A little more then halfway through the season, The Boston Bruins hold the 1st wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and head into the All-Star Break, just 6 points out of first place in the division.
With 57 points, the Bruins sit 2 points ahead of Pittsburgh, who holds the 2nd wild card spot, and just 1 point behind Tampa and Detroit, who maintain 2nd and 3rd place in the Atlantic Division. While some seem to be upset with the Bruins, I believe this season has been a success thus far.
After losing the first three games of the season, well, really getting blown-out the first three games of the season, most thought this was a throw away season, a complete rebuild and Claude Julien was on his way out the door. Since, then the season has been anything but that.
The Bruins (26-18-5) have shown this is far from a throw away season. Claude Julien’s club is 4th in the NHL in offense, behind powerhouses, Dallas, Washington and Chicago. The team has the 2nd best Power Play in the NHL, behind only Washington, converting 25.9% of the time, they’re killing penalties at an 84.4% rate, which ranks 5th in the NHL. The team also ranks 3rd in Goals Scored per Games Played at a rate of 2.94 per game.
This is no throw away season for Boston, this team can play.
Going forward, the Bruins have some decisions to make with the February 29th trade deadline looming.
Buy or Sell?
What if I was to tell you they should do both and they can do both. If I was to tell you that, the Bruins could swindle a deal, that involved a played like Loui Eriksson, and still be good enough to compete. I think it’s more then possible.
Loui Eriksson is an UFA at the end of the season, and like most players in a contract year, is having his best with the team. Eriksson is reportedly looking for a deal that’s worth 5-6m for 6-7 years. Jimmy Murphy of BruinsDaily.com reported the Bruins are shopping indeed Eriksson.
So why trade one of your best players, in a year where you’re team ranks in the top 5 of every offensive category there is?
Because Don Sweeney and Co. could pull off a trade, selling Eriksson, only to buy something that this team could use a lot more then scoring, a top-4 defensemen. While adding someone like Kevin Shattenkirk or Dustin Byfuglien would take a lot more then just Loui Eriksson, the Bruins have all the assets needed to pull the trigger. Three 1st round draft picks last year, two more this year, I think Sweeney has enough ammunition to make something happen.
This offense has gone way above and beyond my expectations. Top 5 in Power Play, Total Goals Scored, Goals Scored per
Game, and even Shots. With the early, dominate, play from David Krejci, to Brad Marchand heading into the All-Star break scoring 5 of his last 6 games. The emergence of Ryan Spooner has been crucial to the offense and in particular the Power Play. Spooner has 37 points on the year, which ranks him 3rd on the team, behind only Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson. The physical play of newcomer Matt Beleskey and the 11 goals Jimmy Hayes has tallied, has also been a nice addition to the team.
The defense was a lot tougher to give a grade. Can I grade upper management for providing Claude Julien with defensive personnel not capable for making a playoff run? The defense has been the issue with this years club. Led by 39-year-old Zdeno Chara, the Bruins lack a top d-pairing, and have relied heavily on the likes of Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg and even the young guys, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow and Colin Miller.
While the young guys, Trotman, Miller, Morrow continue to develop, the older guys aren’t getting any younger. The Bruins rank 13th in the NHL in goals allowed this season, with 130, which certainly weren’t Tuukka Rask’s fault. If the Bruins want to make a playoff run, or build a suitable team for the future, a top-4 defensemen should be on the top of Don Sweeney’s trade-deadline-wish-list.
Tuukka Rask got off to a slow start this season, but he was missing the leader of his defensemen, Zdeno Chara. Rask has been lights out ever since. With 17 wins on the season, Rask has been bombarded with 1054 shot attempts, only allowed 88 goals, for a SV% of .917. While you hope for a goalie with Rask’s contract to be around the .925 SV% mark, Rask has dealt with a depleted defense along with a young, learning defense all season.
A Jack Adams Award candidate earlier in the season, Claude Julien and staff has done a remarkable job with his team this season. With injuries to David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly and others, Julien has still managed to keep his team in the playoff race. After being advised by Cam Neely and Don Sweeney, Julien changed up his coaching style this season, changing the breakout, the forecheck, and improving the overall offense, along with developing young players like Ryan Spooner, who he dedicates his success this season to Julien.
“He’s been great. I mean, yeah, he’s a great coach, and last year, you know, things with me and him weren’t, I guess, the best, but he was hard on me and I think that was the best thing actually. Kind of made me realize that I needed to play better, and the team, when we’re not playing good, he kind of does the same thing there. So if we play well, then he’s happy, but if we’re not, he can be hard on us, which I think is the best thing. Sometimes you don’t really want a coach that points out all the positives when you lose. He needs to, I guess, be a little bit tough on you and I think that definitely helps us out, for sure.”
The team ranks in the top 5 in every category he needed to improve on, so I would say Julien has done his job.
(Featured Image AP Photo/ Michael Dwyer)