Bruins

Haggerty: Despite big moves by rivals, Bruins need to stick to the plan

Haggerty: Despite big moves by rivals, Bruins need to stick to the plan

The simple fact is that the Bruins' standing in their own division has worsened to this point in the summer and it might get even worse over the next weeks and months even as the B’s minimally improved as a team.

The Bruins are better than they were at the end of the playoffs by virtue of the additions of backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak and defenseman John Moore and landing a legit top-six impact winger would make it a more drastic improvement to their roster makeover.

Still, there’s no denying that the Maple Leafs have pushed closer to Stanley Cup contender status with the addition of free-agent superstar John Tavares, and could really get there if they can ever acquire, or develop, a No. 1 defenseman. Regardless of their standing league-wide, the Leafs are clearly much improved from the team that the Bruins barely eked by in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

Then there’s the Tampa Bay Lightning, who dispatched the Bruins in five games in the second round and are now getting close to landing Erik Karlsson, which would give them Victor Hedman, Karlsson, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman to start with on their back end. That puts them far ahead of a Bruins team they already dispatched if they can pull off the improbable and get Karlsson and make them a legit contender for the term “NHL super team.”

The thought of Hedman and Karlsson in the same Tampa D-corps conjures up memories of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer dominating with the Anaheim Ducks and would immediately vault them into Cup favorites. So, there’s a realistic scenario for next season where the Bruins could be the third best team in the NHL and still wind up the third best team in the Atlantic Division with a first-round playoff date of doom against the Lightning.

So what are the Black and Gold to do about this?

Well, what they shouldn’t do is rashly try to join the arms race that Tampa and Toronto have escalated this summer.

Certainly, Bruins GM Don Sweeney should keep pushing talks forward to acquire a top-six offensive impact player whether it’s Jeff Skinner, Artemi Panarin or somebody off the beaten path that hasn’t been readily discussed. But that’s all part of the offseason plan already in place and would include trading chips that the B’s have already reconciled with giving up in the right trade whether it's Torey Krug, a prospect such as Anders Bjork or another high draft pick after dealing their first-rounder last spring.

What the Bruins should not do is alter the plan to try and hit a home run trade to match Tavares or Karlsson.

What the Bruins should not do, under any circumstances, is think about trading Charlie McAvoy or Jake DeBrusk, who could be in the Bruins organization for the next ten years. It might even mean (though it wouldn't be ideal) not landing their top-six target ahead of the season and instead getting a look at their young players before making an impact move during the season. 

The B’s don’t need a panic move or a reactionary transaction simply designed to keep up with Toronto and Tampa. Those kinds of motives behind trades or free-agent signings almost always backfire on the team that’s getting desperate.  

“You’re juggling a few things [during the offseason], but you get through. You have contingency plans. All our staff, and I’m grateful for them, everybody worked hard [at the open of free agency], and all of the plans and all of the situations we had, the ownership was certainly supportive of what we are trying to accomplish,” said Sweeney. “Hopefully we move forward as a better team.”

It’s clear that the Lightning are loading up to win this season and then GM Steve Yzerman will have to answer the difficult questions later, like “how in the hell will Tampa afford Karlsson’s next contract where he wants $11 million per year?”

The Bruins are still building and doing it the right way. They posted a 112-point season while pushing Tampa Bay in the regular season, and they got some very valuable postseason experience for their young guys while winning a Game 7. Right now, the Bruins are an intriguing mix of young (20-year-old McAvoy) and old (Zdeno Chara will be 42 this season) that should absolutely be a playoff team and should be one of the contenders in an Eastern Conference that’s going to pack some punch next season.

The structure that Cam Neely and Sweeney are building in Boston could see the B's consistently competitive for the next 10 years with McAvoy and David Pastrnak leading the way. The Bruins just need to stick to the plan rather than getting overwhelmed by Toronto/Tampa’s shock and awe show this summer. By all accounts, that’s exactly what the Bruins are doing right now even as the road has clearly grown more treacherous and difficult for the Black and Gold next season.

Sometimes sticking to the plan can grow difficult when all manner of things are happening all around you, but that’s exactly what the Bruins should do even as their closest rivals are taking big home-run swings.  

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Is it panic time for the Bruins after injuries to Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron?

Is it panic time for the Bruins after injuries to Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron?

The first thing to keep in mind for the Bruins is that it could have been much, much worse. Sure this current four-game road trip has taken a massive toll with long-term injuries to both Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron that will test both the B’s mettle and their organizational depth.  

Chara is going to miss at least a month with an MCL injury to his left knee and now Bergeron is also going to miss at least a month with an injury to his rib/sternoclavicular area after a hard, awkward tumble into the side boards.

They could have been season-ending injuries instead, so that’s much better news than it might have been for both players.

