If you’ve ever been passed over in favor of someone else, whether it is a team, a job, or even a date, then you understand how it feels to be a Boston Bruins fan on a day like today. Last night, at the literal eleventh hour Calgary Flames general manager Jay Feaster stunned the hockey world when he announced that Flames Captain, and franchise icon Jarome Iginla had personally selected the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Boston Bruins as the team he would preferred to be traded to. Iginla would have been in the perfect addition to a Bruins team that is a forward and a defenseman away from being a team that has all the necessary parts to win recapture the Stanley Cup it won just two years ago. The question is, why did Iginla still choose the Penguins? Like any other personal disappointment that people suffer, the answer has far more to do with the organization’s inability to look in the mirror than it does with the choices of anyone else.
The Bruins and the Penguins currently represent the epitome of two different team-building philosophies in the NHL. The Penguins have built their team around Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and it’s been hard to argue with the results. Playing with the world’s “two best players” has certainly provided a unique offensive structure. Since 2006 the Pens have made the playoffs every year, and the team’s dynamic offensive foundation has elevated the level of a plethora of less talented wingers. The hallowed list includes players such as Craig Adams, Pascal Dupuis, and the always immortal, Matt Cooke. With the additions of James Neal, Brendan Morrow, and now Jarome Iginla however, it seems that the Lebron James model of team building has seeped its way into the NHL.
If the Penguins represent the Lannister family (Game of Thrones most cunning and deviously plotting clan), then the Bruins clearly represent the Eddard Stark code of team building. For an original six franchise, the Bruins success, particularly in the post-lockout era, has been built on hard work and a commitment to it’s fan base to put a winning team back on the ice. Players who weren’t going to put the team first (see Kessel, Phil and Thorton, Joe) were sent packing for high amounts of return (Kessel), or for a small bag of pucks (Thorton). The culmination of those decisions that drove an insatiable fan base to the point of insanity culminated in a 2011 Stanley Cup title.
While the current Bruins team undoubtedly has talent in all three phases of the game, no one player or players stand out among the rest. Even with players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, the team has no “best player on the planet” who is charismatic and extraordinarily gifted that it can use as bait to lure potential trade targets.
Given that both teams have won a Stanley Cup in the last four seasons, it is undeniable that there is more than one way to survive and advance through the NHL playoffs. Each team is certainly more than capable of winning again, but for players like Jarome Iginla, it is all about the here and now. If you look at the dynamics of each team at this very moment, which club looks more enticing?
The Pens are currently in the midst of a fourteen game winning streak, despite the fact that they are missing both Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang with injuries. In the last week they have added both a depth defenseman (Ryan Murray), a third line grinder who was the capitain of another team (Brendan Morrow), and have a proven Stanley Cup winner between the pipes in Marc Andre-Fleury. If that weren’t enough, Thomas Vokun, the team's backup goalie, might be the league’s best backup goalie, and will be able to give the flower as much rests as he needs to prepare for their playoff run.
On the flip side you have the Bruins, a team that has been living a lie that has been perpetuated by everyone in the organization since they won the Stanley Cup. The Bruins constantly sell their fans, media and especially themselves that they are a team built to win with their “depth”. In the last year and a half, where exactly has that depth been?
The team’s struggles to score and hold third period leads became visibly evident to everyone in last years first round playoff exit to the Capitals, and many of those issues have yet to disappear. Blown third period leads, long scoring droughts, and a lack of timely saves are struggles whose blame can be placed on coaches, players, and management alike.
Realistically, their current roster is comprised of players who have yet to prove themselves in a full time capacity for the playoffs (Rask, Seguin), players who are not living up to their immense potential (Lucic, Horton), and players who are no longer producing in a tangible way (Peverley, Ferrence, Kelly). Top to bottom the Bruins are an organization that has exuded a strong belief in the system and one another, but if the Bruins are “so deep,” then why do they need both a forward and defenseman to legitimize themselves as Cup contenders? Some would argue that the move would push them over the top, but looking at it objectively, adding an aging veteran has come to feel like catching a life raft just to stay afloat.
Hearing that Iginla made the intensely personal decision to choose Pittsburgh over Boston was a lot like watching Ned Stark getting his head chopped off. Yet, even in the face of despair, there should be hope for Bruins fans. With Iginla firmly in their rear view, there is still a week for Peter Chiarelli to pick up the pieces and acquire players such as Ryan Clowe, Ryan Whitney, and maybe even Martin St. Louis.
A lot of thing will need to fall into place if the B’s are to have realistic chance at winning the conference come May. The club will need to start by adding two of the players listed above, Tuukka Rask will need to elevate his game to new heights, and they will need to get scoring from more than one line. Many players on his team were part of the group from 2011 that won as an underdog, and there is no reason to think that with a refocused and pissed off mentality, that they can’t do it again.
Spending time debating the semantics of the deal won't make the Bruins any better on the ice. Peter Chiarelli has always been acutely aware of how much the fans care, and understands the type of pressure that comes with producing a winning team. The fact that he personally stood for a press conference a whole week before the trade deadline, is more than you can say about any of the other professional sports teams in Boston. The bottom line is, the Bruins made a better offer, and it didn't work out.
As for Jarome Iginila, he picked the team he thought gave him the best chance to win right now, and right now, that team isn’t the Bruins. The decision made by Iginla absolutely must serve as a wake up call to the front office, the coaching staff and most importantly the players that they aren’t ready to go the distance. In the NHL you are who you are, and the Bruins aren’t the best, at least not yet.
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