(AP File Photo)

 

Defeat. Collapse. Breakdown. Decline. Implosion.

Denial

There’s a million adjectives to describe the failure that overcame the TD Garden on Saturday. Denial fits like a glove. It’s hard to comprehend that it’s really all that shocking that they missed the playoffs. They weren’t consistent at any point this season, and there seemed to be a lot of optimism that they could get it done. It wasn’t Matt Beleskey’s best idea to tell the Bruins fans,  “Don’t come to the Garden on Saturday if you’re expecting a letdown,” after defeating the Red Wings. While hindsight is always 20/20, it’s still amazing to consider the final score would be 6-1 Ottawa after Beleskey said that. Not a quote many fans will forget soon. Luckily it’s a likable guy who brings it every game. The majority of fans probably already have forgiven him. With some of the performances and below .500 hockey the Bruins brought to the Garden, there should be some anger.

Can’t forgive him for his cap hit though. Loui Eriksson ($4.25 million) is paid only $450,000 more than Beleskey ($3.80 million). Eriksson 63 points, 30 goals, 33 assists – Beleskey 37 points, 15 goals, 22 assists. That’s 26 more points for Eriksson at a similar price tag. You’re going to have to do more than just crash the net and smash into the boards to earn that paycheck.

Bruins Home Record: 17-18-6 – No TD Garden Magic this year

The loss didn’t hurt as much as the feeling of hopelessness did. The Senators imposed their will on the Bruins. The B’s didn’t just bend, they broke right in half. It was ugly to see them have their way with ease in such a pivotal game at TD Garden. Having one game against a non playoff team should provide excitement. It felt like the game would have had less pressure in Ottawa.

There was a lack of execution and urgency exhibited by those on the roster. The players didn’t “do their job” as Bill Belichick famously says. Outside of a few individual players, almost everyone under performed. The team most certainly had enough talent to at least qualify for the playoffs. The most troubling factor isn’t that they failed to qualify, it’s the way they’ve crumbled down the stretch two straight seasons.

The owners, general manager, head coach, and most of the roster should take a long look around the confines of Causeway: there will be change come next year. There is no way to guess exactly how and what will happen, but change is certain after two straight debacles.

Before every fan/analyst lights torches, raises pitchforks, and marches to the Garden, they should take some time to reflect on the state of the franchise as a whole:

Accept the Inevitable

Just a few seasons ago, the Bruins were a marvel. They were so tough, cheap, dirty, good that they would have probably had a team wide suspension if they played in 2016. They’re lucky that no one was actually seriously injured by some of their antics. How many games would Brad Marchand get suspended now for this play?:

One night the 2011′ B’s would get into a line brawl, and the next night could be a goaltending duel, then the third could be high scoring. They could do it all, and they fit Claude Julien’s system. Fans always knew to expect the unexpected from that Bruins team. From Tim Thomas cross checking forwards, to Marchand using a Sedin Brother’s face as a punching bag, there was a physical presence on a nightly basis.

That time has now well passed.

It’s time to get through the five stages of grief and make the necessary moves toward Stanley Cup contention. This is not the powerhouse contender lineup that brought them to the postseason eight straight seasons. They have now missed the postseason two years in a row. They can’t score, defend, save, or fight their way into the playoffs with this roster. They don’t have superstar scoring to lean on. They don’t have a top pairing to guide them. Most importantly, they don’t scare opponents anymore.

The team played in what was considered to be a weaker conference compared to the west and didn’t even take home a wildcard spot. Their consistency was so routinely unpredictable that it was difficult to build faith in their chances. The Bruins had a poor record against top tier and western conference teams the entire season. They lacked both talent, heart down the stretch and the end result was missing the playoffs completely. They just never passed the eye test all year long.

Whatever coaching helped  Julien capture the dedication of the 2011 Bruins was non-existent in 2016. Is it Claude or the players?

Rare for Julien coached team to be this poor defensively 

https://twitter.com/AjaxBeatz4/status/710896958123028480

It’s clear that facets of the Bruins game are started to deteriorate. It’s most evident in their defensive core. Chara isn’t getting any younger. The aging captain seems to have slowed in each of the past two seasons. Dennis Seidenberg is getting older and slower too. Not to mention the fact Seidy had ACL reconstruction a year ago. John-Michael Liles is your average NHL defenseman. He can move the puck, play consistent defensively, but hasn’t really shown an ability to reach another gear yet. He’s still fairly fresh with the team (if they keep him) so he deserves more time. Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, and Zach Trotman struggled this season. It became evident that McQuaid isn’t much better than a third pairing defenseman this year. Miller looked like he wasn’t ready for the challenge. Morrow is still very young so he needs time. It wasn’t Torey Krug’s finest year, but he is a valuable power play asset, and can really fire the puck for a small guy. Colin Miller is a name to watch heading forward at the blue line. He put up monster numbers last year and has the potential to be a puck moving defenseman for a pro team in the future.

