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What Will 2011 Bring?

Posted By Matt Preston On Jan 2 2011 @ 1:04 pm In Boston Bruins | 3 Comments

I’m not going to lie, I did not do a very good job fulfilling my obligations to this site last night as I opted to DVR the Boston Bruins-Buffalo Sabres tilt game in favor of the Winter Classic. The good news is as the Classic went on and the B’s score kept going by on the ticker I felt more and more confident I made the right decision. Especially when “BOS – 6, BUF – 6, End 3rd” went by. Another Bruins game in overtime could inevitably mean one thing: Another disappointing Bruins loss.

I hate it when I’m right.

Despite taking the lead less than 1:30 into the game and holding a lead with less than 30 seconds to play, it was a second straight game with a hard-fought effort that ended with a shootout loss as the Bruins fell to the Sabres, 7-6. The loss drops the Bruins to 1-5 on the season when the game goes into a shootout.

I might not have started to watch the game until the morning after, but I have done a fair amount of thinking about what was to be said in this post throughout the week. It all kept coming back to one central question, one that I have often pondered since I started in this space in November, but is now time to examine as I begin to look forward to what to expect out of the Boston Bruins in 2011:

Is this team, from the front office on down, good enough?

I say no.

Sure, they are a solid team and a good organization. The team has some talent assembled by a general manager who has proven himself able to make smart player transactions, with a coach who has a system proven to win games in the NHL. From a far it is not too off base to expect good things from this squad and it is not unfathomable to say they have what it takes to make a serious run. Yet, as their final game of 2010 and first of 2011 showed, they are a good team, just not good enough.

Yes, Peter Chiarelli has made some great trades since coming on board as the Bruins’ GM, highlighted by the Kessel and Wideman trades and complemented by some underrated moves like the Recchi and Seidenberg trades. Sadly, for as good as Chiarelli has been at trading for talent, he has been equally as bad at managing the team’s salary cap.

The problem is not one or two glaringly bad contracts, rather Chiarelli has a terrible habit of signing players to just a little more than fair market value. Signing a whole bunch of players to just a little bit more than what they deserve, though, equals one big cap mess and has handcuffed the general manager from having much, if any, ability to make any midseason transactions that will have any real impact on this team.

Reflecting on his tenure in Boston, head coach Claude Julien has the billing of a strong NHL coach. In his fourth season with the Bruins, Julien has a record of 153-89-41 and is a season and a half removed from winning the Jack Adams Trophy as the league’s best coach. After a few years of mediocrity both leading up to and just after the NHL Lockout, Julien has taken the team to the playoffs in each of his three full seasons in Boston and is poised to make it 4-for-4. Julien’s suffocating defensive system has the Bruins currently ranked first in the NHL in goals against per game (2.14), a category in which the Bruins have finished no lower than second since 2008.

Yet, for Julien, too much of a good thing is a bad thing as his system is so focused on defense that they often forget about playing that other critical part of the game. It is great to only give up two goals a game, but it is difficult to win many games if you can’t score three; Boston is scoring an average of 2.89 goals per game this season.

On an individual basis, I like a lot of players on the Bruins’ roster. Sometimes it is very unconventional, but they have a strong goaltending tandem. On the blue line they have a healthy mix of guys who can shut players down, guys who can move the puck and guys who can do both. Up front they have a pair of lines with scoring touch, a grinding, defensive line that is amongst the league’s best at what they do and a line that is a perfect blend of two-way hockey. The core of the team is young and not yet in their prime and there is more young talent on the way. On paper, there is a lot to like about the Boston Bruins.

On the ice, they leave a lot to be desired. Often they look lackadaisical and disinterested. They have problems closing close games and playing from behind. They have grit and toughness, but it doesn’t come from the players it should. It is great to have a fourth line that is probably the most productive fourth line in the league, but a fourth line should not be a team’s best line. And your standout player to this point in the season should not be the forward who carries the lowest cap-hit on your roster, even if he is quickly becoming my newest mancrush on the team. They have the talent, but they leave you wanting.

What will 2011 bring? We will know in June, but something has to change on this team. The Bruins are a team that inspired hope and that clichéd feeling that “this could be the year” as the season approached. As good as it is, though, rarely is it ever good enough. As always, the Bruins are just a step behind, leaving more questions than answers.

Where is the linchpin?

What is holding this team back?

Who has to go make this a Championship team?

Is it the general manager who can’t quite crunch the numbers?

The coach who is overly paranoid of giving up goals? (My pick.)

The guys on the ice who have a tendency to lack in execution?

Frustrating.

Looks like it’s not just me, but the Bruins as well have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn in 2011.

Happy freakin’ New Year.

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