Some Perspective On the Bruins

Logging onto Twitter as a Bruins fan lately has felt a lot like this:

It’s frankly been obnoxious. I know there are some crazy fanbases out there, but I don’t think any of them are quite as irrational and reactionary as Bruins fans are. It’s truly mind-boggling. I mean, I’m seeing people call for this team to be sellers at the trade deadline. Give me a break. Yes, the Bruins haven’t been playing great hockey lately. But let’s all take a step back and get some perspective.

The Standings By Points Don’t Tell the Real Story

First and foremost, I want to address how the standings currently look. The Bruins are in fourth place in the East Division and are nine points behind the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins, and three ahead of the fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers. However, let’s ignore that for a second, and look at the game played and points percentages.

Standings according to NHL.com as of 4/02/21.

The Bruins have four (!!) games in hand on the Penguins, and two on the Flyers. Say they win those games. That puts them seven (!!) points ahead of the Flyers, and just one (!!) point behind the Penguins. As it stands now, when you look at points percentage, they have a pretty comfortable lead on the Flyers, and they aren’t too far behind the Penguins.

Let’s look at the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals too, just for fun. The Bruins have four games in hand on the Islanders as well, and three on the Capitals. Should they win those games, they will be just one (!!) point behind the Islanders and just three (!!) behind the Capitals. Not nine as they appear to be now.

None of those seeds are out of reach. In fact, as long as the Bruins don’t drop any of those games, they’re pretty easily attainable if they win games against those three teams, and especially if they have a winning record against them (although that is now impossible against the Islanders). So, that’s some standings perspective for you.

The Bruins Head-to-Head Results With Top Teams Aren’t Bad

Now, I know what many of you will say. Just because this team isn’t in a terrible position points-wise doesn’t mean they’ll do anything in the playoffs. And you’re absolutely right in saying that. However, let’s take a look at the Bruins’ head-to-head results against each team in the division.

Stats taken from hockey-reference.com.

There are only two teams the Bruins have a losing record against: the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders. They have a winning (or even, in the case of the Capitals, but a winning points percentage) record against the other five teams. That’s pretty good if you ask me. Not being able to beat the Islanders is obviously not ideal given they could easily see them in the playoffs, but they have looked better against them in recent games. So, it’s not the end of the world right now with three games left to play.

Looking at these results, you can see that the Bruins have generally fared well against the opponents they’ll be seeing in the playoffs this season. So, tell me again why we’re panicking because they can’t seem to beat the Devils and struggled to get going for a bit against a desperate Sabres team? The Bruins have been this way for years: good against the good teams, inexplicably bad against the bad ones. It sucks but it’s nothing new.

We Have Yet to See The Bruins Healthy

Yet another thing we need to keep in mind when evaluating this team is we have yet to see the Bruins’ fully healthy. The blueline has been hit particularly hard. There are currently only two proven NHL defensemen who are healthy (McAvoy and Grzelcyk). So, I’m really not quite sure what people are expecting. When the blueline was healthy, the Bruins were a great team, and went on quite a run. However, once Miller went down, and then several others followed, things went downhill. It’s not an excuse, because every team has to deal with injuries and the Bruins have to figure out how to play better than they currently are. But it is an explanation.

I also feel compelled to make a comparison here. For a significant stretch this season, the Penguins were in the same exact boat. Their blueline was hit extremely hard by injuries. And what happened might you ask? They struggled mightily, just like the Bruins currently are. They were bouncing in and out of the playoff picture. But now, all those guys are healthy. And what is happening now? The Penguins are white-hot, and solidly in the playoffs. It’s almost like you aren’t as good healthy as you are injured. Crazy stuff!

Until this Bruins team gets healthy again, we can’t accurately evalute them. Was the team we saw at the beginning of the season the real Bruins, or is this one? I’m heavily inclined to say the former, since they were healthy at the beginning of the season. But, again, we have no way of knowing until they get healthy again. Until then, stop with the doomsday scenarios.

Stop Calling For Sweeney and Cassidy’s Heads

On a related note, I have seen FAR too many calls for both GM Don Sweeney and head coach Bruce Cassidy’s heads. One of them is frankly too many, but it is true mind-blowing the numbers of fans who want one or both gone. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so frustrating. Sweeney has generally done well in his tenure. He doesn’t swing for the fences, but there has never been a situation where he should’ve. The little trades and signing he has made have worked out pretty well for the most part. Yeah, there have been duds (especially at the beginning of his tenure), but over the past couple of years, he’s been pretty good. The calls for Cassidy’s head are even more ridiculous. It is amazing what he has done for this team since coming on board. So just stop those right now.

