By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Sometimes smoke and mirrors are just that. A cleverly developed rouse that fools most for a while, but eventually when the trick is exposed, the truth is revealed. And the truth is the Bruins are playing in the new NHL that features Ferraris and Lamborghinis, while the best B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy has at his disposal currently is a couple of Cadillacs – wingers Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak – and an assortment of SUV’s, pickups, and some entry-level Corollas to combat opponents on a regular basis right now.
While Cassidy’s collection of misfit toys found the heart and grit to go 4-1-2 in their first seven games without captain Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron – whose absence leaves no question that he is the engine that drives this team at both ends of the ice, especially on the power play – spit and spunk only get you so far in a league that relies more on top end talent than ever before.
Back to back losses to the Red Wings in Detroit and the Panthers in Florida say less about the team’s ability to play on the road, than it does to the lack of depth that general manager Don Sweeney was supposedly collecting since he took over the Black and Gold’s draft in 2015.
And much the way the Patriots are going to be screwed when Tom Brady hangs up his GOAT horns in the next couple of years down in Foxboro, the glimpse of the rudderless ship Sweeney’s club is without future Hall of Famer Bergeron is enough to ulcers to the most strong-stomached member of the Bruins brass, when saint Patrice decides his well-decorated hockey career is over.
Speaking prior to his team’s practice at Amelie Arena in Tampa Bay on Wednesday, team president Cam Neely was critical of his squads play over the past two games, which he thought exposed the few top end players – Marchand, Pastrnak, and David Krejci – they have currently healthy.
“I get that you’re offensive players and you’re relied on to help the team offensively and score some goals,” said the B’s big boss. “But you start drifting away and start playing more individually and you’re trying to beat guys when maybe the smarter play is just chipping it in and going to get it.
“I think you’ve got to recognize what the situation is at that particular time and not force things. And I see some of those guys forcing too many plays and forcing too many individual (plays), trying to beat guys 1-on-3 at the blue line just doesn’t work in this league.”
While technical tweaks might help a fully staffed team out of a funk, there is no doubt that the Bruins lack of scoring depth – not just at the NHL level, but including their highly-touted prospects in Providence – is beginning to drag what was viewed as an up and coming Bruins team just a couple of months ago, back towards mediocrity.
And it’s not as if the outrageous imbalance of offense from even a completely healthy roster was in question since the Lightning toyed with the one-lined B’s in the second round of the playoffs last spring. Sweeney’s attempts to woo the overaged – and now injured – Ilya Kovalchuk, and the never-was-going-to-happen John Tavares in free agency this summer was a testimony to that.
Now given the fact that many of the group that were looked upon as the next wave of good, young Bruins have either proven that they are not ready for the primetime – see Anders Bjork, Ryan Donato, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to name three – or apparent overreaches – see Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril as the poster children for that – have made the trade capital that Sweeney seemingly had as recently as last summer, has been exposed to a damaging extent.
That exposure, combined with injuries to both Bergeron and Chara, is not lost on Neely when it comes to other teams’ approaches when it comes to making trades to improve his club.
“It makes it a little more challenging because teams know that you’re a little more vulnerable,” said the former surly power forward. “On the one hand, you really want to make a hockey trade and not necessarily just a band-aid, but if there’s an opportunity where it could be a “band-aid,” you don’t want to give up an asset that may not be ready yet but they are going to be ready and will help you for a lot longer than a band-aid. There’s that delicate balance to make sure you’re doing the right thing for the club, both short-term and long-term.”
There is little doubt that it is difficult to make so-called “hockey trades” in today’s salary cap driven NHL. Still, there is even less doubt that the Bruins are starting to look like the pre-2004 Red Sox. A team that overvalued their prospects while overpaying for past performances.
And we of a certain age – millennials don’t count – remember how well that worked out for them, right?