By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
Entering the season, the Bruins were looked upon as a team that had rebuilt on the fly and seemed to rich enough in young talent to make only minor moves this summer to head coach Bruce Cassidy’s squad that posted a surprising 112 points, finishing second to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 113 that won the Atlantic Division and gave them home ice in the playoffs for the Eastern Conference.
Many pointed to the breakout seasons in 2017-18 by Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen up front, and the fact that Charlie McAvoy looked like a polished veteran on defense, while Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk looked like he certainly had the game to man the blueline at TD Garden.
With the departure of bottom six staples Riley Nash and Tim Schaller (both had career seasons last year and over a combined 158 games they combined to total 63 points, an average of .398/game) it was hoped that Anders Bjork and Jakob Forbacka Karlsson – or either one, for that matter – would step up and show that they were worthy of regular minutes at the NHL level.
While both Nash and Schaller have returned to their journeyman selves this current campaign (through 36 games combined they have totaled five points – all assists – for a pitiful production rate of .138 points per game, in Columbus and Vancouver, respectively ), neither Bjork or Forbacka Karlsson have done enough to keep general manager Don Sweeney from scouring the league for potential trade targets to upgrade his secondary scoring prior to US Thanksgiving.
Might be the play where Chara went down with an injury. Not a good look on that knee. pic.twitter.com/EuYblCreVX
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) November 15, 2018
And while the entire hockey world knows that Cassidy’s team, as currently constructed, is only as going as far as the best forward line – Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak – will take them, the fact that the foundation of this club still rests upon the aging backs of Bergeron, Marchand, and the now-injured Zdeno Chara, is something many Bruins fans have seemingly overlooked.
Given the lack of top six scoring depth – which is nothing new, it is why the Lightning basically had their way with the Black and Gold after sleepwalking through game one of their round two matchup in the playoffs last spring.
Already missing McAvoy due to what has turned out to be a serious concussion that has put him on the sideline for the better part of the last four weeks – and should be a major concern for Bruins fans going forward, based on his physical style of play – when Chara didn’t return from the visitors’ locker room to start the third period in Colorado against the Avalanche on Wednesday night, hockey fans of New England got to see just how fragile the 2018-19 roster Sweeney assembled actually is.
The fact of the matter is, this current Bruins club could potentially see the giant leap they took forward last year turn into a step back if they lose the likes of Chara – or even worse yet, Bergeron – for any length of time this season.
While some would argue that a healthy McAvoy could fill at least a good portion of the colossal hole created by the absence of the 41-year-old captain on the blueline, the question remains – will McAvoy be fully recovered anytime soon? And will he be plagued by chronic concussions his entire career?
Bruins fans entered this fall excited about what the future would bring for their favorite team, and they should be. By all estimations, the team that calls the TD Garden home should be amid those vying for the opportunity to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals for many springs to come.
Nevertheless, let’s not forget that the foundation the future is being built upon rests firmly on the backs of a few veterans – Chara, Bergeron, and Marchand – who have their names engraved on Lord Stanley’s trophy once already.
Should they begin to crumble, it could mean a major setback for a team many thought was on the verge of becoming a potential power for the foreseeable future.