The strength of the team.
They won’t have a problem scoring.
It’s the back end that they have to worry about.
Those were the general sentiments most paid hockey analysts and sports bar “experts” used to project how the Bruins offense would do this season. It was, for the most part, their strength in 2015-2016 and there seemed to be no reason to think it’d change much. But it did.
By early December experiencing offense at the Garden was as rare as a New York Jets winning streak. The power play was brutal, sitting at 20th in the NHL in large part to an ice cold Torey Krug, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron. The lone soldier doing all the B’s scoring was David Pastrnak. His shooting percentage was a ridiculous 20% while only Sidney Crosby had a better goals per game average in the entire league. The next best Bruins offensive threat? Yeah, it was Dominic Moore. Yikes. The mind numbing trend of perimeter play and settling for point shots became stale and predictable.
Then February 7th happened.
That Tuesday Claude Julien was fired and immediately new interim coach Bruce Cassidy implemented a Jeremy Roenick ala NHL ’94 approach to the offense. Everything seemed to go in. That coupled with the obvious change in energy and attitude from the players experiencing Claude fatigue catapulted them into a fun to watch bunch. Through the first seven games under Cassidy the B’s were on another planet, averaging 4.7 goals per game. At eleven games into the coaching change it was still riding at 4.09.
Bruins fans had died and gone to heaven.
We know how the rest of the story goes. The few more pucks the B’s buried helped them climb from the mid-20’s in offense to finish 13th in the league with 234 goals while grabbing a playoff spot. They were just six goals shy of the 240 their 5th ranked offense potted the season prior. One could argue their postseason appearance was in large part due to a flatlining offense finding it’s pulse. The only problem was “the offense” boiled down to just two guys. Two, plus zero help, equals “first round exit”.
Now that it’s all over let’s take a look at this seasons forwards. Let’s see how each one contributed. Hell, let’s even grade them.
Brad Marchand (80GP 39-46-85) was one of the two horses the Bruins rode hard. He put up a career-high 39 goals and if it weren’t for his regular season ending 2-game suspension for spearing Tampa’s Jake Dotchin in the bean bag he might have hit 40. Unfortunately when he went cold in the playoffs it played a big role in the Bruins demise. But I’m not going to bury him for that. He’s the stud that helped carry the B’s there when they seemed left for dead. He gets an A.
David Pastrnak (75GP 34-36-70) He’s horse #2. And he was fantastic. When you remind yourself he’s just 20 years old you may feel a wee tingly in the nether regions too. The sky is the limit for the kid who also experienced a frustrating but developmentally important post season. If the B’s can add some depth scoring it’ll help pull some attention, burden, and targeted D off of him but I’m not holding my breath for that. We’ll see what kind of help the Bruins can actually afford after Pasta chews up a pile of cap space with his new contract coming this summer because this year the Czech sniper earned an A and a raise.
David Krejci (82GP 23-31-54) I’m just going to say it; I think he quit on Claude. He’d had enough. Because as soon as Cassidy became Krejci’s coach it was like Gordon Bombay getting to coach Charlie Conway. Everything improved. The effort, the defensive accountability, his magical silky hands, the Brady-esque accurate dishes. It was all there. And his points per game went up nearly 50% from 0.6 to 0.8. I’m giving Krejci a B- because I expect more. He did a lot without any consistently good winger and I like how he finished out the year, playing in all 82 games, before his season ending injury.
Patrice Bergeron (79GP 21-32-53) This is a tough one. The expectations are so high for #37 because of his ability, attitude, leadership, and our love for him. But by his standards, battling a sports hernia injury all season, I suspect he doesn’t think this year was personally great even though his numbers rebounded as the season progressed. I feel confident saying that when you consider Manut Bol couldn’t even reach up to where Bergy sets his own bar. So I’m not even going to examine Bergeron. He’s Bergeron. He does it all. Trying to find another custom made player like him is like searching for unicorns. I blindly give him an A, but if he had to grade himself I bet he’d grade it a B.
Ryan Spooner (78GP 11-28-39) Tough year for Spoons. Down ten points from last season where he nearly touched 50 and he was also stuck on the wing, away from his natural center for a good chunk of the early part of year. He never really got it going. And he also publicly admitted that playing for Claude wasn’t fun, doghouse and all. Top that off with his brutal playoff performance and Don Sweeney’s comments yesterday that Spooners return to the Bruins is “to be determined” and I’d say he might as well start packing his shit. As an upcoming RFA I’d like to see the B’s utilize a sign-and-trade with him this summer. He gets a C this year. That’s average, but it seems that’s what he is.
David Backes (74GP 17-21-38) A-level paycheck, A-level intangibles, A-level at the little things on the ice, C-level production in context of expectations. He’s still a better fit than Loui especially with the good young forwards coming into the fold. Backes’ dealt with a sour taste of the injury bug and I don’t think the center-to-wing hopping helped him either. Next season will determine how much we really hate his contract although I could see him getting back up near his 50-point production. We know he’s going bring everything else every night. I give Backes a C+.
