Unlike a year ago, when an extended road trip produced a perfect 6-0-0 record brought together a club that had just added some new parts and set the stage for a historic playoff run, the Bruins continued to sputter this past week while embarking on their longest trip of the season.
After starting things off on a bright note with a shootout win in Montreal, Boston dropped back-to-back decisions in Winnipeg and Minnesota. Things won't get any easier as the Bruins complete their trip with stops in St. Louis, which is giving the record-setting Red Wings a run for their money as the league's most dominant home team, Buffalo, where they lost 6-0 earlier this month, and Ottawa, which is suddenly looming all too close in the Northeast Division race.
There's also that little matter of the trade deadline less than a week away, and the Bruins' efforts to bolster their lineup with some scoring help up front and additional depth on defense. The latter topic was naturally a popular one among the queries this week, and I did my best to get to as many of them as possible in the latest edition of the Bruins Mailbag.
As always, I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll answer as many of them as I can as we head into the second half of the season.
Doug, do you think a major trade or two is in order for this team as they hit the stretch run? I think that this team could go that direction such as a [Rick] Nash, [Zach] Parise, [Bobby] Ryan, or [Jeff] Carter. Bruins need help bad, what do you think? Thanks.
— Mike Tripodes, West Ossipee, N.H.
I really don't see the Bruins making a blockbuster deal at the deadline. While they have certainly struggled of late, particularly offensively without Nathan Horton and Rich Peverley, I still don't think the Bruins need to blow up a championship roster to add one big-name scorer, nor do I think that general manager Peter Chiarelli will pursue such a major move that would require giving up major pieces from the current roster and handcuff his ability to re-sign other key players in the coming years. I've already written why I don't think they should pursue Nash as it would likely take a combination involving Tuukka Rask and/or Dougie Hamilton that is too rich for my blood and with Nash signed through 2017-18 at a $7.8 million cap hit, re-signing existing core players like Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand when they're up for new deals after next season becomes very tricky.
Carter is a similar situation, though he is not even as enticing as Nash as far as pure ability goes. And the fact that Carter is in the first year of an 11-year, $58-million deal? No way the Bruins touch that. Parise and Ryan are more attractive options, but neither is likely to be available even if the Bruins wanted to pay the exorbitant prices they would command. The Devils actually have more points than the Bruins now. Even though the Devils will be hard-pressed to re-sign Parise with their current financial difficulties, they'll probably hold on to him to take a shot at what could be a long run in the playoffs. And the Ducks have been one of the hottest teams in hockey of late. It may not be enough to overcome their horrendous start (they're still 13th in the West, albeit just six points out of a playoff spot), but the way they've played the last couple months shows there's no need to make a drastic move like trading away one of their core young players.
Doug, what are your thoughts regarding the Bruins going after Antoine Vermette from Columbus? Like the rest of the Blue Jackets he's had a down year so the price might be lower than it normally would be. He's talented center that has great speed, excellent puck skills, and can score over 20 goals a year (27 in 2010). I think he'd be a great replacement for Rich Peverley should he not be at 100 percent heading into the playoffs. At a $3.75 million dollar cap hit until 2015 I feel he'd be a great fit for the B's in the future as well. What do you think?
— Jeff, Marion, Mass.
I think it's an interesting idea, and Vermette is much more in line with the level of player the Bruins are likely to try to add before the deadline than someone like Nash. He also was originated drafted by Ottawa and came up through the Senators system, so Chiarelli is certainly familiar with him and has dipped into his vast knowledge of former Sens a number of times in deals since coming to Boston.
But that cap hit through the 2014-15 season is the one reason I don't see Vermette was quite as good a fit as you do. Adding him would make it very difficult to re-sign Chris Kelly barring more moves to free up cap space, and I value Kelly's contributions both in terms of production and leadership more than what Vermette would bring to the table. Vermette did have that one big 27-38-65 campaign in 2009-10 and parlayed that into a big payday, but he slipped to 19-28-47 last year and has just 8-19-27 totals through 60 games this year. He could be revived with a move to a contender, but it's risky to assume that and take on such a cap hit for a player trending in the wrong direction.
That said, Chiarelli did say that he would be willing to look at adding players who weren't rentals if he felt he wouldn't be able to re-sign some of his current pending free agents. So if he has an inkling that he might not be able to get Kelly's signature on an extension, then Vermette could be a viable alternative who would help out both in this stretch run and fill a void in the coming years.
