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Kulfan: Struggling Bruins know they can be better

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — When will the Boston Bruins begin looking and playing like the Bruins?

Or will they, at all, this season?

The Bruins are hanging on, barely, to the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference while failing to gain any traction.

They had a great January and appeared to be hitting their stride, going 8-1-3 in the month.

But, the Bruins have reverted to their inconsistent ways and went winless (0-1-2) on a three-game road swing through western Canada, including squandering a 3-0 second-period lead against Calgary (before losing in overtime).

Always a good road team, the Bruins are only 11-11-5 this season away from TD Garden.

Bruins president Cam Neely told the Boston Herald he was mystified as to why the Bruins have been so inconsistent.

"Listen, I know we have some new bodies from last year," Neely said. "Last year, take the second round (loss to Montreal in the playoffs) out of it and we had a pretty damned good year. We've got some different bodies now, but we have a lot more players who were here before than new guys.

"I get a player here or there having an off-year. But from our perspective right now, it's disappointing to see what we've watched for the bulk of the season.

"We're a better team than we've shown. It's just disappointing. We're making mistakes we shouldn't be making. We're not playing the game the way we've seen this team play. We can be better in a lot of areas."

The Bruins have mentioned as being active before the March 2 trade deadline, but Neely said general manager Peter Chiarelli can only do so much.

"It is difficult," Neely said. "It's gotten harder and harder to make deals. What the salary cap is going to be next year, everybody is thinking about that. There's uncertainty there.

"The so-called rental market is probably not as big as it has been in the past. And making hockey deals — as much as everyone would like to see more of those — they're as much now about trading money as trading players.

"You can't be complacent, that's for sure. There are high expectations here, as there should be when you're a top team. You may not meet those expectations all the time, but they're still there and we need to be better."

Playing for pride

The Arizona Coyotes have been here before, essentially playing out the string with over seven weeks of the schedule remaining.

Rumors are circulating that prominent Coyotes players such as forward Antoine Vermette and defensemen Keith Yandle and Zbynek Michalek will be traded before the deadline.

It's not easy being a young player on the Coyotes roster and dealing with the uncertainty and losing.

Shane Doan, who has been the Coyotes' heart and soul through years of losing and uncertainty, appealed to his teammates' pride.

"You see and recognize the situation and we've talked about it over and over and I'm probably more aware of it than most of the other guys," Doan told the Arizona Republic. "You only get so many games in your career to play in the NHL and every day you get to do it is an unbelievable privilege. And when it's gone, it's gone and you don't want to feel like you wasted any of it.

"So you better make sure you bring your best game because it's what you're going to be measured by. For some guys, this is for your (future). For other guys, it's for contracts, for pride. Pride has got to be as big as anything. … But if you can't understand the privilege you've been blessed with and given, then you don't deserve to be here anyway so it won't last very long and you'll be out."

Fighters' code

Ever wonder what it's like being one of the few remaining NHL heavyweights?

Edmonton's Luke Gazdic, one of the last true fighters in the league, fought Winnipeg's Anthony Peluso last week when Peluso asked for one.

Never mind the two were junior hockey teammates and are good friends.

"Buddy is a loose term," said Gazdic, who overlooked the fact they're friends. "He's a good acquaintance. We played in Erie for a number of years, we train together in the summer and skate in Toronto.

"A switch clicks off. I'm not one of those guys who fights to fight, to rack up some majors. When I'm fighting, there's a reason, and I hate to say it but it's to hurt the other person.

"Nothing personal."

Kessel watch

Toronto winger Phil Kessel has looked indifferent on the ice with the Maple Leafs losing and defenseman Dion Phaneuf (lower body) not in the lineup.

Kessel has a clause in his contract that gives him eight teams of his choosing where he'll accept a trade. Kessel has not told the Maple Leafs he wants to be traded, although don't be shocked this summer if that happens.

The Maple Leafs, in general, likely will have a massive reboot.

"We made it clear when we signed (Kessel) long term that we think he's a good player, despite the fact he's had a difficult time lately," general manager Dave Nonis told Sportsnet radio. "But he doesn't have a no-trade. We do have some teams we can trade him to. You need some flexibility to change your team and we have that.

"I would say there are some (offers for his high-end players), but significant is a little too strong. We've had a number of them. Players at that end of the pay scale usually get moved in the offseason.

"This isn't a fire sale to get people out of here. If there is a deal that helps us moving forward, we'll do it, but there isn't a time frame on it. Scorched earth, clean house ... that's not the way the league works. You have to get value back and there are players here who can be part of the solution. So you have to make sure you're evaluating correctly."