Is the Boston Bruins dynasty overrun?

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron
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In any sport, it seems one of the most fascinating things to watch is when an organization decides that a particular roster has expired. Thanks to salary caps everywhere (or just not at all, but really a cap in baseball) there always comes a time when you have to pull that trigger as players get older and get more expensive and the money runs out. If you’re the Pittsburgh Penguins, apparently that day won’t come until Sidney Crosby retires (though Free Agent Status of Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin this summer, that date may be postponed). If you’re the Chicago Blackhawks, that day will come about four years late and leave you in their current swamp. And if you make a living writing or commenting from your piss-soaked bunker at the Toronto Maple Leafs, you think that day must come four years too soon.

The Boston Bruins have apparently decided that the Patrice Bergeron era is now officially over – and Bergeron may very well decide that for himself anyway – as they fired head coach Bruce Cassidy. It was an off-season nightmare for the B’s, and the off-season hasn’t even started yet. Not only does Bergeron’s retirement status hang as the sword of Damocles over the entire organization, but both Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk will miss months next season following off-season surgery. And so does Brad Marchand, who has to work on both hips. If Bergeron were to retire, the B’s would be stripped of essentially 4/5 of their top unit at best.

And it could be more, as Boston Athletic Bruins beat the writer Fluto Shinzawa hinted that if this is indeed cliff-diving time for the Bruins, then David Pastrnak could be entering the trading market, with only a year to go before he hits unlimited free agency and definitely gets a deal that looks like he’s making eight figures a season.

Whenever a coach is fired, and especially one as successful as Cassidy, it usually means a GM is trying to cover his own ass. Don Sweeney is no different, as he presented Cassidy’s resignation as the need to begin the search for a coach who can work better with young players than the tough-as-nails Cassidy. The problem for Cassidy is that almost all of Sweeney’s young players are dog meat.

Sweeney’s tenure as GM began with 2015’s infamous three consecutive first-round picks, only one of which became something useful in Jake Debrusk (a player who was so sick of Cassidy that he demanded a trade he never got last year). And Debrusk is really just a middle six winger. The following year, 2016, McAvoy was added, but since that pick, there’s only been Jeremy Swayman who could be a fundamental step ahead. And he was taken a few laps behind McAvoy. Those are five designs that Sweeney didn’t make.

And to suggest that Cassidy can’t work with young players seems very far-fetched, as McAvoy and Pastrnak have become top stars under his watch. Charlie Coyle was reinvented as a control center and Grzelcyk climbed to the highest torque status. That’s just one aspect of Cassidy’s job that saw the Bruins make the playoffs under his watch every year, never dropping less than 100 points. The Bergeron-Marchand-Pastrnak line became the best in hockey even as its role shifted from an all-rounder to a mostly offensive juggernaut. This season, Cassidy was able to get Pastrnak off it for a long time without losing any effectiveness and keep the Bruins comfortable in the playoffs. If Sweeney had somehow replaced David Krejci, he might not have had to.

Sure, Sweeney has to pawn some of the future in deals for Hampus Lindholm or Taylor Hall of Coyle. But what was it that he really thought he would get out of depth buys like Nick Foligno or Craig Smith? Or Erik Haula, who was pushed into a second pivotal role when he sanely proved himself to be nothing more than a fourth liner? And Cassidy still got a season of 100 points out of this rusted wind instrument. Is he really the problem?

It certainly looks like Sweeney is trying to buy time to start a remodel here instead of going out with Cassidy, though he might do so soon. If Bergeron retires, coupled with the injuries, the Bruins could very well sink like a rock. And there’s nothing in the pipeline or horizon that the Bs can identify as the tent pool for the next great Bs team.

You can’t help but feel that the Bruins just came up short, and what the outlook would have been if there had only been a few bounces. This is a team that lost Game 7 of the 2019 Finals at home. And if Zdeno Chara’s double overtime point shot in Game 1 against the Hawks in 2013 hit the inside of the post instead of the outside… well, it could very well be a sweep for Boston. Made up over the 12 years or so that the B’s have been around the league’s penthouse, these are microscopic deficits. But no one puts the Bruins in the same category as the Pens, Hawks, Lightning or Kings. After all, they only won one cup despite appearing in the same number of finals as the Hawks and Lightning and more than the Kings. However, three final round wins are not enough to be canonized, even though by reasonable calculation the Bruins have done the exact same thing, if not better in the case of the Hawks are Kings either for a while or in the past. .

Perhaps Sweeney’s hand was forced because he knows that Bergeron is not coming back and there is simply no replacement for him. And maybe he feels like there’s little point dragging down the rankings and barely scraping together playoff spots when you go backwards. After all, it’s not easy to go to heaven when you go down. Maybe it’s best to just rip that plaster and go to the basement immediately.

Yet it is only a matter of centimeters and these movements can hardly have any melancholy for them. But now there’s no escaping the fact that the Bruins left something on the table when they decided to slide the chair and leave.

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