While watching the Bruins rebound from horrible back-to-back losses with a win over the Rangers on Sunday, I had an incredibly dorky sports fan thought.
The 4-1 Bruins victory ended with Nick Ritchie and burgeoning Bruins nemesis Brendan Lemieux fighting with zeros on the clock. After the game, Trent Frederic told the media he was jealous that Ritchie got to go with his preferred dance partner.
"This team is fun," my dopey stupid dork brain thought. Fighting in hockey is often forced and is one of the less cool things about the sport, but that moment was the latest case of me taking the bait on this team and this season.
Don't get me wrong: I don't think they’re great or anything, but I like what I'm watching.
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It shouldn't be a surprise, though. That seems like something we’d say 19 games into a Bruins season, and how many times are we going to do that? We’ve seen time and again that this iteration of the Bruins brings it in the regular season and gets bested in the playoffs. It was clear to the naked eye that the B’s were a paper tiger as they raced to the Presidents’ Trophy last season, but we watched, had fun and in some cases, got our hopes up.
This year’s team raced out to an 11-3-2 start before getting their asses kicked in back-to-back games, then beat the Rangers Sunday. They aren’t as bad as they looked in those blowouts late last week, but they’re also not as good as that 11-3-2 mark. We know the weaknesses: five-on-five scoring and questions as to whether the back end will hold.
So at what point is “fun regular season, not really a contender” no longer doing it for Bruins fans? When does this team go for it, take some risks and fill in the roster’s cracks?
I say now, and not in a “this is the year!” kind of way. More in a “make this the year” kind of way. The rivalries we’ve seen formed so far have made this such a fun season that I actually want it to count for something. Plus, this team could look different next season. Both goalies and David Krejci are in walk years. The fourth line could have a new look if Sean Kuraly, also an unrestricted free agent next offseason, departs. You've also got the expansion draft coming.
There isn’t a Tampa Bay in the division to steamroll the Bruins in the second round this year. If they strengthen their roster, they should be able to get out of their division. Maybe this current group would also win a couple rounds, but what do you expect beyond that?
If the Bruins want to go for it, they’ll have to at least add a top scorer. Counting on Ondrej Kase to be healthy or good is ambitious. They can get away with playing Ritchie in the top six, despite the fact that he doesn’t do much five-on-five. If Krejci gets healthy and there’s a sure thing on the other wing, Boston will have a strong top six. (I’d put Craig Smith on the third line and shoot for an upgrade to play with Krejci.)
The Bruins currently have $3.62 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly, and their prospect pool is unimpressive. They traded their first-round pick last year to get the Ducks to take David Backes, so they should want to hold onto their top pick if they can. That makes Jake DeBrusk an interesting trade candidate. He makes decent money ($3.67 million cap hit) and is a good, young player who is just inconsistent.
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Moving DeBrusk would be like when the Bruins traded a 24-year-old Blake Wheeler in their Cup-winning 2010-11 season. The deal was Wheeler and Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. Wheeler went on to be the best player in that deal by far, but the trade gave Boston a more reliable player at the time in Peverley.
The safe move would be to avoid a big move that would cost the B’s a young player they drafted and developed, but if Don Sweeney wants to go for it like he did in 2019, when he traded Ryan Donato for Charlie Coyle, he’ll have to take a risk. Trading DeBrusk might be that risk.
Getting a scorer isn’t the Bruins’ only need, but it’s their biggest. Boston’s injured blueliners will heal, but it might be a stretch to expect a left side of Jeremy Lauzon, Matt Grzelcyk and Jakub Zboril to hold up come playoff time. A veteran reinforcement would help, and Mattias Ekholm’s been rumored to ... seemingly everyone.
Last year’s trade deadline was a half-measure. Don Sweeney swapped disappointing wings with the Ducks and got Kase as a throw-in as part of the David Backes dump. The team’s fate was predictable.
The Bruins are again a good team. Are they great? Probably not, because great teams usually don’t rank 25th in five-on-five goals.
They have that top line, though. Charlie McAvoy is having a career year. They defend well and they still have Tuukka Rask. They’re well coached.
This Bruins season wants to be taken seriously. They should go for it.