Hey Doug, with the Bruins needing depth/scoring on the blue line, Tyler Myers seems like a great fit. He is 6-foot-8, 227 pounds. Even knowing he is a big cap hit going all the way until 2019 with $5.5 million a year, he would be the Bruins second leading scorer [on defense] behind [Zdeno] Chara. [Dougie] Hamilton can fit that spot next year, but should the Bruins make a good offer to Buffalo? This would be very helpful to the B's.
— John, Newport
The Bruins could definitely use help on the blue line, though that need has taken a bit of a backseat to the issues up front with the injuries to Horton and Peverley. But Myers is not going to be an option. I agree he would look help out the Bruins a lot, forming a formidable set of twin towers on the blue line with Zdeno Chara. And there are 29 other teams that would love to have him on their defense as well despite his struggles this season. And yes, those 29 other teams include the Sabres, who aren't about to give up the 2009-10 Calder Trophy winner. Buffalo just committed to making him the cornerstone of their defense for the foreseeable future, signing him this past September to a seven-year, $38.5-million extension that begins next season. They are not about to trade away a 22-year-old with his size and two double-digit goal seasons already on his resume, let alone deal him within the division.
The Bruins are more likely to add a more modest veteran defenseman to give the team some needed depth on the blue line for the playoff push and serve as insurance if the injury bug hits there as well.
Why have the Bruins stopped hitting hard? It seems like they are the ones being pushed around these days!
— Dennis Grassini, Warwick, R.I.
While the lack of scoring (15 totals goals, four shutouts while going 4-7-0 over their last 11 games) has been the most obvious factor in the Bruins' recent slide, I agree that the lack of physical play has been even more disconcerting. I also don't think that the two are separate issues, as the Bruins are at their best offensively when they play physical, force turnovers with their hitting game and wear down opponents. While there's been efforts to spark the club with the occasional bout from Shawn Thornton and sporadic bursts of energy on the forecheck, the sustained physical play that was the trademark of Boston's run to the Cup last year and their torrid stretch from the start of November through early January this season has been missing too often of late.
Some of that can be explained by the nature of the schedule and the fact that no one can keep up that kind of punishing style over the grind of a full 82-game slate. But there may be more to it than that. The suspensions to Marchand and Andrew Ference in January have seemingly left the Bruins a bit gun shy when it comes to playing with the edge that made them so effective. It's not just the specter of supplemental discipline, but also the way the in-game officials have called things of late that has also forced the Bruins to be particularly cautious. Claude Julien noted after a particularly frustrating game in Buffalo earlier this month that, "The type of game that we play, we understand that the tolerance against us is very high and the tolerance for us is very low. … That's what happens when you have a so-called reputation."
This isn't to suggest any kind of conspiracy against the Bruins. With the current state of NHL officiating, Boston is far from unique in being subjected to questionable calls. But there does appear to be a desire league-wide to limit the physicality of the game. And with the Bruins being a team that relies on physical play and toughness more than most, that crackdown has appeared to affect them more than other teams. Still, it's not impossible to still play an effective physical game within the current rules. The Rangers are a perfect example of a team that plays a very robust game and has used that style (along with some stellar goaltending) to soar to the top of the standings. It's up to the Bruins to find a way to regain their edge and bring their physical style to bear within the rules to get back to their winning ways.
What is going on with the Bruins? Is it injuries or is it the result of Tim Thomas taking the lonesome road? What do you think Cam Neely & Peter Chiarelli will do to rectify the situation? I would package Tim Thomas, David Krejci & a draft pick to get Rick Nash.
— Gary Peddle, Hampton, NB, Canada
The injuries are certainly a factor. You don't lose players as important as a top-line wing like Horton and a guy who contributes in all situations like Peverley and not feel the effects. But every team faces adversity with injuries. Their loss can't excuse the team's overall lackluster play for the past month. The Bruins were already showing signs of the coming issues before Horton was hurt, going just 3-2-1 in the final half-dozen games with him in the lineup and escaping with wins despite less-than-complete efforts in a couple of those victories.
As mentioned above, the decline of the team's physical play has also contributed to its troubles, and Thomas' situation has been an unnecessary distraction as well. It's all combined to produce the current rut the team finds itself in. I do expect Chiarelli to be active at the deadline to add some depth and maybe try to spark the club with some fresh blood. But the real answer isn't going to come from any deal. It's going to require the Bruins to re-establish their identity and work their way out of this malaise. The good news for the Bruins is that they know they are capable of doing exactly that. They proved that last spring when they hoisted the Cup and they reinforced just how good they can be when that commitment is there by dominating the league for such a long stretch earlier this season.