By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is not adjusting his expectations for the team after the team missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons. The expectation for the 2016-17 season is not just to make it back to postseason hockey but make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup.
“I share the expectations with everybody here that we’ll be in the playoffs, and I expect that we’ll go deep into the playoffs,” Jacobs told reporters at Bruins Media Day on Tuesday. “I think this is a very good mix of young and older, experienced players. I’m looking forward to their going into the playoff season.”
Jacobs’ level of expectation is not in itself a problem. The Bruins should expect to go deep in the playoffs every year, as long as they have this current core of players. The problem with Jacobs’ comments is that recent history has not been kind to NHL teams in the Bruins’ situation.
For the purpose of this analysis, let’s define “deep into the playoffs” as a berth in the Conference Finals. The Bruins haven’t made it that far in the playoffs since 2013 when they made the Stanley Cup Finals.
If the Bruins make the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017, they will be the first team since the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011 to make it there after missing the playoffs in the previous two or more seasons. The Lightning missed the playoffs from 2008-2010 before making the leap to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011 where, coincidentally, they lost to the Bruins.
Eighteen out of the last 20 teams to make the final four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs made the playoffs the previous season. That includes the 2013 Bruins, who lost in the first round to the Washington Capitals in 2012. The San Jose Sharks made last season’s Stanley Cup Finals after finishing 12th in the Western Conference in 2015, while the 2012 New Jersey Devils made the Stanley Cup Finals after finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference in 2011.
One major similarity between San Jose in 2016 and New Jersey in 2012 is that they made coaching changes after missing the playoffs in the previous seasons. Incredibly, both teams named Peter DeBoer head coach to make the turn-around. The Bruins, of course, did not make a head coaching change in the offseason, as Claude Julien will begin his 10th season at the helm on Thursday at Columbus.
Is it possible that the Bruins could make a similar leap to that of San Jose and New Jersey in 2017? Sure. Comparing these teams to each other is inherently an apples-to-oranges comparison. But based on the recent history of teams that went on deep playoff runs, it’s not probable. The Bruins would be a major outlier.
Whether or not you believe Julien deserved to lose his job for the Bruins’ performance the past two seasons, the team will need to buck some ominous trends to make it as far as the Conference Finals after how the last two years went for them. The Bruins obviously feel that they’ve made enough changes on the roster to turn things around. If they don’t, and it’s a third straight season missing the playoffs, Jacobs will probably turn his attention to the men behind the bench.
The Bruins front office has high expectations for the team and the players have high expectations for themselves, as they should. But based on the recent performance of other conference finalists, the chances of a “deep playoff run” in 2017 are ominously low.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.