Happy Festivus for the Boston Bruins and the rest of us!
The Boston Bruins lost 5-1 to the Winnipeg Jets on Friday night and were outplayed from start to finish in their worst loss of the season. The loss encapsulated the Bruins’ major flaws this season and served up the perfect menu for the first-ever Boston Hockey Now Bruins Festivus.
Despite being thoroughly outplayed throughout the first period, the Bruins were amazingly tied 0-0 with the Jets as the final seconds of the opening frame ticked down. However, Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman suddenly found himself under siege again, and Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey banged home a rebound amidst the net-front chaos for a 1-0 Jets lead with eight second left in the first period. Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery was asked postgame by Boston Globe Bruins beat reporter Jim McBride if the Morrisey goal took the wind out of his team’s sails.
“No. We never had the wind behind our sails all night long,” a blunt and clearly ticked-off Montgomery said.
Some would disagree, though, since the Bruins are 19-6-6 with 44 points and woke up today in first place in the Atlantic Division, second place in the Eastern Conference, and third overall in the NHL. All of that, after losing their two pillars up the middle for the last decade in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, as well as forwards Taylor Hall, Tyler Bertuzzi, Garnet Hathaway and Tomas Nosek, and defensemen Dmitry Orlov and Connor Clifton. So, even with the no-show in ‘The Peg’ on Friday night, all things considered, how could anyone really want to have an ‘airing of grievances’ with the 2023-24 Boston Bruins through 31 games?
That may be true, but the silver lining from here is that the loss on Friday night provided the perfect opportunity to start facing the reality that when you dig deep, this 2023-24 Boston Bruins have been a mirage, and they really are what so many expected them to be. So, yes, this is the perfect opportunity for a Festivus ‘airing of grievances’. In the famous words of Frank Costanza (RIP) to the Boston Bruins:
“I got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re gonna hear about it!”
Make no mistake, Boston Bruins centers Charlie Coyle, and Pavel Zacha have done a splendid job of holding down the fort up the middle in the early stages of the post-Bergeron and post-Krejci era. The problem is that while both centers clearly learned a lot from Bergeron, the best defensive center in NHL history, and have been great shutdown centers, they’re not bonafide No.1 centers and just can’t provide the playmaking and offensive skills of Bergeron and Krejci.
‘If I were Donny Sweeney, I would ask for a center iceman that could manufacture points; a slick center iceman that could manufacture points,” longtime NHL analyst and co-host of ‘The Eye Test Podcast’ Pierre McGuire replied when asked on Dec. 13 what the Bruins GM should be hoping for as a Christmas present.
Unfortunately, with the NHL Holiday roster freeze in effect until Dec. 28, Santa Claus won’t be stuffing that point-producing center down the TD Garden chimney, but when the roster freeze is lifted, and if Sweeney wants this team to maintain one of the top three slots in the Atlantic Division, then he needs to strike early on the NHL trade market. He also needs to come to terms with the fact that without a 2024 first, second, or third round pick, he’s likely going to have to trade away highly touted rookie defenseman Mason Lohrei to acquire a center like Calgary Flames center Elias Lindholm. As Pierre LeBrun pointed out, Sweeney will have stiff competition for Lindholm, namely the Colorado Avalanche, and you gotta give to get.
It should be noted that multiple NHL sources have confirmed to Boston Hockey Now again that Sweeney is still not willing to break up his successful and hugging goaltending duo of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. So, that means, for now, he won’t be taking advantage of the boiling goalie market by, hypothetically speaking, offering Ullmark in a package for Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who, according to those same sources, the Oilers are listening to offers for.
The other major grievance is that the Boston Bruins need to acquire more of the speed/size combo up front and on the backend. That loss to the Jets on Friday night, as well as too many third periods like the one in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild, had to be creating Déjà vu for Sweeney and the remaining players from the Bruins’ 2018-19 team that lost to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. When it matters most, this current Bruins squad cannot handle a vicious forecheck or big, attacking defensemen. Again though, just as top centers are, big and fast forwards and defensemen will be in high demand, and Sweeney does not have the arsenal of draft picks and prospects to acquire them without tinkering with the current roster.
So, if this Bruins team is going to prove that they’re not a mirage being saved but Swayman and Ullmark every game, then their general manager is going to have to work some magic on the NHL trade market.