Waiting for full view, not shadow of a team
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli hasn’t liked what he’s seen of late - his club’s overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Saturday, followed by Monday night’s dud at the Garden against the Islanders - but he’s reserving judgment until front-liners Milan Lucic and Marc Savard make it back to the injury-depleted lineup.
Lucic, according to the GM, could be in there for tonight’s game in Atlanta, the start of a four-game tour away from the Garden. Savard, slightly ahead of schedule in his projected return from a cracked bone in his left foot, probably will see action just before or after Thanksgiving.
“I still have confidence in this team,’’ said Chiarelli. “Certainly, the last game [4-1 loss to the Islanders] was disappointing. And the game before [in Pittsburgh] was looser than I would have liked. Monday, I don’t know what happened there . . . we just died on the vine.’’
For the moment, it looks like a club that has exhausted its ability, or possibly will, to compete without Lucic and Savard, who were two-thirds of the club’s No. 1 line when they exited the lineup last month. Absent their biggest hitter (Lucic) and craftiest playmaker and top point-getter (Savard), their offense has too many people filling roles well above their pay grade. Exhibit A: Resident graybeard Mark Recchi plugged in as the first-line right winger.
Beyond Recchi, coach Claude Julien has seen little snap, crackle, or pop from Marco Sturm or Michael Ryder, highly compensated wingers (average: $3.75 million) who have added next to nothing to the struggling offense. In back, puck-lugging defenseman Dennis Wideman has been noticeably off register, especially out of synch with his passing and overall decision-making.
Lucic and Savard have had their broken bones to mend, while Recchi, Sturm, Ryder, and Wideman have been left in uniform, with their respective games fractured in Humpty-Dumpty bits and pieces.
Overall, especially in the last two games, the entire attack looks slow, lethargic, unable to transition the puck quickly, especially in the neutral zone.
“Point well taken,’’ agreed Chiarelli, nonetheless noting that his club picked up 7 of a possible 10 points before the two recent disappointing outings. “We chart neutral-zone rushes that result in scoring chances.
“When we’re playing well, those numbers are strong and our speed looks fine. But if we’re in the neutral zone, standing still, those chances drop. And I agree, that’s when we look slow. We get complacent or lazy in there - and this is something Claude and I have discussed - and then there is no flow to our game.’’
Meanwhile, the game plan is to wait for Lucic and Savard. Options such as plugging in Johnny Boychuk on the back line, or again reaching down to Providence, are always there, said Chiarelli, but for now the methodology is status quo and hope for the best.
“It’s like most teams, we need our better and best players to play like our better and best players,’’ said Chiarelli. “When those other guys are back - and that looks imminent - then we’ll assess it when everyone is plugged into their positions and roles that we expect of them.’’
According to a source familiar with the ongoing contract talks, the signing is not imminent and the total payout is not likely to be that high. Savard, who will turn 33 in July, is closing in on a seven-year pact worth closer to $32 million (a cap hit below $5 million per year). A typical payout for this kind of deal, made popular by the Red Wings and Flyers, would see Savard pull in, say, all but $3 million-$4 million over the first five years.
Entering year No. 6 of the deal, Savard would be 38. If his skills were diminished by then, the Bruins could buy out the final two years of the deal at one-third discount, with the total amount due paid over four years.
The Globe reported Sunday that Savard’s deal would be finalized in the days around Thanksgiving.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.