Barry Melrose on This Year’s Bruins: ‘Boston’s Not Great Anymore’
How Don Sweeney’s new-look Bruins will perform when the NHL returns this week is anyone’s guess. The preseason held glimmers of hope for the B’s, despite ending in three consecutive losses; Brad Marchand, for example, seems to have regained his swagger following offseason elbow surgery. With an infusion of youth and an aging, threadbare core, the Bruins have the potential to be either surprisingly decent, or very, very bad.
Barry Melrose, whom ESPN only thaws out of cryogenic suspension whenever it’s absolutely obligated to make mention of hockey, is less than optimistic about the B’s, who missed the postseason last year. In a 2015-16 season preview alongside FiveThirtyEight’s Neil Paine, Melrose gave an advantage to Boston’s Original Six rival and Winter Classic opponent, the Montreal Canadiens.
“Boston isn’t great anymore,” Melrose said. “I have to put Montreal in the playoffs here, not Boston. I don’t think they are the Boston Bruins anymore—especially without Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg, Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith.”
Melrose packed quite a bit into his 35-word preview of the Atlantic Division, so let’s unpack this one item at a time. “Great” is awfully subjective (see: “elite”). If the standard for greatness is say, the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings teams of the last five years, he’s right. That said, the Kings missed the playoffs last year. The Blackhawks had a miserable offseason, losing key parts of its championship core to a cap crunch, not to mention the ongoing circus surrounding Patrick Kane’s rape investigation.
Montreal, as Paine counters, will almost certainly regress this season, as it’s wholly unrealistic to expect another record-breaking outing from reigning Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price: “And if you scale back Montreal’s goaltending and special teams, the Canadiens were essentially average a year ago.”
Entering last season, the Bruins’ front office had a decision to make. Either it would stick with the gritty, defensive-minded style of hockey with which the franchise had become synonymous, or it would finally the join the rest of the modern NHL and embrace faster, more skilled play. The Bruins never fully invested in this change, and as a result, GM Peter Chiarelli was shown the door. Perhaps Milan Lucic’s departure signifies the Bruins’ desire to finally commit. Then again, Zac Rinaldo is still, inexplicably, a member of this team.
Of the players Melrose listed, the most palpable loss will be Dougie Hamilton, whom Sweeney traded to the Calgary Flames for draft picks. The move, regardless of the rumors, looked even worse when Dennis Seidenberg went down with a back injury this preseason. Riley Smith and Carl Soderberg, despite brief flashes of competence last year, won’t be missed all that terribly.
Will the Bruins be great this year? Probably not. Are they entering some early-2000s Chicago dark age? Hardly. Keep in mind, this is still a roster that boasts one of the league’s best goaltenders in Tuukka Rask, as well as one of its best centers in Patrice Bergeron. How all the other pieces compliment these two stars will determine just how far Boston is from a return to Melrosian greatness.