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One foot in, one foot out: Bruins seem stuck

February 10, 2016, 5:35 PM ET [57 Comments]
Ty Anderson
Boston Bruins Blogger •Bruins Feature Columnist • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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It would be easy to look at last night’s 9-2 beatdown at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings and finally come to terms with the fact that the Boston Bruins are not competing for the Stanley Cup this year, and that they should become sellers prior to the league’s Feb. 29 trade deadline. At the same time, that would be a wild jump for a Black and Gold front office that has one foot in the pool of a team in legitimate contention for a deep postseason run, and the other foot in a rebuild/retool mindset.

The truth is that it’s almost impossible to appease both philosophies, and the B’s are finding that out.

If the Bruins do indeed buy before the deadline -- a shiny new right-winger for the Bergeron line or a top-four defenseman to lessen the regular season workload on the aging Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg -- they’re still in line to get smoked by just about any Western Conference club they’d tangle with in the fourth round. The Bruins have just one win in eight games against West playoff clubs. If they sell, they essentially tell the team and fans that they have no interest in competing for a relatively wide open Atlantic Division in spite of the highest ticket prices among National Hockey League clubs in America. But there’s only one piece that you’d realistically move, too, and that’s free agent to be Loui Eriksson. For as great as Eriksson has been for the Bruins this year (and he has been), you’re not reinventing your franchise with the package you’ll get from a team trading for two months of No. 21.

After failing to make the postseason a year ago, it’s clear that there were certain expectations put on the Bruins this season. The obvious expectation is that this team, with a more balanced group of scoring wingers and the continued development of younger defensemen, would be a playoff club. And as of right now, they are. But in a topsy-turvy East, the Black and Gold constantly appear to teeter between contender and pretender, and their post All-Star break play has been anything but inspiring; They had to grind out five-of-six points against bottom-feeders Buffalo and Toronto in perhaps the ugliest fashion imaginable, and got their doors blown off against a West elite in the L.A. Kings. Your questions are valid.

And it’s the upcoming six-game road swing -- with games against the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, and Dallas Stars -- that’s really put the Bruins on the spot. A strong showing (think like anywhere from seven to eight of a possible 12 points as the starting point for a solid road swing) and the Bruins remain very much in the thick of things. Anything less and the Bruins know that changes could be coming to the NHL roster by Feb. 29.

“You don’t like to talk about it,” Krejci told HockeyBuzz.com when asked of the possibility of the Bruins becoming sellers. “But you want to be a playoff team, and if you don’t win games against playoff teams, then you’re never gonna climb up the standings. We know we have a good team here, we all like each other, but if we don’t show up in the games, we’re gonna make it really hard on our GM.”

Things have been hard on Boston general manager Don Sweeney from the start. He has eight defensemen on his roster. The development of Boston’s big three hopefuls -- Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, and Zach Trotman -- has repeatedly been generated, stunted, and regenerated.

Miller, the big return in the Milan Lucic trade last season, was a healthy scratch with the Kings in town, and looks to be the odd-man out as a healthy scratch. That probably won’t change when Adam McQuaid (concussion) makes his return to the lineup. And if and when Miller comes back into the mix, it will be because one of Morrow or Trotman have slumped their way back to the press box as a healthy scratch. This doesn’t help Sweeney learn what he has in any of these players.

“I’ve got a lot of young guys, first-year players, whether it’s the first full year of Morrow or Colin Miller and a Trotman,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of his roster following last night’s loss. “It’s Spoons’ [Ryan Spooner] first year. [David] Pastrnak was in and out last year as well. We’ve got a lot of young players so we’ve got to deal with that. Randell is another one. You work with that kind of stuff.

“This is not excuses. This is reality.”

But if there’s no consistent development to further the players themselves -- or to be used as trade chips to return you to legitimate contention -- then nights last night’s will become the reality.

The Podcast to be Named Later with Andy Merritt and Ty Anderson

Ty Anderson has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, has been a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter since 2013, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com.
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