There have been several excuses widely discussed for the Bruins lack of consistency and desire this season. Many point to all the injuries as the excuse but every team deals with injuries, some worse than the Bruins.
Some point to the loss of veteran leadership in the locker room. Hnidy, Axelsson, Yelle and Ward all departed this off-season seemingly leaving Boston without much of the veteran guidance and support they had last season. But when you look at some of the curious coaching decision, maybe the inconsistency starts with the coach and trickles down to the players.
This is not a call to fire Bruins coach Claude Julien. Julien is a good coach who has had success in the NHL. But perhaps the mistakes he had made has been part of the reason the Boston ship hasn’t sailed so smoothly this season as it did last season.
First let’s take a look at the curious case of Dennis Wideman. Perhaps Wideman is a skilled player who is just having a down season but this season has been downright atrocious for the Bruins blueliner.
Wideman is a minus 14, the second worst plus/minus on the team and has just 23 points. He is often at the center of a terrible defensive turnover or breakdown and seems to have the “ability” to let the puck slip by him at the blue line at crucial moments of a powerplay. He has been more of a liability than a boost to the Bruins this year.
How did Julien reward Wideman? For a long stretch of games Wideman was leading the Bruins in time on ice despite his increasingly bad play. In fact, Wideman is third on the Bruins in average ice time at 23:27. Perhaps Julien was trying to help him work through his slump but Wideman has still been incredibly ineffective.
Then look at players like Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. Paille and Thornton certainly aren’t filling the net, but that is not their role. These two skaters have been in the vast minority of Bruins that give maximum effort and energy almost every shift this season. Both have been healthy scratches at various points this season while the defensive liability Wideman got increased playing time.
The Bruins have had a severe power play outage this season, especially when Marc Savard is not in the line-up. Michael Ryder is 4th on the Bruins (behind Chara, Recchi and Wideman) in power play time on ice but has just 9 power play points on the season and hasn’t had a power play goal in 14 games.
Despite having more power play ice time than David Krejci, Marco Sturm and the departed Derek Morris, Ryder has less power play points. Now some teams are easier to score against on the power play and maybe other players have had that benefit. But Ryder has been less effective than others but gets more ice time in general and despite slumping still sees extensive time on the man advantage.
When players who are living up to their billing, however low, are doing their job but being benched while players under-performing for long stretches are still in the line-up without reduced responsibility, what kind of message does that send to the rest of the team?
The Bruins have a number of young players, such as Sobotka, who have been healthy scratches as well despite the severe under-performance of some of the more veteran players. If some of the veterans are not perform and not helping the team, why not give some of these young, hungry,energetic players more playing time? Their desire to impress could lift their play and help the team perform better but for the most part Julien has stubbornly stuck with players in season long slumps.
Julien is known to stubbornly support his veterans despite their performance and perhaps that is a huge key to why the Bruins are under-performing. When their coach is rewarding those doing well with a view from the press box and reward those not living up to their contracts with more playing time the result in an uninspired, effortless heartless Bruins team that needs a jolt the coach refuses to give them.
Contract size, ego and relationship with a player should not prevent a player from viewing a few games from the press box. Unfortunately, coach Julien feels differently this season.