling up Caron.
Within 24 hours of that Sunday transaction, both Patrice Bergeron and Lucic were ruled out for Monday’s tilt with Detroit. Meanwhile, right when Boston could have used a reliable spare winger, the Edmonton Oilers claimed Fraser off waivers while they still could.
Although he was never likely to go anywhere beyond the third line, Fraser had already demonstrated enough resources to make him a worthy keeper. His size and shot, in particular, garnered constant mentions in various write-ups reacting to his relocation.
Come what may, Fraser had not run his course the same way Caron had, yet between those two, only the latter is still at the Bruins’ service.
While not as ice-shaking as Boychuk’s export, the loss of Fraser reaffirms Chiarelli’s urgent need to kick a habit he developed no later than the final quarter of 2014.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com.