But alas the Bruins will miss their two biggest on-ice leaders, their two best defensive players and the two people most valuable to their penalty kill until at least Christmas, and perhaps even longer than that with the Winter Classic set for Jan. 1 vs. the Blackhawks. Oh, and Bergeron was also the team’s leading scorer with seven goals and 26 points in his 19 games played this season.

So it is time to hit the Bob Lobel-trademarked panic button at this point?

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Certainly there’s an argument to be made that it should be given how the team fell apart against Colorado once Chara exited that game with his knee injury. And the Bruins have been so dependent on their top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak this season that missing one of those three forwards will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on their offense.

But before true panic sets in, let’s remember what happened last season.

Bergeron missed 18 games due to injuries last year as well, and the Bruins managed to put together a 9-2-2 record in the month that he missed with a broken foot in the middle of the year when similar doom and gloom themes were intoned after his injury. So a similar group of Bruins players proved that it can be done and they did the same when Chara missed chunks of time last season with shoulder woes.  

The challenge will be finding players to step up as they did last season in the absence of their two most important players. Riley Nash jumped from the third line to the top line in between Marchand and Pastrnak, and gave the B’s a similar two-way center with a lesser offensive ceiling to hold things in place. Nash is gone now after signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets as a free agent, but perhaps the underrated Joakim Nordstrom can do the same after Bruce Cassidy put him in the middle with Marchand and Jake DeBrusk in the win over the Coyotes.

The bigger long-term issue is going to be the absence of Chara with a defensemen corps that’s already missing Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Urho Vaakanainen, Kevan Miller and John Moore, and is seemingly introducing a new P-Bruins call-up with every single game. Bruce Cassidy, Kevin Dean and Co. are coaching their proverbial butts off right now by getting names like Connor Clifton, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon to play solid defense, but that isn’t going to be sustainable without Chara unless they start getting some of their reinforcements healthy again.

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The B's managed to get three of four points on the road against Dallas and Arizona by holding them to a total of two goals, but they were also outshot 70-46 in those two games. Some of it was about surprisingly good defense limiting mistakes and scoring chances, and some of it was about Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak being pretty close to flawless between the pipes. That’s a formula that’s going to need to continue for the next month while No. 33 and No. 37 get healthy.

The conservative, defense-first approach is the only way to fly right now with the team missing so much talent, but they’re also not going to have sustained success averaging 23 shots on net per night.

The final piece of optimistic information: The Bruins have been good enough in the season’s first six weeks to be in a playoff spot, and they will be there when the Thanksgiving holiday comes and goes as a regular-season benchmark.

The Black and Gold have built themselves a bit of a cushion for hard times like they’re about to face over the next four weeks, and they’ll be able to afford a period of .500 play while they get their bearings. But the B’s are also facing an Atlantic Division with some stiffer competition in improved teams in both Montreal and Buffalo, and they're also not as deep as last season’s group that amassed 112 points.

So the key Black and Gold mantra right now is to tread water and survive over the next four weeks while Bergeron and Chara recuperate, and then they can worry about the big picture with a Bruins group that hasn’t yet been able to really find its groove.   

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron out at least four weeks with rib, sternoclavicular injury

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Bruins' Patrice Bergeron out at least four weeks with rib, sternoclavicular injury

Well, things just got a little worse for the Bruins on the injury front.

Patrice Bergeron is going to be out for at least four weeks with a rib and sternoclavicular injury. He was hurt in last week’s overtime loss to the Dallas Stars when his left shoulder area took the brunt of contact as he crashed awkwardly into the boards with Dallas forward Radek Faksa.

Bergeron missed some time after the collision into the boards, but finished out the game while a left shoulder/arm injury appeared to cause him enough discomfort that he was unable to take any faceoffs upon his return. Bergeron and John Moore (lower body injury) both left the team and returned to Boston after the Dallas to be evaluated for their injuries, an early indicator that No. 37’s injury was going to be a serious one.

The Bruins plugged versatile forward Joakim Nordstrom into a top-six center role with Bergeron out, but it remains to be seen what they’ll do over a longer period of time during his absence. Last season the Bruins had Riley Nash to fill in when Bergeron missed 18 games with groin and foot injuries, but it’s a different story this season. The Bruins have been almost completely dependent on the top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak for just about everything, both offensively and defensively.

Bergeron is currently seventh in the NHL with 26 points (7 goals, 19 assists) in 19 games this season, and the Bruins are going to be hard-pressed to replicate that kind of offense with anybody that does fill in for Bergeron. Beyond that, the Bruins will be missing their two best defensive players in Bergeron and Zdeno Chara with longer-term injuries.

Will this be a breaking point for the Bruins with a ton of bodies already missing on the back end with injuries, and now two of their biggest performers probably out until Christmas at the earliest? It remains to be seen, but the Bruins are going to need to win games in a different way with Bergeron now on the sidelines for an extended period of time. 

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