This is the final write up on 2011 the previous posts covering 3-4, 5-7, 8-10.
Number two: Stanley Cup
After four decades, the Cup was brought home to the Causeway. No city in America has hungered for a championship at this level. The other three teams in town had won recently. The entire career of the legendary Ray Bourque was allowed to elapse without a Stanley Cup. Adam Oates, Cam Neely, Andy Moog all passed time in the spoked-b and never got a parade. Don Sweeney played and went to the front office rising in the ranks and helping young players reach the NHL. Claude Julien weathered years, and years of constant criticism by fans, former coaches, players running away to play elsewhere in the division.
To win the Cup, all the Bruins had to do was overcome major concussions to three of their top six forwards. They only needed to integrate three new players from three different teams and systems. They only needed to overcome a powerplay that was the worst in history. They only needed to overcome the top offense in the NHL, smother Stamkos, St Louis, the Sedins. It was just a small matter of overcoming Dwayne Roloson, Vezina nominee Roberto Luongo, Selke winner Ryan Kesler, arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens. Along side all of that they had to overcome history. Multiple failures, non more spectacular or recent than their collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers the year before.
But they did all of it. They won. The captain who’s leadership was questioned. The goalie who was doubted and discarded. A forward group who was ridiculed right, left and center for lacking a true superstar. A coach who averaged 100+ point seasons but had been fired across the conference. The general manager shredded in public for getting “no return” on Kessel. The ownership constantly mocked for spend thrift ways. From Jeremy Jacobs to the least of the assistants getting the locker rooms, practice facility and travel arrangements ready to Julien, the scouts, Bergeron, Thomas, Marchand, Chara and all the rest. One team, one quest, one goal one cup.
Number One: Reaching For Dynasty
Repeating as champion in any sport is difficult. You need to beat the odds, not once, but twice. Even if you’re skilled you need to be healthy. If you have chalked up luck, skill and health there is still the question of heart. As we’ve seen in teams in hockey, and in other sports luck all by itself only gets you so far. All the skill in the world can only carry a team to the cusp of greatness. The Bruins had all those elements at once, and the will to seize the opportunity in front of them. They did.
In the salary cap era, no team has managed to repeat. No back to back championships for any NHL team. The Detroit Red Wings came closest, but in that last gasp against the Penguins it all slipped away. They’ve drifted further and further from the top each year as health, and heart slip away. The Penguins had an enormous fire sale after winning the Stanley Cup in their second straight trip to the finals. The Chicago Blackhawks cap handling issues were so well known that everyone knew this was the one shot they had to make good on the dream. Their firesale was in such dire need they couldn’t even wait for the team to have all the players have their day with the Stanley Cup. More than half the roster was turned over. The Bruins don’t find themselves in any of those situations.
The Boston Bruins started their follow up season with almost the same roster they won the cup with. Just three players gone. One who didn’t fit. One who was aging and retired. A third was talented but not part of the core. A lucky strike in free agency added to the treasure trove of talent. Resigning a critical RFA was immense. Contributions from the farm system also helped. Today, six months after winning the last horn sounded in Vancouver, the Boston Bruins are a better team than they were. Because there was so little change and so much hope, despite the soul sucking hangover of the early season, the teams sellout streak continues, other teams have to play up to them. The odds say they are the best, their scoring and defense say so as well. The standings don’t add doubt. The standings, the odds, the skill the heart, and championship roster await only health, luck and opportunity to win it all again. That makes the reach for dynasty the best of 2011.
John Torterella in his never ending quest to be the largest personality in New York has again decided the Rangers can do without the services of one Sean Avery. Why it is that Torterella singles out a player to put in the doghouse deservedly or not each season is anyones guess. It could be just to set an example, or maybe he just doesn’t like their cologne. While Avery is a well known best, as Larry Brooks points out, Avery was an asset and not a liability during his time with the Rangers this season. Fans in New York City love the fashionista-pest and he can contribute even when not being penalized. In the 2006-7 season he put up 18 goals, scored both shorthanded and on the powerplay while compiling a very respectable stack of takeaways in over 17 minutes of icetime.
For teams lacking identity or looking for a freebie, especially heading into the trade deadline this is a godsend. For teams like the Islanders, the chance to grab some merchandise sales and a few additional ticket sales can’t be overlooked. Just as Jagr injected new life into the already warm Philadelphia-Pittsburgh rivalry, Avery the Islander would be fun to watch.