This brings me to my next point. People are gathering their pitchforks right now because there appear to be gaping holes in the Bruins line-up. However, as I said above, we have not seen this team fully healthy. Therefore, we have not seen it as Sweeney envisioned it this season. Ondrej Kase has only played two games this year. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have finally been the solution to Krejci’s right-wing? He certainly had the tools for it. As for defense, it was great until the injury bug hit, so I’m not convinced that hole exists once everyone is healthy.

So, the only hole that won’t be solved without a trade (as it doesn’t seem like Kase will play again this season) is that of Krejci’s right-wing. Yes, it has been that way for years. Yes, it would be nice if it had been solved by now. But you can’t fault Sweeney because a player got hurt. Should he have gotten one by now, seeing as Kase hasn’t played since the second game of the year? Probably. But trading in-season is particularly difficult this year, so I’m not surprised or even really mad that he hasn’t. I’m not saying Sweeney has been perfect, because he certainly hasn’t been. But he hasn’t done anything worthy of losing his job yet.

Help Will Be Acquired at the Deadline

I could go on for quite some time about why there is no reason to panic about this Bruins’ team yet. But this will be my last point for now. I am confident that Sweeney will acquire help at the deadline. It likely won’t be the big names that fans seem to want, because they aren’t worth their asking price, but there will be additions.

Last month, I talked about several possible forward and defense targets. My opinions on all of them haven’t changed. The only person I would add is Conor Garland. The Arizona Coyotes are rumored to be willing to part with him at the right price, which will likely be centered around draft picks given the Coyotes lack of them. They could ask for a prospect too, but it shouldn’t be too crazy. If that’s the case, I think Sweeney should and will be all over it. 

There is no denying the Bruins need scoring help. They’re dead last in the league in expected goals for (although it’s important to note they’re 14th in expected goals-for percentage, so while it’s still not good to be dead last in a stat like that, it’s not as bad as it initially seems). Sweeney will get them some. Will it be Taylor Hall? No. Could it be Conor Garland? Perhaps, but as close to the playoffs as the Coyotes are right now it doesn’t feel terribly likely. Is it more likely to be someone like Bobby Ryan, who has had a quietly solid season in Detroit, playing in a similar role that he’d have here? Yes. He’d be a great addition, as he should be even better on an actually good team.

Several Small Moves Tend to Be Better Anyway

Acquiring a player like Ryan (or even Garland) will allow Sweeney to make another move. He’d likely go for a defenseman, and preferably a reliable left-shot veteran one. This would actually put the Bruins in the best position of all. Making two smaller moves (or one bigger but that doesn’t cost the farm) will actually improve the team more than one big one because you can upgrade at least two positions instead of one. 

If Sweeney doesn’t make any moves at the deadline, then I’m going to be concerned. I’ll also be shocked because he’s made it very clear that he will shake some things up if he feels he has to. I can’t imagine he doesn’t feel like he has to watching this team struggle like they have been. So, let’s also wait and see what he does at the deadline before panicking. And if it’s a few smaller moves, don’t panic immedaitely. Look at what happened when he went and got Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson instead of a big name like Mark Stone. They went on to play key roles in the Bruins’ 2019 Cup run. Small moves can have huge impacts.

Slumps Happen, They’ll Pull Out of It

All things considered, the Bruins really aren’t in a bad spot. They haven’t been playing well at all lately and absolutely need to be better. But, they’re still in a good position for the playoffs and have done well against tough opponents. They’ll get healthy, and if all goes well, will do exactly what the Penguins have done since doing so. Plus, they’ll get some reinforcements at the deadline that will hopefully provide some scoring and make it so we’re less reliant on rookie defensemen in the playoffs.

So, as tough as they’ve been to watch lately, there is absolutely no reason to panic yet. Let them get healthy. Let the trade deadline pass and any new acquisitions get acclimated. Then, if they still play like this, you can panic a little more. But it’d be absolutely shocking to see. Slumps happen, and they will pull out of it. This is still a good (albeit largely one-line offensively, which has also been struggling lately) team. They have the potential to make a decent run if they can pull it together and play like they did early on in the year. As of right now, if you dig into it a bit like I just did, there’s no reason to believe that can’t happen.

In short, please, calm down. Bruins Twitter makes me want to pull my hair out lately, and there is no reason for it. Let’s stop the reactionary takes and actually think critically for once.

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

Featured image courtesy of Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

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