By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Correspondent
There may be many reasons why the Bruins players have been such underachievers so far this season, but two things are inescapable. They don’t trust their general manager, and they have tuned out their coach.
Entering this season – whether it was warranted or not – the B’s were viewed as the team to beat in the East, even if they had yet to replace their top goal scorer from a year ago, Jarome Iginla. Despite the fact that they saw his 30 goals and the physical presence that the veteran Iginla brought to their lineup literally depart for greener pastures to the Colorado Avalanche, they still had a relatively young core in tact, and there was thought to be no tighter defensive system in the NHL, than the one put in place by head coach Claude Julien.
Much like most of those who call Boston home have become tone deaf to the meteorologists who bring bad news on a seemingly nightly basis, the once remarkably reliable core of David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and most importantly Patrice Bergeron, have at times become liabilities in this sinking season.
Perhaps the most sobering fact that jumps off the page for the Bruins to date may be that Bergeron – the reigning Selke Trophy winner for the league’s best defensive forward – sits at a zero plus/minus rating after 54 games so far during this season of disappointment. His horrendous decline comes after posting a career high plus 38 in 80 games played last year, which surpassed marks of plus 24 during the strike shortened ‘12/’13 campaign (42 games), a plus 36 (81 games) in ’11/’12, and plus 20 in the Cup winning ‘10/’11 run.
And while it was evident that Bergeron was trying to make up for the loss of Krejci early by providing more offense than naturally comes to him in his two way style of play, his virtual disappearance at times during this season when the roster has been healthy is more than enough evidence that something is not right in the room for these Bruins.
Let’s face it, Peter Chiarelli came close to castrating his team when he chose to deal their third best D-man at the time – and perhaps, in retrospect given the way things stand with play of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg so far this season, what would be their best blueliner had he not been moved – Johnny Boychuk, thereby making them weaker at the strongest portion of their game, defense. Boychuk’s move, coupled with the unwillingness to sign Shawn Thornton to an extension after last season, made the Bruins much less of a physical force to be reckoned with on the ice. It also removed a large part of the heart and soul that made the B’s one of the tightest teams in the league, and one no one wanted to play against, whether it be the playoffs or regular season.
No one knows who the “glue guys” are on a team more than the guys that are in the locker room. And while they may not have been vocal about the Thornton snub over the summer, the silence surrounding the Boychuk trade was deafening. It was evident from the outset of the season that the players in the dressing room felt dressed down and deflated by their general manager dealing away such a key cog to their team for what has amounted to next to nothing, just days before the season was set to get started.
Talk about sucking the air out of the room. By his inexplicable decision to decimate his defense without anything of substance coming back in return, Chiarelli also left his head coach dangling by a string, a string that has tightened around his neck as the season progressed, and seems to have silenced his message of team first, individuals second, to his room full of sulking players.
Since Julien arrived in Boston in June of 2007, he has more often than not been able to make more out of less than any coach in the NHL. His detractors would say his reliance on defense first forwards, and the success he has had in doing so, have caused the Bruins to pull the plug on what they lack most, perennial goal scorers like Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin. However through it all – including a Stanley Cup victory in ’11 and another run to the Finals in ’13 – Julien’s system has proven to be productive, mostly because his core players have bought in.
Well, guess what? It seems the players so vital to the team’s persona over the last 6 or so years are either not here anymore (Boychuk, Thornton, and Andrew Ference), are not able to perform at their previous levels (Chara and Seidenberg), or have simply tuned out the coach (Bergeron). That’s not a good sign for what was once thought to be a contending team that now seems to have more holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall.
Face it B’s fans, there is no quick fix for your once beloved Big, Bad Bruins. Too much has been invested in the middle of the roster, and not enough has been dedicated to those – no matter what off ice issues may have been a pain in the ass to deal with – who could be dominant players in the offensive end (Hello, “Red Solo Cup” Seguin). Your general manager is now left to make mole hills out of mountains, while being squeezed so tight by the salary cap, it makes the tightest yoga pants look baggy.
And your head coach – the one that once defiantly tried to win hockey games 0-0 and actually has a Stanley Cup ring to prove that his system was, well, kinda right – now sits in his office late at night wondering how to get his team back. That very same team that once was the embodiment of his shutdown system, but has now shut their head coach out instead.
While the historic snow continues to fall on Causeway St. this February, the once wide open window to Stanley Cup contention that the Bruins were thought to be looking at as recently as last September, is falling faster than the 4 plus feet of white wickedness that now blankets Boston today.
Don’t fool yourselves Bruins fans, much like it will take months for the frozen mess that is outside your doorway to disappear, it will take much longer for the Bruins to get back to the status of a Stanley Cup contender. If that is the case, the general manager the players don’t trust and the coach they have tuned out, should/will be gone faster than that 8 foot snowbank at the end of your driveway.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan.