Off The Draw
Say this for Charlie Jacobs: He sure knows how to rattle cages.
In his first day on the job, the new CEO of the Bruins raged about the team’s effort and suggested that changes could be on the horizon.
“For us to be a team that’s out of the playoffs is absolutely unacceptable,” Jacobs said. “It’s been an utter disappointment and a failure. A complete failure.
“I’d say without question this has been a very disappointing year. It’s unacceptable the way that this team has performed given the amount of time, money and effort that’s been spent,” he continued. “I can tell you that at the moment it’s a very fluid situation that’s being monitored closely."
In other words, no one in the organization should make any long-term plans.
His frustration is understandable. Boston isn’t exactly dysfunctional in the way that, say, the Oilers are dysfunctional, but it is clear that the organizational gears aren’t meshing, and they aren’t meshing all the way down from the front office to the dressing room. It’s not just that the Bruins were poorly constructed. The team also lacks the one element that Boston fans demand: heart.
Jacobs has every right to expect more from his cap-ceiling investment. Asking questions and demanding accountability are perfectly reasonable responses when a team underperforms.
And since Jacobs is unlikely to appreciate the answers he gets, you can bet that change will be coming to the Bruins.
Let's take a look at his options.
President: Turfing Cam Neely would make a loud noise, but what message would it send exactly? The organization wants nothing more than to emulate the style and passion of the Boston legend. Removing him would suggest chaos, not clarity.
General manager: These are hard times for Peter Chiarelli. His team’s punchless offense gives daily reminders of his decision to trade Tyler Seguin, the NHL’s leading goal scorer, for pennies on the dollar. His first line has been humbled not only by injuries to David Krejci, but also by Chiarelli’s inability to replace Jarome Iginla. The GM’s cap-induced trade of Johnny Boychuk ripped the heart out of the room. The defensive depth that Chiarelli frequently touted hasn’t lived up to the hype as aging captain Zdeno Chara's performance has continued to decline. The fourth line is no longer a key to the team’s identity. That’s a lot of strikes. Could he be the one to go? Sure. Chiarelli built the club that won the Stanley Cup four years ago and returned to the finals two years later. In most organizations that would buy him a little more breathing room. The ground is less secure under his feet now with Jacobs in control.
Front office: While there have been recent success stories on the pro scouting side, the B’s could have done better in the amateur draft by polling the denizens of HFBoards. Many teams around the league are reaping the benefits of the classes that they drafted from 2007 to ’10. The Bruins? They have regular scratch Jordan Caron and the pieces gleaned from the Seguin deal. The root of Boston’s problems are in this area. There should be changes in the front office, but with the best options to upgrade currently under contract to other teams, it’s a tough time of year to shake things up.
Coach: Claude Julien had an interesting reaction to Jacobs’s rant. “My job the last couple days has been to get the guys to relax a little bit and not be so tense,” he said. “Hopefully [Jacobs’s] comments don’t make it any worse.” Probably not the best idea to suggest that the boss has made a situation worse, especially when you're the easiest guy to send packing. But as simple as it is to say that Julien has overseen a season in which several key players have failed to deliver, it’s important to recognize that he’s led the Bruins to seven straight playoff appearances and one Stanley Cup. That’s not exactly a legacy of bumbling incompetence. He also just signed a generous extension in November. You can argue that the signing was another mistake by Chiarelli, but does Boston really want to pay Julien that much money not to coach them? Or risk seeing him scooped up by, say, Toronto? I don’t think so.
Players: In doing his audit of the organization, Jacobs has to ask himself one simple question: Has the window of contention closed for this group or not? If he believes it has—as all evidence suggests—then there are a few opportunities for significant and far-reaching change here.
In that case, there would be few untouchables in the organization: Only Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Dougie Hamilton, 2014 first rounder David Pastrnak, and Boston’s first-round pick this summer would be off-limits. Beyond that small group, the B’s should be open to offers.
Chara, even though his play has deteriorated, is the team’s most intriguing asset. Yes, he has a no-movement clause that could limit Boston’s options but he’s a player who could put a contender over the top. And he could bring a fairly lucrative return ... assuming Chiarelli (or whoever makes the call) has learned from the mistakes of the Seguin deal.
Milan Lucic’s name has come up frequently, but the Bruins would have to be blown away by any potential return in order to move him. As one scout told SI.com a few weeks back, “When Lucic is Lucic, the Bruins are the Bruins.” In other words, his best brings out the team’s best. But as his play has fallen off this season, it’s worth asking whether this is just an off year or a sign that his rugged style of play has taken a toll on him physically. Like Chara, he might be a depreciating asset that’s best cashed in now.
Brad Marchand is in the same boat. It’s not that Boston can’t imagine living without him, but does it want to? He’s got a nice chemistry with Bergeron and can be extremely productive when he’s on his game. It would make a strong statement and create a massive culture shift if he was to be moved, but it would take a sizable return for the team to be better for it.
Krejci is being paid like a No. 1 center by the Bruins, but he’s only a No. 1 in Julien’s system. Unless the team retained a significant portion of his contract, he’s all but unmovable.
Would trading role players be enough to temporarily satisfy Jacobs and his desire for change? Probably ... but barring some creative horse-trading such deals won’t bring in the sort of assets that will help the franchise chart a new course.
Maybe that's OK. Maybe the internal review will suggest that a cosmetic change will suffice.
Or maybe it won’t. Whatever Jacobs learns, a shakeup of some kind seems inevitable for the Bruins.
What to watch tonight
So what’s it going to be, Toronto? An inspired performance that suggests the yoke of Randy Carlyle’s system is what was keeping this team from greatness? Or another listless effort that reveals the problem was in the construct of the team, not the coaching?
Maybe the better question is, Does it really matter how the leafs play on Wednesday night? Just about every team shows up with something extra in the first game after a coach has been fired, but the real buzz saw in this game could be red-hot Washington. The Caps are 10-1-3 in their last 14 games, a product of embracing the smarter, more disciplined demands of coach Barry Trotz. Washington is committed to doing the right things with and without the puck, setting themselves up as a team to watch in the second half. Toronto should pay close attention—the Maple Leafs could learn a lot from the Capitals.
What you missed last night
The numbers game
• Backes joined some elite company on Tuesday night, becoming only the second St. Louis player after Brett Hull in 1995 to have multiple four-goal games during his career with the team. Backes also became the first NHL player since Ilya Kovalchuk of the Thrashers in 2005 to score four consecutive goals in a game.
• Elias joined teammate Jaromir Jagr (1,780), Joe Thornton (1,227), Iginla (1,192), Marian Hossa (1,022) and Martin St. Louis (1,011) as the only active NHL players to reach the 1,000 career points mark.
• Varlamov’s 54-save shutout on the road is the first such effort since the NHL began tracking shots on goal nearly 60 years ago. Only two netminders have made 54 or more stops in a win at home: Ben Scrivens of the Oilers, 59, against San Jose last January; and Mike Smith of Arizona, 54, against Columbus on April 3, 2012.
• Elliotte Friedman looks at Toronto’s coaching situation, the next step for Team Canada’s Benoit Groulx, and some World Junior free agents in this week’s 30 Thoughts column.
• Roberto Luongo says he might still be in Vancouver if only he’d been given the start in the 2014 Heritage Classic.
• Our thoughts are with Minnesota star Zach Parise, who missed Tuesday night’s game to be with his ailing father.