Some other teams that might use him well:
GM Scott Howson has already declared the Blue Jackets would be active from now to the trade deadline. With a roster as bare of NHL talent as Columbus is beyond a handful of players, adding a guy who can inject some life into the sputtering roster and get under the skin of rival players like Toews, Lidstrom, and Weber down the stretch might be a great building block for the future.
The Senators have a respectable chance of making the playoffs this season. If they do it’s quite likely to be in the seven or eight spot. Leaving aside the potential drama of having him face Torterella and company if the Rangers finish in first or second is the fact that the competitive advantage of having someone with NHL playoff experience to a very young roster can’t be overlooked.
The Kings are lacking something. Even under their new head coach they may be winning a bit more but they are hardly intimidating anyone on the ice. They are last in the NHL in scoring, their left wing has been effectively vacant for two plus seasons, and they aren’t a particularly fast team. Avery isn’t going to out skating Grabner for too many pucks but the guys they do have? Better still Avery has a home in LA, and has played there before. At this point with even Joe Thornton getting in on the Sedin bating, just imagine the fun he could have.
While he might not be fondly remembered for his quip about the departed Dian Phanuef in Calgary, if they are determined not to trade Iginla and company (or even if they are) , not to mention Stajan and Tanguay on the shelf, having the 25th ranked offense and not much in the farm system to help, adding Avery could be work to keep the teams recent surge going.
No team has scored more powerplay goals than the Canucks.Adding Avery to draw additional penalties and put the other team off balance more, especially come playoff time, is a powerful incentive. Better still, if he’s on their roster and not some conference rival the Sedins and Luongo don’t have to deal with his on ice antics.
The Avalanche have improved their PK a bit, but it still needs work at 21st in the NHL, tagging Avery as a top or second paring penalty kill forward and allowing him the freedom to go after short handed goals could be the combination needed to keep Avery aggressive and (mostly) within the rules.
I think it is safe to say drama lovers across the continent would pay to see Avery and Phanuef bury the hatchet. As the Maple Leafs are desperate to make the playoffs and have the worst penalty kill in the NHL while clinging to 8th in the east, I can’t think of a better way for Avery to prove he’s reformed, help a team out where it needs it, and given Burkes love of trucelence, slide a round peg into a round hole.
This is part three previous installments can be found here and here.
Number four: Concussions Bergeron and Horton
In the waning moments of the Philadelphia sweep with the TD Garden crowd in full roar and doubt dwindling faster than the hopes and dreams of the city of brotherly love, one hit shocked a crowd. Claude Giroux was charging hard in the Bruins defensive end, and is often the case, the first man to the spot was Patrice Bergeron. The alternate captain who after Zdeno Chara is arguably the best defensive player on the team was left on the ice. Bergeron’s first concussion delivered by Randy Jones, and this was like deja vu. He eventually got up and walked off on his own, but no one expected to see him again until October at the very earliest if ever. The hit was not suspended, or even penalized but it would cost him the opening two, very ugly games for the Bruins against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like the loss of Chara to illness in the first round, his values greatest illustration was his absence.
Two games and two minutes into the Stanley Cup Finals Nathan Horton became part of history. He was on the receiving end of a hit that would not only end his season, but inspire the harshest suspension in Stanley Cup finals history. Aaron Rome got four games insuring he would miss the rest of the series, The hit was late, high, and horrific enough to quiet the loudest building in the NHL. It ripped the newest big body out of the lineup and left a team shaken. He would not return to the ice. As the series swung back and forth and his recovery progressed he appeared at the Garden, and even traveled to Vancouver for game seven. When he got to the arena he did something that will live on in hockey lore for decades.
Between the two concussions, center stage and their huge impact on each series can’t be understated. Bergeron was lucky enough to only miss two games and not suffer noticeably on the ice. Horton has continued to battle some of the timing issues that come with any issue but the price they paid and the contributions they made on and off the ice made them each memorable.
Number Three: Tim Thomas
When you quietly lose your starting job after coming off a Vezina winning season, then come back to be not just the best goalie in the regular season, but break a record most hall of fame goaltender never come close to, it’s pretty hard to top that. Unless of course you’re Davison Michigan, University of Vermont, and alumni of a dozen professional hockey teams, the US Olympic team, and walking talking statistical, anomaly Tim Thomas. After locking up the Vezina trophy sometime before the All Star game a certain amount of coasting could be expected. But no.
After setting record breaking numbers in the regular season. Numbers that easily won him the Vezina, and garnered almost enough MVP talk Tim Thomas did what he’s tried to do every year of his career; take it to another level. He didn’t just maintain his numbers he improved on them. He won three game sevens. Swept the high powered Philadelphia Flyers, allowed just 8 goals to the Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, set a record for saves in a Stanley Cup playoff and walked away with the Conn-Smyth and Stanley Cup. As an aperitif along the way he delivered a beating or two, some jaw dropping saves and some great interviews.