This group was very top heavy at the beginning of the year. It was basically Chara, Seidenberg, and McQuaid. Quite the drop off in NHL experience to the bottom pairing. Also quite the weakness when Trotman is paired with Chara. It was good to see Julien go away from that pairing as the year went on.

This group needs to be seriously rehabilitated. It might mean Chara has played his last game in Boston. According to a source, he isn’t exactly open to ending his career elsewhere. The Bruins should add at least one or two defensemen next year or the struggles will continue regardless of offensive output.

Will the potential at forward flourish? Replacing Eriksson’s numbers

Patrice Bergeron is still one of the best players in the NHL, but he is approaching thirty years old. David Krejci is also the same age. Marchand stepped up and buried thirty seven goals, but he is already twenty seven. Some of the best news of the season was the emergence of Ryan Spooner, forty nine points at only age twenty four. Eriksson is likely gone so not going to get much into details with him. Chris Kelly is still on the roster. Did his injury potentially extend his career in Boston? Kelly worked hard to get healthy for a comeback and it appeared he might be cleared for the playoffs. He would have hopefully been one of the players the team would move on from in the offseason. Landon Ferraro ended up being a pleasant surprise in all aspects of his game. He managed to make an impact on the penalty kill when other players were injured. Ferraro even buried a few big goals here and there. Dorchester Jimmy Hayes: not as tough as his nickname would lead one to believe. Hayes struggled the entire season and often appeared to be out of position, every shift. Joonas Kemppainnen and Tyler Randell both saw some action. Neither looked particularly impressive. Bruins fans were also treated to delightful players like Maxime Talbot and Zac Rinaldo. Both didn’t do much, and spent time and Providence. Frank Vatrano, David Pastrnak, Seth Griffith, and Alexander Khokhlachev are all talented, young forwards to watch heading into next season. There are several other young, up and coming names that won’t be mentioned yet because they haven’t made the big, boy club.

The Bruins remain to be a stronger group in the offensive end of the ice. Their high end, veteran forwards can compete with anyone. Their youth is also stronger at forward than defense. To seriously compete, the Bruins need to resign Eriksson or replace his production.

Two U’s, Two K’s, No blame

Tuukka Rask deserves zero blame for this season. The defensive play in front of him was so abysmal at points during the season it was laughable. Anyone saying deal Tuukka, needs to put down the peace pipe. Solid goaltending is among the hardest things to acquire in the NHL. If you have it, you pay for it.

Tuukka is not innocent. He might not have been as sharp as prior seasons, but this was the worst Bruins roster he played on. Goaltending for a team that is shaky on defense is quite uncomfortable. Lock up a bounce back season for Rask next year.

Claude brought you the cup: respect him

Julien’s teams have been successful throughout the majority of his tenure. Julien may be coming off a second disaster in a row, but he is undoubtedly one of the finest Bruins coaches of all-time. He holds the all-time wins record previously owned by Art Ross. He brought a Stanley Cup to Boston for the first time in thirty nine years. Two years later, Julien led the Bruins to another cup final, but fell just short of winning it all.

Most importantly, Julien brought winning hockey back to Causeway Street. Not only did they capture victory, they did it in old school Bruins fashion. The type of hockey that makes the people of Boston proud. The entire roster could fight, score, and they were locked into the game-plan. The team was never the fastest, or most skilled group in the league- but at their best the Big Bad Bruins were unbeatable in a seven game series.

Julien can’t change the cards he’s dealt or perform magic tricks

https://twitter.com/bruins_stats/status/719513808558026752

A head coach can only work with the tools that he is given. Julien has had his fair share of controversial decisions along the way, but he doesn’t sign, move, and trade players. Unfortunately someone has to take the blame. The easy scapegoat for the entire disaster is the head coach. This is why it’s likely Julien is fired before next season.

President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney did not meet their basic goal in the first year together. They definitely won’t be taking much time off working for next season. Sweeney was/is still sweeping up the mess that Peter Chiarelli created. He traded away Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, and Dougie Hamilton during this summer. What did the team get back in the end? Matt Beleskey, Colin Miller, and Jimmy Hayes. Lucic and Smith combined for 105 points with their new clubs. Hayes and Beleskey managed to combine for just 66 points. Those 39 points would have been big for the Bruins.

By last year’s draft day, Sweeney had acquired three first round picks and seemed to be looking across the league for deals. Nothing would surface and Boston was forced to pick from the prospect pool. It’s rumored that Sweeney and Neely were trying to formulate a package to move up, draft the young, talented Noah Hanifin from Boston College. In the end, no deal was done. The Bruins would end up with prospects instead of a prized possession that they could insert right away where they needed it most: defense.

