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Colageo: Boston Bruins Searching For Secret Sauce



Boston Bruins

Saturday night’s game pitting the Boston Bruins against the St. Louis Blues was odd in that it brought back very few memories of the teams’ 2019 Stanley Cup series.

The heartache of a young generation of Boston fans was all but forgotten amidst cataclysmic changes to both squads. It actually felt normal seeing Torey Krug in the Blue Note.

Even NESN’s deep reach into NBC’s archives of Matt Grzelcyk getting his faced mashed into the glass by prodigal Blue Oskar Sundqvist seemed like 15 years ago, not five. Most fans can’t even remember it was Noel Acciari who was dumped hard to TD Garden ice in Game 5, the puck popping in front of and in behind Tuukka Rask, who up until that series had seemed impenetrable.

Times have changed, and hockey has moved on.

Not counting 2020 – not fair to either team – but in the last three playoff years, the Bruins and the Blues have each won one series. Both have fired their 2018-19 coaches. Both general managers are still running the show. The GM that lost the 2019 Cup has done a much better job than the one that won.

Saturday night in St. Louis, a baker’s dozen played who had also skated in that 2019 Cup series. Both teams had at least one player in their lineup whom they had let go only to bring back in depth roles (Danton Heinen for Boston, Sundqvist and Sammy Blais for St. Louis).

In the case of the Bruins, change was inevitable and more than understandable. Captain Zdeno Chara famously played that 2019 Cup series at age 42 (and with a broken jaw). When the series ended, Patrice Bergeron was 42 days shy of his 34th birthday; he and David Krejci (33) had solid hockey ahead of them. Brad Marchand turned 31 that May. Rask was 32.

But if the Bruins weren’t too old in 2019, they were definitely too young where it mattered. Right-side stalwarts Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, the other two-thirds of the Bruins’ top three, were ages 21 and 22 and not enough pro hockey behind them.

What has transpired in Boston goes with the territory of age and mileage, except for the part of coming back from the devastating, seven-game defeat to win the Presidents Trophy and then have that rug pulled out from under them by the COVID-leveraged cancellation of the season.

The 2019-20 season should have stayed canceled, but the NHL had an opportunity to mitigate some of its lost revenue by holding a made-for-television sham of a Stanley Cup playoffs. The tournament was held a full offseason later under Edmonton and Toronto bubbles and on short notice. The Bruins, poised in April to make one more run at the Cup with their team intact and benefiting from their 2019 experience, had no shot under the revised circumstances.

But what has held back the Boston Bruins from postseason success in the three years since 2020 is a different kind of question. Retooled around their core of younger talent, we’ve witnessed the aging out of the older generation. To their credit, the Bruins have but a five-game ouster of the Washington Capitals, who haven’t won a playoff series since capturing the Cup in 2018.

The regular season has been a different story.

Since Don Sweeney has had a coaching staff and roster of his choice in place (2017-18 season), the Bruins have averaged 52.4 wins per 82 regular-season games, won two Presidents trophies and enjoyed that one, glorious run to the 2019 Cup final.

Is there a single NHL team over the past seven years that has put up comparable regular-season records and fared so poorly in the playoffs? Has any NHL team ever been as good a regular-season team as the Boston Bruins have these past seven years and gotten so little bang for their postseason buck?

Is there such a thing as regular-season versus playoff hockey? Boston Bruins team president Cam Neely has discussed it openly and indicated his team’s need to make theirs more of a playoff blend.

Another way of saying this is it’s truly amazing how the Boston Bruins have managed, warts and all, to continue to stay at the top of the NHL and inspire hope in yet another long spring.

That said, some opinions …

Unless the Boston Bruins are willing to trade Linus Ullmark to Minnesota for, say, Joel Eriksson-Ek or to Calgary for Elias Lindholm, they are going to have to continue improving their faceoff and puck-possession game with in-house, on-the-job development. Is impending free agent Jake DeBrusk a chip? Perhaps but not by himself to solidify the center position.

A center who can play a sturdy defensive game and win key, defensive-zone faceoffs would be welcome, but the belief here is that the Bruins are committed to their path.

The Boston Bruins need a physical, snarly, left shot to pair with Charlie McAvoy and ease the game for their do-it-all defenseman. They could also use a physical, snarly forward to inject some intimidation into the forecheck and distract if not discourage opponents’ puck retrievals.

The premise guiding any sense of confidence that such acquisitions can be made is based on a team out of the playoff race and probably in the Western Conference, presumably looking to get younger and willing to move established talent, especially if said target is nearing the end of his contract.

Minnesota defenseman Jake Middleton, 28, would make an excellent complement to McAvoy.

Middleton has one more year remaining after this one on a modest contract that earns him $2.45 million per season, then he’ll hit the open market after the 2024-25 season. Acquiring Middleton to skate in the top four opposite McAvoy would require serious compensation, as in Minnesota GM Bill Guerin needs a goalie.

By the way, where is Parker Wotherspoon’s ceiling? Chosen 112th overall by the N.Y. Islanders in the 2015 draft, Wotherspoon was the victim of a numbers game and at age 25 escaped AHL purgatory by signing a one-year, $775,000 deal with Boston. On July 1, he will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. According to, he is with Boston on emergency loan.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left shot has shown he can play either side of the ice. He skated nearly 19 minutes in St. Louis and is averaging over 17 minutes. Wotherspoon more than mitigates the loss of Connor Clifton and continues to show upside so that, when Brandon Carlo returns, he may get some reps with McAvoy just to see what it looks like.

In the meantime, Derek Forbort is on LTIR with a lower-body injury that goes back to last season. His predecessor in the lanky, left-shot, penalty-killing role, Jarred Tinordi, is carrying a $1.2 million cap hit in his final year with Chicago. Another name to think about: Jan Rutta, the former Tampa Bay defenseman (now with San Jose) who has one more year remaining at $2.75M.

I await an email from Las Vegas bookmakers on which superstar will be first to sustain a season-changing injury because his team is skating him too many minutes.

Players who refused to take less money against the NHL’s flat cap are finding that their employers are looking to mitigate their resultant lack of roster depth by requiring their salaried superstars work longer nights.

Nathan MacKinnon is a joy to watch play hockey, but will his 23:01 ATOI catch up with him? What about the 27 minutes David Pastrnak played in Arizona? Is that a factor in his sloppy puck handling of late?

Congratulations are in order to Jeremy Swayman and Jim Montgomery for being named to NHL All-Star Weekend Feb. 1-3 in Toronto.

Would you package Matt Poitras with DeBrusk in order to pry away Elias Lindholm from Calgary? You’ve got to give to get.

Finally, if that was interference on Hampus Lindholm, then I’m a 22-year-old Olympic swimmer.

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