By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
It is blood letting time for the Bruins, or at least, it should be. The foolish notion that they could rebuild on the fly was an abject failure, the team suffering its second choke job in a row down the stretch, once again unable to secure a playoff spot that was theirs to lose with a dozen games remaining on the schedule.
The first to be handed his walking papers will likely be head coach Claude Julien. Despite his success in his first six years with the club, the last three have ended in bitter disappointment. Since being incapable of putting away the Montreal Canadiens when they had two opportunities to do so in the second round of the playoffs in 2014, Julien’s teams have turtled in big games ever since then, the lack of leadership shown by his players is a reflection on the fact that his message has grown stale.
However, he should hardly be the last to be shown the door. According to generalfanager.com, the Bruins have nine players under contract for next season, at least four of which should be targeted for trades or bought out all together. Starting with team captain Zdeno Chara, whose leadership skills have either diminished greatly, or were overblown entirely, the aging veteran needs to be shopped this summer.
Everyone across the league knows that Chara is no longer the shutdown defenseman capable of playing close to 30 minutes a night at a high level. Even so, as a second pairing guy on a team that can contend, he might just be an ideal fit if the price is right, which would mean the Bruins would have to eat some of the money he is owed over the next two seasons. And while he does hold a full no-trade clause, it is hard to imagine a guy with the pride that Chara has; he would force the Bruins to hold on to him if he knew he wasn’t wanted.
Another high-priced player who should be made available to the highest bidder is goaltender Tuukka Rask. If the swoon of last season can be chalked up to being burdened with too many minutes down the stretch, this season’s slide can be attributed to the fact that Rask just isn’t a top five goalie in the league without an elite defense in front of him.
His inability to carry his team for long stretches during the season, and his tendency to blame his teammates for his poor performances simply won’t fit on a team that is likely to get worse before it gets better. If the team president Cam Neely or general manager Don Sweeney could get an up-and-coming team like the Philadelphia Flyers to do a Steve Mason and a prospect for Rask and his contract this summer, it would give the B’s a serviceable stop gap goalie for at least a year while they see if Zane McIntyre grows into the franchise ‘tender that some think he can be.
Not to mention the salary cap relief it would give the team that will likely have to overspend for top end talent on the blue line, either through free agency or trade.
The B’s brass should then continue the clean sweep by buying out the contracts of defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and forward Jimmy Hayes. Seidenberg’s body simply won’t allow him to play at the level he once could, and the Hayes trade and signing rank right up their with dealing a third-round pick to Philly for an utterly useless Zac Rinaldo as the worst moves made by the Bruins dynamic duo in their short, not so productive, tenure.
Of the ten restricted or unrestricted free agents to be on the B’s current roster, only four would I even have a passing interest in if I were sitting in Neely/Sweeney’s seat. Ironically, the two trade deadline acquisitions – forward Lee Stempniak and defenseman John-Michael Liles, both of whom I never would have dealt for in the first place – would be worth one year, league minimum offers; although Liles might cost a bit more.
Both would give some veteran presence in what is likely to be a very young locker room, and both would require minimum commitments contractually.
It is the same reason I would look to see if Chris Kelly would be willing to take a similar deal to help bring back some leadership to a club that was sorely lacking in that department recently. Many forget that Kelly was hurt down the stretch last year when the team tanked, and after this most-recent regurgitation on themselves this season, there were whispers that his absence was one of the contributing factors to the team’s lack of focus.
Lastly, I would resign Colin Miller, who was jerked around by Julien all season. Never able to get comfortable because he knew every shift could be his last if he made a mistake, the kid deserves the chance to show he can play at the NHL level under a coach who isn’t going to lock him away if he commits a turnover in his own end.
As far as RFA Torey Krug is concerned, he is likely to be looking for a deal around $5 million a year for multiple years, and that is too rich for my blood for a guy that is really a third line pairing, power play specialist. His value might be as part of a package for a true front line D-man.
There is a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done in the offices of TD Garden this summer. Whether or not the right people are doing it is a topic for another day. However, there is little doubt that the Bruins need a massive overhaul, and they would do well to open some windows at the not so old barn to get the stench of the last two seasons out of the place they call home while they are at it.