At the trade deadline, Sweeney acquired both Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles. Many thought that the Bruins would look to get something out of Eriksson before he went to free agency. It appeared to be a no-brainer at the time. Dump him for as much value as possible. Sweeney and Neely overvalued Eriksson and they had no other option than to keep him. According to 98.5 The Sports Hub, the Bruins were expecting a first round draft pick or a package of two second round picks for Eriksson. They couldn’t even get that. Now Loui Eriksson will head to free agency unless the Bruins throw the checkbook at him (and they won’t).

Instead of opting to get rid of Eriksson one way or another, the Bruins ended up trading a second round and fourth round pick for Lee Stempniak. He wasn’t a bad addition, but nothing that would excite the fan base. A pretty good player that adds veteran presence. It’s often forgotten that the Bruins could have had him on the roster in September. Stempniak lives in the South End during the offseason with his young family. Before training camp, he had skated a week or two in Bruins captain’s practices.

So yes, the Bruins traded away a second and fourth round pick for a thirty two year old forward that they could have had locked up in August. Phew.

There is no doubt that Julien can coach a team to a Stanley Cup final. Neely and Sweeney both need to make up their collective mind about whether or not he’s the best guy for the job going forward. While Claude certainly can win a cup, is he the coach best suited for the upcoming changes?

Why so much trouble with contracts, free agency, and salary cap?

This is not the first season Neely was involved in which fans are left scratching their head. The Tyler Seguin trade was one of the most surprising deals the Bruins ever made. A sure fire superstar sent out of town well before his prime. The second overall pick had his fair share of issues on and off the ice, but lets be fair: Seguin wasn’t the first (or last) twenty one year old professional athlete to make mistakes.

The Bruins still also have a defensive hole from the unfortunate Johnny Boychuck trade Chiarelli and Neely were forced to make due to their salary cap mismanagement. Boychuck is a prime example of exactly what Boston was lacking this season: A veteran blue liner, a rocket of a shot, and toughness. He was someone that the Bruins could have leaned on in difficult situations. The exact opposite of who they had this year in some occasions.

Will new scouts pay off? 

The scouting and personnel departments have been poor at times during Neely’s leadership. In 2009, Jordan Caron was drafted in the first round by the Bruins. He would go on to score twelve goals in one hundred and thirty four games. In 2008, it was Joe Colburne taken in the first round. He never played once in a Bruins uniform, was traded for Tomas Kaberle. Being traded for Kaberle says enough as it is. John Carlson, Michael Del Zotto, and Jordan Eberle were all selected after Colburne in 2008. In 2007, the Bruins decided to pick Zach Hamill eighth overall. He would only appear in twenty games, totaling four points. Logan Couture, and Kevin Shattenkirk were both available and drafted after Hamill.

It’s no coincidence director of amateur scouting Wayne Smith was ultimately fired by the Bruins in August of 2013. Since then, the team does seem to be heading in a better direction, drafting the likes of Ryan Fitzgerald, Ryan Donato, David Pastrnak, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson. Hopefully Sweeney can avoid any last minute package deals, just pull the trigger on solid prospects when the draft rolls around this year. It almost seemed like Sweeney went into the draft last year without backup plans.

Accountability

It’s also time to start to establishing a sense of accountability that is missing in the Bruins organization. The year end press conference was curiously absent of three key components: Claude Julien, Don Sweeney, and Cam Neely. It appears that the coach, GM, and president effectively hid in their office during the conference. Nothing says leadership and accountability like refusing media access to the men who created this mess.

Is this potentially a hint that they’ve already decided not to bring back Julien? Maybe. One could argue that it should be Neely heading to the chopping block, but that won’t happen. Hopefully they have the decency to make their mind up regarding Julien earlier in the offseason, instead of leaving him out to dry like last year.

Building a new Bruins brand of hockey

With all of the changes in player safety, teams can’t win cups by punching their way through opponents anymore. The team needs to be rebranded and a new identity needs to emerge. Fast, skilled hockey brings home the hardware in today’s NHL. Just ask Patrick Kane.

It seems like the Bruins are stuck in between generations. Five years after a cup win, and two years removed from playoff contention, it’s time to move on from the rock em’ sock em’ style and into the 21st century. The roster is currently a mismatched bunch of old and young players. It’s clear it hasn’t worked in either of the past two seasons.

The team needs a fresh shot of fresh air and it can start this offseason. Or the Bruins can “retool” instead of “rebuild” and spend another 39 years until a Stanley Cup win. That’s something I’d like to certainly pass on. Bergeron’s clock is ticking and the Bruins need to get him another ring.