It’s fair to use the word failure about the Bruins’ season because seemingly everyone associated with the organization is using it.
We’ll hear more about the whys, whats and ifs of the 2014-15 season Monday when general manager Peter Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien and the players will address the media at TD Garden one last time on an official basis to discuss the past year.
But pretty much that one word – failure – kept coming up immediately after the season ended Saturday. And that’s really the only way to sum up 2014-15. The Bruins lost as many games as they won and failed to make the playoffs for the first time after seven seasons in the postseason. They controlled their own destiny down the stretch but couldn’t even pick up a measly point in the standings in road games against the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers, the latter of which had nothing to play for in the standings.
As hard as it is to fathom, there were some positives to take from the season. However, you can’t write anything about this team without also including the negative. So here are three positive and three negative takeaways from the season. These are just ones that stand out. Obviously there are a lot more things to fill these classifications, especially on the negative side of the ledger.
1. Torey Krug, David Pastrnak, Dougi Hamilton make strides
The Bruins have been boasting about the youth coming down the pipeline to carry them into the second half of this decade and beyond. In the 2014-15 season, it was finally on display. Defenseman Torey Krug, despite missing most of training camp because of a contract dispute, improved his defensive game to go along with his dynamic offensive work. Against certain matchups, he proved he could be a No. 4 defenseman. Dougie Hamilton became a fixture next to Zdeno Chara on the Bruins’ top pair. He improved at both ends of the rink and showed why he’s Chara’s heir apparent. Despite spending a portion of the season with Providence in the AHL, Pastrnak proved most of the 24 teams that passed on him in the draft were crazy. He made a seamless transition to the NHL as an offensive weapon and showed promise as a two-way player the Bruins will be able to build around down the road.
2. Loui’s all right
In fact, Bruins forward Loui Eriksson was more than all right – he returned to form as an excellent two-way player. Obviously he won’t be able to make the Tyler Seguin trade a winner, but that’s not his fault. One season removed from two concussions, Eriksson was third on the Bruins in goals with 22 and second in points with 47. His vision and anticipation of plays around him at both ends returned to their Dallas-days form. Eriksson will either be a catalyst for the Bruins in their attempt to bounce back from this season or a prime trade chip this summer.
3. Tuukka Rask up to the task
No one could’ve predicted Tuukka Rask would be asked to play 60, let alone 70, games this season when the puck dropped in October. Rask had his share of rough games and even a couple lackluster months. Still any goaltender that plays the most games in franchise history in 50 years and still finishes 14th in goals-against average (2.30) and 11th in save percentage (.922) has more than earned the right to be called a No. 1 worthy of $7 million per season.
1. No replacement for Johnny Boychuk
The Bruins thought they had everything covered. Chiarelli didn’t want to deal Boychuk, but the Bruins’ cap crunch forced his hand. He thought some combination of Adam McQuaid, Kevan Milller and Matt Bartkowski, and possibly someone from a group that would start the year with Providence, would make up for Boychuk’s loss. He was wrong. McQuaid and Miller struggled most of the season and Bartkowski continued to be a fine skater without an ounce of hockey sense. Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow had their moments during call-ups. But Trotman didn’t distinguish himself during his first call-up and Morrow was injured in Providence before he could get a second look. Worst of all, Dennis Seidenberg struggled all season to get back from a knee injury from the previous season. The Bruins were a mess for much of the season on the back end.
2. Reilly Smith settles down
There were many underperforming Bruins forwards this season. Maybe no one was more disappointing that Reilly Smith, who scored 20 goals in 2013-14 but dropped to 13 this season. Things got so bad for his all-around game, Smith actually got scratched one night. For his efforts, Smith was rewarded with a two-year contract extension. He could still be traded, but he better bounce back in a big way for the Bruins to not look foolish for that untimely decision.
3. Milan Lucic didn’t distinguish himself
For the third straight full NHL season since he scored 30 goals in 2010-11, Milan Lucic’s goal total dropped. He had 18 this season after scoring 24 last year. Now the Bruins have a difficult decision because he’s entering his contract season and makes $6 million. When he’s on, Lucic is a unique talent even when he’s not scoring goals. He intimidates, he makes room for his linemates and punishes the opposition with his physicality. Unfortunately, he’s inconsistent. And if he’s not going to score when he’s not changing the game in other ways, he sticks out like a sore thumb. Had Lucic even matched his goal total from last season, the Bruins would have an easy decision to re-sign him. If he fell on his face, it would be easy to trade him. Instead he’s in an in-between place – not quite a star, not quite a flop. He didn’t have David Krejci as his center for a large chunk of the season and the whole team seemed allergic to scoring. Still you would’ve liked to have seen Lucic take the initiative to carry the Bruins a little. He didn’t. It’s difficult to know where Lucic’s tale will end.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.