For all the focus this space has had on Toronto's failings throughout the season, the Bruins are giving the Leafs a run for their money when it comes to ineptitude.
After watching the Bruins lose to the Washington Capitals tonight, it has become clear to a lot of B's fans that Peter Chiarelli needs to do something, anything to change the face of his team because nothing is working.
The team can't score goals...that much has been known for quite some time, but the B's showed little life or fight after a great first period tonight gave way to a putrid final 20 minutes, which saw the Capitals score three goals (one empty netter) while the Bruins couldn't get anything past Jose Theodore. (Before I go on, let me tell you something about Theodore...I talk to him often here in D.C. and he's pretty open about his deep dislike of the Bruins. His hatred of them (fueled in his youth as a Montreal Canadiens fan) propels him to great lengths whenever he plays Boston. He still holds a deep-seeded grudge against them over Kyle McLaren's hatchet job against Richard Zednik in 2002, and Theodore showed it again tonight. The guy simply loves to play against...and beat the Bruins.)
Obviously, playing the top team in the East, who entered the game with a 10-game winning streak and boosted it to a franchise-record 11 consecutive victories, gave the Bruins little margin for error tonight. The home team took an early lead on a 5-on-3 power play, when David Krejci banked a shot off of Theodore's inside left pad, just squirting into the net. But that was it. Once former 700-pound line alum Mike Knuble tied it early in the second, you just hoped the Bruins would find a way to score again, but deep down inside, unless you're the ultimate optimist, you knew it wasn't coming.
The Boston GM misjudged his team. He assumed that the youngsters who played great last season would take the next step. He figured that Michael Ryder and Dennis Wideman would continue to anchor a solid veteran core after their 28-goal and 50-point seasons. He no doubt thought he had repeat winners in the troika of coach Claude Julien, defenseman Zdeno Chara and goaltender Tim Thomas. Julien and Chara are off their games, and Thomas, who is forced to playwith next to no margin for error each and every night (a crushing kind of pressure you have no idea about if you've never played the position), hasn't been as sensational as he was last season. Tuukka Rask has been outstanding as a rookie, but those screaming for him to take over as the starter on this team ask yourselves this: Do you really want Rask thrown into this pool of dreck? Think of the future, baby!
I'm stating the obvious here, but the fans aren't going to take much more of this. Even though Chiarelli is dealing form a position of weakness, I'm of the belief that it's time he did something.
I'm no fan of the deals Brian Burke made (and J.S. Giguere and Co. are making me look silly thus far, shutting out the Devils tonight, 3-0), but he at least did SOMETHING. Right or wrong...for better or worse. He made deals that the jury is still out on, and he could end up being lauded as a genius. In the midst of this "staganant" trade market, he found a way to pull the trigger and effect major change within his team and organization. Chiarelli cannot make excuses about the trade market any longer. Three big deals have gone down in the last 48 hours including the two Toronto made.
Now, I'm not saying he has to go out and pay a king's ransom to get a rental player in Ilya Kovalchuk, who isn't about to sign with anyone without keeping his options (and a potential return home to the KHL) open. I'm not even saying Chiarelli needs to make a season-saving move. That may be a bridge too far (and I'm not talking the Tobin either); I don't believe this team has it in them to be a serious contender, although they can clearly regain a playoff spot. But, the team, as constructed, is flawed and ineffective.
Trying to fix the offense on the cheap with Miroslav Satan was a failure. No harm done, because he didn't cost any assets beyond the money and cap hit it took to bring the former 40-goal man in for what has been a pretty mediocre audition. Satan is the Boston encore edition of Joe Murphy 10 years ago... remember him? Like Murphy, Satan is a washed-up former scorer who is good for the odd tally, but couldn't give a hoot about playing defense and ultimately isn't worth a spot on the top-three lines of any NHL playoff-caliber club.
Fans feel that it is time for Boston to make a change, and Ryder is a good place to start. The guy just doesn't play the kind of hockey that is going to win the Bruins enough games to justify his presence. He was a bad decision and it's time to cut him loose for cents on the dollar. Problem is- what team will want an underachieving streaky scorer who, when off his game, plays the kind of pathetic, uninspired hockey that brings back visions of Dmitri Khristich? Ryder is an easy scapegoat, but at this stage, he is what he is. Anyone who thinks he is worth the $4 million over three years that the Bruins outbid at least one other team to secure his services for hasn't watched Ryder this season, skating up and down the wing, misfiring on shots, failing to hit the net, and playing with an overall sense of malaise.
While no proponent of buy-at-a-premium with minimal results types of moves that see teams pay overinflated rates for declining veteran players, I do feel that some kind of change needs to be made, though. For the sake of the players who do care and who have given their all so far this season. Patrice Bergeron is really the only one who comes to mind right now, and I'm sure there are others.
It's hard to pile on with everyone else who's been clamoring for moves since the wheels started to come off earlier this year, when we saw that the offense was going to be hard to come by, and then crippling injuries to key players started to take their toll. I'm no hockey GM with a degree from Harvard Yard, but Chiarelli has surrounded himself with smart hockey guys who should be able to help him with some solutions.
Andrew Cogliano? Another underachiever on the NHL's bottom-feeder in Edmonton, but a player with real speed to burn who may just need a change of scenery to kickstart his game. Sam Gagner? Once coveted by the Bruins in the '07 draft, but would the Oil give him up before they're sure he isn't a future 30-goal guy like his dad, Dave? Ray Whitney? Still an effective scorer at 36, but no serious threat to make this team seen as anything more than a pretender, and with Carolina moving up in the standings, the asking price for Whitney is going up, not down.
I don't have the answers, but I do know this: It's only February, and the Bruins are in danger of blowing all of the goodwill they earned through the blood, sweat and honest effort of the 2008-09 season. This season's Bruins look a lot like the patchwork Ruins of a decade ago who had some viable parts, but relied on too many not-good-enough guys to get the job done.
The fact that a club who came within one overtime goal of the Eastern Conference finals last spring after a No. 2 overall regular season finish can look this unskilled and listless is a scathing indictment on Chiarelli's judgment in assembling this roster. Ripping him for trading Phil Kessel is too simplistic an approach: Kessel didn't want to be in Boston and made his intentions known. However, there are a lot of players not pulling their weight you can criticize him for. And, the buck stops with the GM, just as he got the credit last year.
The team needs a change for credibility's sake, but the real challenge for the GM will be in not surrendering the wrong assets to at least right the ship. You can bet this blog will be keeping a close eye on said assets, mainly the two top-10 picks this club currently possesses, with a total of five in the top-40 of what is shaping up to be one of the deepest drafts since 2003. I know that you have to give to get, but when trading draft picks like that, it has to be for players who are part of a long-term solution in Boston, not a quick, band-aid fix to save face in what is starting to look like a lost season.
This is Chiarelli's first real, true test. I can't imagine Cam Neely abiding the fact that the team has lost seven consecutive games at home for the first time in more than 75 years. This is embarrassing, and Neely of all people isn't going to accept it. From anyone.
I do think that those B's fans who have been demanding change since November will probably get it.
But, be careful what you wish for. If the GM makes any more bad decisions like some of those that have hamstrung his team, the long-term potential for success could hang in the balance.