Why The Boston Bruins Playoff Chances Are In Jeopardy

The Boston Bruins have been a playoff mainstay in the NHL since 2008, qualifying easily in most years and succeeding in the spring, most notably with a Stanley Cup in 2011 and a trip to the Finals in 2013. This year’s been a tough one for the Bruins, and even with yesterday’s 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks for an NBC audience, the B’s are in a three-way fight for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot. Let’s take a look at why the Boston Bruins playoff chances are in jeopardy.

I’m a partisan Bruins fan and a subscriber to the NHL Center Ice package, so I’ve watched just about every game this team has played since the season started in mid-October. I find myself griping about what I see as a lack of defensive toughness, and questionable goaltending from the normally reliable Tuuka Raask. The overall numbers illustrate something different though.

The broad view of the Boston Bruins says offense is clearly the problem. They rank 21st in the NHL in goals scored, while ranking 10th in goals against. The #10 ranking in team defense comes in spite of ranking 15th in shots allowed—something that comes because Raask has a 91.9% save rate, one that ranks 13th among goalies with enough games to qualify. Is that enough ranks to throw at you?
There’s a reason for the contrast between my perception and constant fuming and the statistical data and it’s not for a lack of paying attention. The Bruins have rarely been a great offensive team over the last several years. What they have been is a great defensive team and Raask won last year’s Vezina Trophy, the goaltenders’ equivalent of the Cy Young Award.
Thus, while the defense is not the problem per se, it’s not the kind of work those of us who watch this team have gotten used to in recent years. What we have is a defense that’s pretty good, as opposed to outstanding. And the offense has not made any kind of improvement. In fact, it’s rather inept.
Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s best offensive producer, with 17 goals and 25 assists. To put that in perspective though, he’s tied for 58th in the NHL in points and goals When it comes to assists, the Bruins have no one in the top 60, and Bergeron, defenseman Dougie Hamilton and center Carl Soderberg barely slip in the top 90 (I use increments of 30, since that’s the number of teams there are in the NHL).
It adds up to a team that’s only three points ahead of the Florida Panthers in the race for the final playoff berth and just four points up on the Philadelphia Flyers, though Philly has played one more game than both Boston and Philadelphia, something that stands out more and more as the April 11 end to the regular season draws near.

Boston can reasonably point to injuries. Zdeno Chara, the great defenseman, missed a lot of time early. David Krejci, the center who was the team’s best player (outside of Raask) in the 2013 run to the Finals, has also been plagued with injury problems and is again questionable after a nasty collision on Thursday in St. Louis.
But in the bigger picture, some bad trade decisions are biting the Bruins hard this season. It goes back to the fall of 2009, when they traded Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The B’s got back two good young players in Tyler Seguin and Hamilton. Seguin was emerging as a top scorer himself until Boston shipped him to Dallas on the Fourth of July in 2013. They got Loui Eriksson in return, and with 14 goals/19 assists, Erikkson has been merely average.
What it boils down to is that a team with serious offensive problems has traded two offensive threats, in Kessel and Seguin who would each lead the current cast of Bruins in both goals scored and assists. Hamilton is a nice young defenseman, but not enough to merit the loss of one of these players (the sequence of the trades demonstrate Boston could only have one of the two stars, not both).
I still think my hockey team is going to make it into the playoffs. They have the chance to be a dangerous team in the postseason. Boston plays better in the 5-on-5 game than in the power play and that’s a good harbinger for playoff games where you don’t want to depend on an officials’ whistle and games are called with more leniency. Raask continues to be the kind of goaltender who can win a playoff series by himself.
And if nothing else, the chances are decent that the Bruins could play the Montreal Canadiens, the rival to whom we took a bitter second-round loss last year. But we need the defense to return to elite level starting now. And the next time a really good scorer emerges, how about not trading him?