WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Boston Bruins seem to have reached the “now-what” stage of this disappointing season.
Something needs to happen immediately if the Bruins want to salvage their season and climb back into playoff contention. Despite the team’s recent performances, which continue to spiral downward, players haven’t lost hope that they can somehow turn things around. But it’s going to take a major undertaking.
The two words players were using to describe what is missing in the team’s play were passion and confidence. Despite the fact that the Bruins have earned points in nine of their last 11 games, posting a 4-2-5 record in that span, the lack of confidence has led to a drop in performance.
“When you’re frustrated it just drains the energy out of you, so right now we’re trying to turn that frustration into some passion, and that leads to some confidence,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena.
The Bruins have become a broken record with their comments. Too often we’ve heard “the effort is there” or “we’re going to turn this around.” The players are fed up with the excuses of too many injuries or too many lineup changes. Simply put, this team should be better.
When asked if president Cam Neely or general manager Peter Chiarelli has addressed the team, captain Zdeno Chara said those types of things would be kept internal.
“We’re not discouraged. We’re obviously disappointed that we are not where we think we should be,” Chara said.
Here are five things that need to happen if the Bruins are to change their fortunes:
Mine the trade market: Instead of trying to find an internal solution to the right wing position on the top line, Chiarelli needs to pull off a deal and acquire a talented and productive forward to play alongside David Krejci and Milan Lucic. I know this is not breaking news, but it should be done now before the Bruins fall deeper into despair. A new face, a new voice can have a positive effect on a team if it’s the right player. The other challenge here is the salary cap. The Bruins will have to give to get in this situation.
Earlier in the season, it was rumored the Bruins were interested in Edmonton Oilers right wing Jordan Eberle, but that’s not going to happen. The Buffalo Sabres’ Chris Stewart remains a possibility. He’s having a down year, but it’s probably a result of the team’s struggles. Shane Doan would be a perfect fit in Boston, but there are too many obstacles in acquiring the Arizona Coyotes veteran. Chiarelli loves that type of player, similar to Mark Recchi or Jarome Iginla. But it’s unlikely Arizona would move Doan, plus his $5.3 million cap hit doesn’t fit Boston’s budget unless Chiarelli moves some salary. There aren’t a lot of great options available given the Bruins’ situation.
When asked if he thought the current group has what it takes to turn things around, Julien said he believes in his players.
“Right now I feel we have some obvious good players, players that have been here for a long time that have made this team successful, and right now frustration is probably a real big part of where some of the issues are,” he said. “Our challenge right now is to focus on doing the right things and having a real determination to make things right.
“Confidence, as we all know, plays a big role in success. Right now frustration has taken over the place of the confidence. We’ve got to try to switch that thing around.”
Paging No. 17: Frustration with Lucic’s play is mounting. Management has been tight-lipped, but Julien has tried to make his point to the veteran forward that the team needs Lucic to do more -- a lot more. To his credit, Lucic has admitted he’s not playing to his potential. But his $6 million per season hasn’t been money well spent. Prior to this season, Chiarelli called Lucic a “pillar” of the organization and the GM said he wanted to sign Lucic to an extension, perhaps this coming offseason. I’ve never been of the mindset to trade Lucic. Despite his subpar performance this season, I believe he remains an integral aspect to the Bruins’ success. Trading Lucic would be a huge wakeup call to the team, but the Bruins instead need to find a way to get him going. Finding that addition to the top line, with the right player, could help.
Net gains: There’s no way you can completely blame the Bruins’ deficiencies on goaltender Tuukka Rask. Like many of his teammates, he hasn’t been at his best this season, but it’s not all on him. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner hasn’t stolen too many games in the first half of the 2014-15 season, and if the Bruins can somehow right the ship they will need him to do just that. There shouldn’t be any finger pointing. Rask should not blame his defense, and his defense should not blame him. Both are at fault this season. Now that the Bruins’ defensemen are a completely healthy unit, and if they can remain that way, there’s no reason to think Boston’s perennially strong defensive game won’t return.
Not enough Merlot: The Bruins are at their best when Julien can roll four lines against an opponent on any given night. Boston had one of the best fourth lines in the league for a few seasons with Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. Everyone knows why Thornton is no longer a Bruin, and his absence is affecting the team both on and off the ice. Paille and Campbell have not had the kind of success they’re used to this season. Paille has only one goal in 39 games, while Campbell has chipped in four goals and two assists for six points in 34 games. They’ve had a different linemate numerous times this season, but similar to Boston’s top line, Julien hasn’t found a perfect fit for the energy line. Currently, Craig Cunningham has earned the opportunity, and he plays with the grit and determination that the Merlot line is known for. Maybe with a few more games, that line will click.
Accountability: This has been nearly nonexistent this season. The Bruins know they’re struggling, but no one has taken this team on his shoulders and motivated it with his performance. There have been spurts, but that’s about it. Even now that Boston finally has a complete and healthy lineup, the Bruins still are allowing wins to slip from their grasp. There’s no way this team should be losing to the Carolina Hurricanes. Chiarelli, Julien and the players all need to be accountable for this season’s massive skid. Each one has a responsibility to clean up their end. No more excuses.