By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Senior Staff Writer
It’s amazing what a little time away from the office will do for one’s performance, eh?
Approaching the NHL’s bye week head coach Bruce Cassidy’s Bruins looked equal parts mentally and physically spent. The team’s hot start to the season after a summer of second-guessing their performance on home ice in Game 7 of the Final and the nightmarish memory of watching the St. Louis Blues skate around TD Garden with the Stanley Cup high above their heads last June, began to sputter as the holiday season approached.
As the New Year’s celebrations came and went – just like the intensity and execution of his club weeks before – the B’s bench boss decided – almost certainly upon the advice of general manager Don Sweeney – that it was time to turn up the heat on some of the players that had become passengers over the not so impressive stretch of play over the last month.
The dismissal of the duo of dismal failures in mid-January – David Backes and Brett Ritchie – coincided with the return of Karson Kuhlman from a broken leg just eight games into the season. Since then Sweeney and Cassidy have given a sniff to the likes of bottom-six forward – at best – Anton Blidh and blueliner Jeremy Lauzon, neither of whom will help with secondary scoring but could provide a bit of a physical presence to the Bruins lineup that clearly was lacking before the break.
While bringing up the limited brawn that the B’s currently have in their system is fine and good, it still doesn’t answer the question why top prospect Jack Studnicka hasn’t been given an extended look as the third line center that would free up Charlie Coyle to join David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk to form what could be a very formative second line as the NHL’s second season rapidly approaches.
“If he keeps going, if he keeps pushing and is the best guy, and that’s what we decide to do because we’re not happy with our roster, or there’s an injury, then he could absolutely be a guy that comes up as a third-line center,” said the Bruins bench boss back in December when his team obviously looking for answers offensively.
“That’s not a bad place to start, so we’re not excluding him from doing that,” said the man his players call Butch. “We just see him more down the road as a top six. But, could he start as a third-line center, playing with a (Anders) Bjork and (Danton) Heinen – some skilled guys but responsible guys? It could happen. I don’t know if that’s in our future right now.”
If Studnicka shows that he can handle the role of a third pivot that plays responsible in his own end and adds occasional offense, that would instantly deepen Don Sweeney’s roster without having to add a rental like Chris Kreider or Tyler Toffoli – both of whom will demand more than they are worth at the deadline – and free him up to add what his team even more desperately needs – physical protection for his top-end talent.
To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Kevan Miller isn’t walking through that door folks. And if he does, he will be doing so with a twice-broken kneecap and a shoulder that pops out of its socket more than a well-worn Jack in the Box.
Without the addition of a deterrent like the Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillion at or before the deadline later this month, teams will simply revert to beating the crap out of the Bruins best players just like the Blues did in the Final some eight months ago.
Not giving the best prospect in your system – who has exceeded expectations in his first season a pro – is simply being silly – or worse yet – stubborn.