While following the 2014-2015 Bruins season, this familiar feeling keeps gnawing at me. More than the incessant frustration and anxiety is the sense of déjà vu.
It’s becoming clearer after each game that the 2015 Bruins are morphing into…the 2014 Red Sox. Sure, the Bruins are still likely to slip into the playoffs, and like MLB, the NHL playoffs are a crapshoot where wild card teams reach the finals with some frequency. Hope for Bruins fans certainly resides in those truths, but that’s about it. With the aforementioned playoff caveat, consider the similarities…
–Both had the best record in the league the previous season
–The slightest win streak, be it even just two games, spurs a slew of “They’re starting to turn it around!” stories in the Boston media
–Both are broadcast on NESN and feature a color analyst with a thick Boston accent (if we’re scoring at home, Brickley’s accent > Remy’s accent)
–The trade deadline has become the only thing fans and media can look forward to, with both teams facing identical crises of “Do we buy and try to salvage a season that probably isn’t worth salvaging or do we sell and build for next year even though we have a core that should be competing this year?”
–Trade deadline addendum: brief, post-All Star break hot streaks quickly shifted everyone into “buy!” mode before the team quickly crashed down to earth
–Among the top three batters from the previous year (Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, Dustin Pedroia) and the top line from the previous year (Jarome Iginla, David Krejci, Milan Lucic), one in each group moved on in free agency while the two remnants in each group have been the season-killing combination of injured and unproductive
–Both have head coaches who appear brilliant when things are working but seem overwhelmed when things go awry
–A year after getting offensive contributions from all over the roster while leading their conference in scoring, both offenses floundered
–Youngsters brought up to replace key players haven’t worked out. Jackie Bradley Jr. couldn’t replace Ellsbury. Seth Griffith and David Pastrnak aren’t replacing Iginla. Xander Bogaerts somehow couldn’t adequately replace Stephen Drew, who was even briefly re-signed to replace himself until he proved to be worse than Bogaerts. Bobby Robins and Craig Cunningham haven’t replaced Shawn Thornton (in defense of some, Pastrnak and Cunningham are passable and have NHL futures, while Bogaerts retains much of his potential going forward)
While the Bruins won’t be conducting a fire sale like their Fenway familiars, the season is hanging on by a thread. In 2011, the northwest road trip turned the season around and sprung them on a championship run. In 2015? They opened the trip by making the Hanson Brothers look good in a 5-2 loss to the Canucks, who remain a must-see opponent for Bruins fans even though their feud of four years ago has dimmed considerably. The second game of the trip saw Boston blow a 3-0 lead and lose in overtime to Calgary. It’s the ugly truth, but what the 2015 Bruins do best is find creative and varied ways to lose.
Yet, unlike the Red Sox at this point of their season, there are still reasons to watch until the end that have nothing to do with Derek Jeter’s final game. It’s possible that players like Krejci and Lucic are going through the motions until the playoffs start. Ditto for Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, and, gulp, Tuukka Rask.
Above all, though, is the openness of the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs began today, the second wild card Bruins would draw the top-seeded Canadiens, who, to steal a line from a special adviser to the 2014 Red Sox, are the Bruins’ daddy.
Against any other potential opponent, though, I wouldn’t feel too horribly about Boston’s chances. The Bruins have, for the most part, had the Rangers’ number over the past few years. The Lightning and Islanders, while talented, are unproven. The Penguins are dangerous, as always, but would you bet your life on Marc-Andre Fleury outdueling Rask in the playoffs?
Heading into tonight’s game in Edmonton, the Bruins sit just two points ahead of Florida for the final playoff spot. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and rumors abound that Cam Neely isn’t pleased with his team.
The Bruins, from ownership down to the players, have a fascinating two weeks ahead of themselves where they can forge ahead and make a genuine playoff push, or join their Boston brethren from last summer and wilt into irrelevance amidst a lost season that simply shouldn’t have been.