By Jay Kenney ’16
Growing up in the Boston area we’ve heard about the ‘Big, Bad, Bruins’ our entire lives. The black and gold have been known for their toughness as a team throughout their history. Whether it was Lyndon Byers, P.J. Stock, Cam Neely, Chris Nilan, Shawn Thornton, Stan Jonathan, or the great Terry O’Reilly the team always connected with the tough, blue collar soul of the Bruins fan base.
However winds of change have swept across the league in the past decade or two. The level of skating talent across the NHL is better than ever; and the enforcer roles that used to be commonplace across the league have almost disappeared. The concussion and player safety worries have changed the league for good. In 2011, the Bruins assembled one of the final rosters built to successfully bully their way to a Stanley Cup Final. They had a whole team of guys willing to drop the gloves at any time: Lucic, Chara, McQuaid, Ference, Boychuck, Thornton, just to name a few. The Bruins would continue their successful style of defensive, team centric hockey right up until 2014 when the roster as we knew it would unravel.
The 2014 failure was not the first sign of distress for the Bruins. In the successful 2013 campaign the same core of players that won Boston their first cup in decades brought them right on the precipice of another cup win. However they met the high flying and skilled Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks were a team built around the opposite style of the Bruins: fast, skating, transitional hockey that produced scoring and results. The Bruins were much more reliant on team play as a whole, getting the puck deep, and playing well as a team. While the black and gold were a bigger, tougher team it showed in a negative effect when Kane and Toews skated circles around them and made individual plays the Bruins simply could not. The B’s certainly played hard as they could in that series but ultimately lost a game 6 elimination game in their home rink, in front of their own fans who were forced to watched Toews lift the cup in the Boston Garden. The Bruins front office had the chance to see firsthand the style of play that the league was heading toward, and the failure of their outdated philosophy.
So what did the slow, out-of-date and out-of-touch Bruins do in the offseason? General Manager Peter Chiarelli looked at his roster and the NHL and had important decisions looming. They were in salary cap jail due to his mismanagement of the roster over the previous seasons and it was obvious there were tough decisions to be made. The Bruins were not impressed with the way young Tyler Seguin was handling the evolution of his maturity over the first few years of his NHL career. He was traded to Dallas for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, and Joe Morrow. In Seguin’s first two years in Dallas he scored 161 points. Through 13 games in this season he has already scored 8 goals and assisted 12 totaling 20 points. He is proving to be one of the best players in the entire league. The Bruins traded Seguin for a talented, yet mid level Loui Eriksson, an already traded Reilly Smith, and an average defenseman in Joe Morrow. Thank you Peter Chiarelli. Chiarelli also put the Bruins into a cap hole that forced a Johnny Boychuck trade to the Islanders. The same cap hole also forced Iginla to free agency where he went to Colorado, led the Avalanche in scoring the subsequent season. With Chiarelli’s offseason moves the Bruins lost all of their highly talented scoring products.
In 2014, the Bruins still had a fantastic core of players to work with. Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and Tuukka Rask would all return. The Bruins still had promising talent to work with in Reilly Smith, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Eriksson, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci. The veteran presense of their roster was leaned on heavily to move the Bruins forward into the future. Claude Julien was be resigned to a multiyear contract as the team’s head coach. Incredibly, the teams inability to produce scoring when it mattered would leave Boston of the playoffs for the first time in 7 years. With a fantastic goalie in Tuukka Rask, and a playoff worthy roster in front of him, they were sent to the golf course instead of the first round of the NHL playoffs.
Peter Chiarelli would be deservedly fired in April. New general manager and former Bruins defenseman Don Sweeney would take over the rebuild of the Boston Bruins. Sweeney is not completely innocent in the train-wreck that occurred since the 2011 cup victory. He was one of the members of a front office that derailed the franchise. Cam Neely chose Sweeney anyway and the roster moves would begin. The first moves started in July; Dorchester Jimmy Hayes would be signed to a 3-year contract along with former lightning product Brett Connolly. In June, the major changes started: the Bruins traded away one of their former top picks in Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for draft picks, and long time Bruin Milan Lucic was sent to LA for goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Colin Miller. The fanbase was immediately upset. The Bruins had yet to gain what they had been missing through each trade— scoring. One more player would be acquired from Anaheim; Matt Beleskey. In 2014/15 Beleskey was a part of a successful Ducks team in which he produced 32 points.
Coming into the 2015-2016 season, this is certainly not your father’s Boston Bruins. They are no longer filled with players that drop the gloves, and enforce their way to victory. Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic, Adam Ference, and Johnny Boychuck types are nowhere to be found. In the place of the enforcers and toughness has come a wave of young, skilled, yet unproven players like Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak, Brett Connolly, Colin Miller, and Alex Khokhlachev. While this roster certainly does not blow away anyone with superstar names- a refreshing breath of fresh air has surfaced the TD Garden. The ‘Big, Bad, Bruins’ are more like a land of misfit toys; a roster who contains a mix of former Stanley Cup winners and young talent. The black and gold have moved on from players who did not produce or fit in with the locker room. The Seguin trade has certainly proved to be premature and one that they will regret heading into the future, but Don Sweeney looks to avoid the same fate as Peter Chiarelli. The aging top defensive pairs featuring players like Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg certainly present a challenge: can they remain healthy? (Something they have not done in the previous seasons). Luckily the Bruins are presented with promising up-and-coming talent at the blue line in Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, and Joe Morrow that may take away burden from the aging top two linemen.
It’s simply too early to tell if the Don Sweeney changes will be successful. Throughout the current evolution of the Bruins Claude Julien is lucky to have veteran, proven players like Bergeron, Chara, Rask, and Krejci to lead the way. With a healthy regular season run and a production of chemistry with the younger players on the roster they may be able to reach the postseason. With last season’s moves it has become apparent that the Bruins are finally adjusting to the league’s evolution. Luckily the B’s have something that other team’s find difficult to acquire— goaltending. Unfortunately there is still not any high-end superstar goal scoring production to be found. Bruins fans saw that type of exact talent in Tyler Seguin when he came into town and scored a hat trick against his former team on November 3rd. The Bruins success in 2015/16 is built around the quick adaptation of its young players into the Bruins system, lights out goaltending by Tuukka Rask, and staying healthy. The season is still in its infancy but it’s clearly evident the Bruins are young, unproven, and unsure of where they are heading. Luckily for Bruins fans it initially appears that things are transitioning toward the current successful playing style of the league; not the outdated ‘Big, Bad, Bruins’ style that will only dig the franchise into a deeper hole than Chiarelli put them in during his tenure in the front office. Sweeney is still dealing with the Chiarelli moves that left them with their current enigmatic roster. While this is certainly not a deep playoff team, the Bruins need to continue to move on from the past and find players that can skate, and score. Patience must be exercised when dealing with the young talent as we have seen with the Seguin trade. As long as you approach 2015-2016 as a bridge year (as you should) there should not be disappointment on Causeway Street. Bruins fans need to keep pressing Neely and Sweeney to build for the future: a philosophy that features scoring, skating, production, and winning hockey.