We can put them back together. We have the technology. Errr, maybe not. Despite the occasional worst to first tales in recent sports history, fixing a train wreck of a team is rarely an immediate process. Organizations with the attitude that we can fix this mess quick, like the Boston Bruins, get stuck in the good season bad season, no chance at winning it all rut.
Boston Bruins fans have gone from feast, 29 consecutive playoff appearances, to more of a hi-carb diet, lots of regular season sugar and not enough post-season steak. They grow understandably frustrated with the cotton candy. Like most hockey fans, denizens of the hub of hockey tend to be a passionate lot. Enough so that Boston’s (top rated) sports talker, WEEI, refers to blocks of call-in time in Bruin fans use to vocalize their anger over the team’s misfortunes as Hockey Talk. The pain was not helped by a recent 10-2 drubbing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. At least, they can console themselves that they have the Patriots in the AFC Conference Championship this Sunday. Take that Maple Leaf, fans, you don’t even have real football! The rejoinder? Bruins fans don’t have real hockey. Life is rough when it’s been more than thirty years since your last Cup and you have become a team named Sue.
Last year’s stumbles brought the mid-season firing of GM Mike O’Connell and the much delayed, agonizingly so, dismissal of head coach Mike Sullivan after the season ended. O’Connell sealed his fate by dealing the teams two biggest stars in a desperate attempt to shake up the team. When it didn’t work, he was out of work. Sullivan was dismissed more so new GM Peter Chiarelli could have his own guy behind the bench. But coaches are always getting axed in Boston. The Bruins track record of firing coaches in this decade, and even before, would make George Steinbrenner blush.
The constant turnover behind the bench is matched only by the turnover on the bench. The Bruins parsimoniousness once created numerous trade opportunities whenever a player wanted more money than Ray Bourque got paid. Now, with Bourque long retired and continual roster turnover, the Bruins try to catch lightning in a bottle year in and year out. It’s not stinginess, quite the contrary, it’s spending poorly. In fact, the tightfisted Bruins had more success in getting to the postseason than have the free spending version.
What was once a proud franchise has now become the Washington Redskins of hockey. They spend during the offseason and underachieve when the games are played. This offseason brought a new GM, new coach and new hope in the form of Defensemen Zdeno Chara and Paul Mara and forward Marc Savard. The results have been again underwhelming. Erratic goaltending has been a problem for the Bruins, who are currently relying on journeyman Tim Thomas between the pipes. The Bruins had a Calder Trophy (top rookie) winner in net after the 2004 season, in Andrew Raycroft, but Raycroft was ineffective in the first post lockout season and subsequently dealt to Toronto.
When a team with a bigger budget for player salaries underachieves, talent evaluation, as well as the team’s overall definition of how to compete and succeed in the “new NHL,” need to be called into question. Bruins management for years felt the team was one player away from winning the Stanley Cup. They never could find that guy. It wasn’t Kevin Stevens or Al Iafrate or Mariusz Czerkawski. Now, they need more than one guy, but they keep going after the one guy. Winning it all with this team will take more than a silver bullet solution. Until the Bruins, and other devotees of the One-Year Rebuilding Plan, recognize that the on again, off again seasons are the result of poor organizational planning, their fans will continue to suffer through uninspiring, Championship free seasons.
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