Five depressing playoff thoughts for Bruins fans
Five depressing playoff thoughts for Bruins fans
By Joe Haggerty
With both conference finals now underway, it’s been over a month now since the Bruins were eliminated from playoff contention with a regular season dud of a finale against the Ottawa Senators. Going without a dog in the fight for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs, here are five pieces of depressing reality for Bruins fans as the Penguins/Lightning and Sharks/Blues slug it out to give the NHL a different Cup champion from the Blackhawks/Kings/Bruins stewardship over the last six seasons.
1) Martin Jones is a stud for the Sharks
Yes, that’s right. The very same goaltender that the Bruins owned the rights to for less than a week last summer has taken a San Jose lottery team from last season all the way to the end of the playoff line in the Western Conference. Certainly the return was good for the young goalie at the time of the deal last summer – a San Jose first rounder without lottery protection and college prospect Sean Kuraly – but hindsight is pretty much always 20/20 in the hockey trade business. Tuukka Rask went through a second straight subpar season behind a compromised defense in Boston, and didn’t approach the $7 million cap hit he carries on the Black and Gold roster. Rask was too ill to answer the bell in the regular season finale for the Bruins, and that turned out to be a harbinger of the kind of DOA effort they gave with the playoffs on the line against the Senators. Meanwhile the 26-year-old Jones posted a career-high 37 wins, a 2.27 goals against average and the very same .918 save percentage as Rask last season. He’s the biggest difference on a Sharks team that finally busted through this spring after years of playoff disappointment. He did all that with a much more manageable $3 million cap hit, which is the same number he’ll carry for the next two seasons after signing a contract with the Sharks following the trade to San Jose. Nobody is saying that Rask still isn’t a potential franchise goalie, of course, but they might have been able to get the same level of goaltending for less than half the price if they’d find some way to deal Rask rather than Jones last June.
2) Bruins thought they had a lottery pick. . .
Speaking of San Jose, the Bruins thought they might have had a lottery first round pick in 2016 after making a deal with a Sharks team that seemed headed for another losing season coming off last year. San Jose selected Swiss winger Timo Meier with the ninth overall pick last summer, so it was reasonable to think Boston might be picking in that neighborhood this season with their first rounder. The pick wasn’t lottery protected to the surprise of many, so the sky was the limit for the Black and Gold if the Sharks were lowly enough. Unfortunately for the Bruins, the player (Martin Jones) they dealt to San Jose ended up helping the Sharks get back into the playoffs this season. Even more unfortunately for the Bruins, the Sharks’ rise to the Western Conference Finals means that Boston’s acquired first round pick will be one of the four final picks in the first round next month. So instead of a lottery pick if San Jose bombed or a mid-first rounder if they organized draft order by regular season finish, the Bruins are now looking at a first round pick from the Sharks that’s pretty much a glorified second round pick. While it still has the trade value of a first rounder, it’s certainly not anywhere near as shiny, or valuable, as it might have been under different circumstances this year.
3) The sight of the Penguins and Sharks in conference finals
The sight of both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks in the conference finals has to be a depressing one for the Boston management group. The Penguins backed into the playoffs last season and the Sharks were out of it altogether just like the Bruins last season, and appeared to be in even worse shape headed into this year. But both teams deftly accomplished what the Bruins could not, and underscored their failings in a big way. The Penguins and Sharks both managed to rebuild their teams on the fly while holding onto their respective core pieces from prior iterations. Pittsburgh still has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury from their Cup-worthy seasons, and San Jose still has graybeards Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau producing for them. But the Penguins had the guts to pull off a head coaching change at midseason that totally reversed their fortunes in a good way, and the Sharks pulled off moves like trading Ryane Clowe while they were in playoff contention to maximize assets they were about to lose. The Bruins did neither of these things while holding onto a coach in Claude Julien that might not be the best fit for the direction of the organization, and holding onto Loui Eriksson at the trade deadline while fairly certain he’s going to walk away to the highest bidder on July 1. Let’s hope the success of the Penguins and Sharks this spring sets off a few bells and whistles on Causeway Street when it comes to making the right moves, and knowing the exact moment to make them.
4) Phil Kessel is no longer a losing player
Bruins fans could always be comforted that the Kessel trade from Boston sent away an admittedly skilled player that would never be a winner, and instead played the role of moody, sourpuss, one dimensional scorer on teams bound for nowhere special. Kessel was excellent as a playoff performer during his time in Boston, but that was always as a supporting player amid a strong team. His time in Toronto was marked by gaudy offensive statistics, and garish won-loss records with only the 2013 first round collapse at the hands of the Bruins registering as a modicum of team success. Kessel became a divisive figure in Toronto that didn’t seem very coachable, played when the mood struck him and wasn’t exactly a paragon of fitness while Leafs reporters spun yarns about his daily trips to hot dog vendors in his neighborhood. In other words, it got pretty ugly at the end in Toronto. But Kessel has found team success in Pittsburgh after joining on with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and has flourished under an unlikely stern voice in head coach Mike Sullivan. Kessel has 5 goals and 13 points in 12 playoff games during this run by the Penguins, and has provided the goal-scoring punch for Pittsburgh while things have gone quiet for Crosby and Malkin. The narrative that Kessel isn’t a winning player has been going on since his final days as a member of the Bruins franchise, and that might be another long-held belief in Boston that’s about to be put to rest.
5) Shattenkirk's price is rising rapidly
Kevin Shattenkirk is the player most likely to be pursued by the Bruins this summer as their puck-moving defenseman of choice, and the price will be high for a full year of service for a performer in the last year of his deal. It’s a good thing for Boston that Shattenkirk wants to come East in any trade that does happen, and that he holds love for the city after starring for the Boston University Terriers in college. That price tag for him, however, is steadily moving up higher now as Shattenkirk continues to be in the middle of many good things happening offensively for the St. Louis Blues in their playoff run. Shattenkirk is second only to Brent Burns in playoff points among D-men still active in the postseason, and has six power play assists in 15 playoff games among his 11 overall points. His point shot on the PP has been a legitimate weapon for St. Louis, and he’s recovered nicely against Dallas and San Jose after a rough first round matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. There will be other defensemen available for trades: Tyson Barrie in Colorado has been tossed around as a potentially available name in hockey circles, and Alex Goligoski will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 along with Keith Yandle. But Shattenkirk seems like the perfect fit for the Bruins after reportedly being discussed at the NHL trade deadline, and the premium price won’t be lowering after his sterling postseason play.