As I write this. the Boston Bruins are clinging to a playoff spot as we enter the stretch to the post season. Whether or not the Bruins make the playoffs or not, the team faces a lot of questions after the curtain falls on the 2014-15 NHL season:
1.WHO WILL BE AT THE HELM?-
Peter Chiarelli and Claude Julien find themselves in the line of fire after what can be deemed a significantly disappointing season. The team appears out of sync and lackluster most nights. Though delivering a Stanley Cup to the city of Boston just 4 years ago, could this years disappointing performance be the end of the road for the Chiarelli/Julien tandem? Looking past some questionable trades, Chiarelli has significantly tied his hands with restrictive contracts. No movement and no trade clauses have come back to significantly tie his own hands when it became apparent the team was missing some key components to their game earlier in the year. You can debate dollars and player's salaries (which I will later on), but the restrictive movement aspects of the contracts handed out by Chiarelli are difficult to swallow. As for Julien... has his time run out in Beantown? Have the players tuned the coach out? You could argue that Julien got 'out coached' in last year's series against Montreal as the team was not able to adapt to Montreal's style. This season, it's been difficult to see the motivation in his players and certainly effort has been lacking on a consistent basis. Does this ultimately fall on the management team or the players?
Both Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have had to deal with serious leg injuries over the past year. Both have appeared to be lacking a step this season and the question has to be asked "Is it taking longer for these guys to recover due to their injuries" or has time caught up with them and it is time to turn the page? No one questions Chara's presence or leadership... but big Z was exposed in last years series against Montreal and appears to be a tad slow at times this year. Is it time to try to unload big Z and Seidenberg and build your blueline around younger d-men (and upcoming RFA's) Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug?
3.MANAGING IN THE CAP ERA-
To be competitive in the cap era, GM's need to constantly be managing their contracts and rosters effectively. In the Bruins case, having $7.5 million committed to two forwards who play on the 3rd line (Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly) is downright ludicrous. An argument can be made that Eriksson is more than a 3rd liner (and I agree he should be with Bergeron and Marchand -imagine the possession stats on that line... I would argue Marchand could pot 30 goals with those 2)... however that is where Julien has him cast. In a cap era, the bottom 6 forwards need to be a balance of character and energy players as well as young, cheap players who will hopefully evolve and grow into top 6 players. The kids need a chance to play and with Carl Soderberg headed to UFA (and the B's with little $$$ to resign him) guys like Ryan Spooner and Alexander Khochlachev should be playing with the big club. Dan Paille, Gregory Campbell and Soderberg all are UFA's at the end of this season and the opportunity needs to be given to the kids to develop into contributors.
Next season could be 'walk years' for Milan Lucic, Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly. Decisions need to be made on whether they are extended or dealt this summer in a retooling.
For whatever reason, Lucic has been a shell of his former self this year. I gave Looch the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of the year as he was recovering from off season wrist surgery and was limited in his ability to train. However, we're now 55 games into the season and the 'compete' level is not there with Lucic at all. He has been embroiled in silliness with fans in Montreal, run at by various Montreal Canadiens players and rightfully got dropped when he ran his mouth to Dalton Prout. It's been agonizing to watch my favourite player in the league go through the motions more often than not this year. When focused, Lucic is one of the top power forwards in the game but this year it has been like watching a cat that has been declawed. Boston brass need to evaluate whether he is still a cornerpiece to the organization that can be salvaged or whether he can be parlayed into a key piece or two for the future.
BREAKING NEWS TO MY FELLOW BRUINS FANS: LOUI ERIKSSON WILL NEVER BE TYLER SEGUIN.(get over it) What Eriksson has been this season, is the Bruins most consistent forward. He is strong along the boards as well as with the puck and has been one of the most consistent backchecking forwards. If Eriksson were given a fair shake and an opportunity on the top 2 lines with some more offensively talented players... could he approach his 60-70 point level of his Dallas years? The key statement here is "Can Eriksson be given a fair shake in Boston and an opportunity to produce"?
The good news for Boston next season is that the $4.8 million cap penalty from the Iginla contract is off the books... the bad news is that $2 million of that is already committed in a raise to David Krecji. Counting the $4.8 million penalty and adding that to expiring contracts, the Bruins have a total of just under $12 million to spend to fill 11 roster spots. Not too promising. Tough decisions will have to be made to determine how to open up payroll and reload this roster to be competitive next season.
What would you do this offseason if you were in charge?