Dominic Moore (82GP 11-14-25) Dominic Moore had himself a year. His 11 goals were his best output in seven seasons and three of them were shorty’s, which was also his career high for a single season. He’s a bottom-bottom six legend with leadership to boot. It’s too bad he probably won’t be back next year with the direction the B’s are heading because based off of what you’d expect from his role Moore gets an A. I love the guy.
Frank Vatrano (44GP 10-8-18) You almost want to give Frank an Incomplete. He missed half the season with an injury, scored in his first game back, and overall played pretty well. His shot might be the most exciting release we’ve seen in some time too. But he’s got some learning to do as evidenced by his first post season experience and not starting out the season fresh is a physical setback. I really want to see a full 82 game picture of him. I also think the kid still has the potential to sniff a 30-goal season if he can round out his game. I’ll give Frank a “kind of what I expected, considering” C.
Riley Nash (81GP 7-10-17) There was a point this season where I thought if you gave the 2007 first round pick a wide open net he’d find a way to miss. And that’s saying something because he has a fantastic shot. However it turned around for him when Cassidy took over. The offensive freedom benefited him. Through 72 games Nash sported a Jimmy Hayes like four goals total. Then in the final 9 games of the season he pumped home three more and generated way more scoring opportunities while his overall game elevated immensely. He’s on the books for 900k next year and with how he finished the season I don’t mind his return. Nash gets a C+ that’s due to a strong finish and post season.
Tim Schaller (59GP 7-7-14) The Timmy Heads in the balcony seats were great. Loved ’em. And I thought the New Hampshire native had a pretty nice season living out a dream playing for the B’s. But he’s one of those role guys bred in the NCAA (Providence) navigating his first full workload of an NHL campaign at 25-26 years old. He could either be “what he is” or maybe there’s still room to improve his entire game. I give Schaller a C.
Austin Czarnik (49GP 5-8-13) A learning year for the young centerman. Injuries stalled momentum and there weren’t a lot of minutes going his way when he did play. He falls into that Schaller category of NCAA bred player built for depth duty and the energy Czarnik can bring to that role is pretty great. When he gets going he really does motor and shows flashes of his offensive skill that earned him a little PP time early in the year. The power play is even where he recorded his first career NHL assist too. Like Schaller he gets a C.
Drew Stafford (18GP 4-4-8) Wicked shot, streaky scorer, nice upgrade on right wing for this B’s team at little to no cost. His F-bombs also seemed to be picked up by NESN on ice mics more than any other player too. I like Stafford. I was hoping for more from him in his short time in Boston but I wasn’t disappointed or surprised by the results either. I’m not sure if he’ll be back next season (I’d guess no) but I don’t think the B’s should dismiss the idea yet. He was a B+ trade deadline acquisition with a B- return.
Matt Beleskey (49GP 3-5-8) He’ll be packing his shit this summer. Some team (Arizona?) needing to hit the salary cap floor will take him. After coming off a career-high 37-point season in his Bruins debut last year Beleskey went completely the opposite way this season. Injuries slowed him, he continually chased the play, and there was little to no production to show for anything. I like Beleskey as a dude, seems like a great guy, but it’s not happening here. Pains me to give him an F but he’s the one that earned it.
Noel Acciari (29GP 2-3-5) Limited action but I think everyone likes what they see here. A full-time fourth line role is begging to be filled by a guy like Acciari. He crushes everything that moves, brings a shitload of energy, and his pedigree from leading his Providence Friars to an NCAA Championship doesn’t hurt either. He’s a gamer. I think Acciari took some nice strides this season, highlighted by his post season efforts. He gets a solid B from me.
Jimmy Hayes (58GP 2-3-5) He gets an F. This needs no explanation and I’m not going to pile on the guy. Buyout here we come.
Peter Cehlarik (11GP 0-2-2), Anton Blidh (19GP 1-1-2), Sean Kuraly (8GP 0-1-1), and Danton Heinen (8GP 0-0-0) all get an Incomplete grade. They were primarily the bunch that were helping the Bruins set the NHL regular season record for most AHLers thrown to the wolves at once due to injuries. Their contributions were nice, especially Kuraly in the playoffs, but the sample size is too small. You can refer to their P-Bruins experience to gauge their seasons and all of them have done very well there. We will likely be seeing more of these dudes in Boston in the very near future.
When you look at all of this, be it collectively or the individuals themselves, it’s as obvious as a cold sore; the B’s need secondary scoring next season. Right now it’s too top heavy. The offense was a bit more balanced in ’15-16 but the team collectively couldn’t even keep my clapper out of the net that season. This season was the exact opposite.
Whether it’s through free agency, a return on a Spooner and/or prospect trade package, or one of the young bucks (Senyshyn, JFK, Heinen, DeBrusk, Gabrielle, Cehlarik, etc.) in Providence ready to make the jump, the Bruins have to find those offensively productive depth pieces. It has to happen. Otherwise it’ll be more of the same. A team primed to get bounced in the first round due to living and dying on the labor of a few.
Let me know what you think. Hit us up on Twitter @BostonPucks and the comment section below. We want to hear from you.