The Bruins needed a spark. They needed something to feel good about. A confidence-booster, if you will.
Newly-acquired Jimmy Hayes provided that on Wednesday night in Colorado, scoring a goal, assisting on three, and showing a whole lot of heart while leading the B’s to their first win of the season.
It was the type of energy that this Bruins team was desperate for, after beginning the year with an 0-3 record — losing all three at home, allowing 16 total goals. Hayes’ performance was also a reminder of at least one of general manager Don Sweeney’s positive moves this past offseason, sending Reilly Smith to the Florida Panthers for Hayes, in a trade that made way too much sense for a Bruins organization that wasn’t getting enough from Smith and his new two-year contract worth a little more than $3.4 million a season.
Unfortunately, any offseason memory is also a reminder of what the Bruins didn’t do over the summer. Which is, replacing one of the top-four defensemen they’ve lost in the last calendar year.
Last October, former GM Peter Chiarelli traded Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for draft picks. In June, Sweeney traded Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for draft picks.
The Bruins never replaced either player. And on top of that, they lost Dennis Seidenberg in September because of back surgery, and captain Zdeno Chara is playing with an upper-body injury that forced him to miss the first two games of this season.
It wasn’t too long ago that those four players represented coach Claude Julien’s top-two defensive pairings. You can’t just lose most of that and expect immediate improvement without acquiring at least one top-four defenseman in the NHL. That’s why the Bruins’ 1-3 start comes as no surprise.
Along the way, you’ll get some sparks from players like Hayes. You’ll see contributions from an offense that is still pretty damn talented up the middle. But during the Bruins’ recent stretch of success (only missing the playoffs once in Julien’s eight years as coach), they’ve prided themselves on being a defense-first hockey club.
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People can argue with that all they want. But the bottom line is, it’s true. And right now, the Bruins are going to have a tough time succeeding under that blueprint. Heck, we’ve already seen one casualty in Matt Irwin, who was placed on waivers and then sent down to Providence. That wasn’t just because Chara was returning to the lineup. It was also because he was a minus-5 in the first two games and was a liability on every shift he took.
For the time being, you’ll see more mixing-and-matching on the blue line, more defensemen called-up and sent-down. But none of those moves will replace what they’ve lost, defensively, in the last calendar year.
That’s not to say some of these young, inexperienced defensemen like Colin Miller and Joe Morrow won’t eventually grow to be productive pieces to a winning formula in Boston. They just might.
But in this town, we’re thinking about the now. And with the Bruins, the now has taken a drastic turn to the future, or at least, a middle ground that won’t be good enough to win a Stanley Cup in the summer of 2016.
That could result in a coaching change. It could also result in a Chara trade. But either way, it could also result in a frustrating winter on Causeway Street.
Given what the Bruins’ blue line looks like, consider me not surprised.