Tim Thomas shouted down his critics without ever raising his voice.
The NHL season wouldn’t be the same without rumors of one or more major talents being shuffled across the map. A lot of the speculation has centered on one Jarome Iginla the last three or four years. They chaos that has been the front office of the team for much of the last decade has virtually sealed the deal on him winning a Stanley Cup with Flames. Certainly it is hard to imagine him doing it before his current contract is over, and possibly ever. He’s still playing smart, tough, effective hockey as he closes in on his 35th birthday it is hard to imagine him being the cornerstone of a cup win three or four years from now.
Among the concerns for Iginla about leaving the only city he’s ever played in is how much it will damage his legacy. I’m not convinced that is as valid a concern as it might once have been so long as he doesn’t go to Edmonton or perhaps Vancouver. If the team plays it right, and gets a solid return on him, and he’s willing to go back after his current contract there’s no reason he can’t still win a cup there with some better complimentary players, if the front office can do their jobs right.
The perfect team to me for Iginla to land on before the deadline is; The Minnesota Wild. They have a real lack of scoring that will not get them far in the playoffs. They have a solid prospect pool. They are reasonably close to Iginla who is loathe to leave his family. St Paul isn’t exactly next door, but it is far closer than going to one of the New York Area teams, Boston or even to the Panthers. The Wild have almost eight million in cap space this year. Also to be considered is the reputation of the Wild for smart defense, but not having the ponies to flourish offensively. Adding Iginla to a lineup with Heatley and Setogouchi gives the team the ability to easily roll two lines in the top ten in the NHL for quality.
Then too there is the question of attitude. Jarome Iginla may be better known for his goal scoring than his punch throwing but I defy any informed NHL observer to apply the word “soft” to any part of Ignila or his game aside from his hands. Those hands have turned to pummeling opponents on no few occasions. More importantly no one pushes him around. The same can’t be said for the Wild. I’m not sure one could get away with the Marchand on Sedin speed bagging witnessed in the playoffs, but no one has gets the cold shivers at the thought of an infuriated Wild roster. I’m not even sure anyone has seen this current roster infuriated.
For the Wild, adding toughness and skill in one package can’t be dismissed out of hand. To do so with a guy who is undeniably hungry would be huge. They’ve already had a very good opportunity to review much of their farm system at the NHL level thanks to a rash of injuries. Regardless of who or what they trade to Calgary in exchange for Iginla with realignment looming those players will only have two chances a season to come back to haunt the team.
For Calgary the value of a year or two landing in the lottery and drafting quality picks in the first and second rounds to build for the future can’t be understated. It doesn’t matter where Iginla goes if he does get traded, the Flames have to have a plan for winning without him. A return that brought back Coyle or Granland and picks would kickstart the rebuild faster than almost anything. Coyle is arguably NHL ready now, a draft pick that turned into a first line center would be enormous.
Realistically, if all parties do things well this is a situation where everyone can have their cake and eat it too.
This is part two, part one which had 8-10 and an honorable mention is here.
Number seven: Mad For Marchand
One of the most mesmerizing stories for fans was the hellion from Halifax making the team. He wasn’t supposed to. Arniel, Hamill, Suave, Caron, Colborne were all counted to be well ahead of Marchand on the depth chart. Legend has it he told Julien before the season started he was going to score twenty goals. He started the season on the fourth line. Unless you’re the Lemieux-Jagr era Penguins, not many teams have 20 goal scorers on the fourth line. He managed to just barely squeeze Daniel Paille out of playing time early in the season. Over the course of the regular season he got under the skin of opponents, into the stat sheet often and into the hearts of millions of Bruins fans. In the playoffs he put himself in company with Lemieux and Roenick for rookie goal scoring in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Number six: Pacioretty Hit
No other hit was as analyzed, dramatized and polarizing in the last decade of NHL hockey as this one. From the word go Chara was vilified, the Montreal populace whipped into a fury by the most irresponsible media in north America. The police were involved, an investigation continued for months, and months not ending until November for an incident that occurred back in March. The NHL concluded there was no intent to injure, Chara was not suspended or fined, but so hostile was the environment that when the playoffs started and the Bruins were set to square off with the Canadiens they didn’t even stay in the province and went instead to Lake Placid New York for practice and rest in peace and safety.
Number 5: Marc Savard
One of the saddest stories in recent memory for the Bruins played out as the team climbed to the greatest heights. Marc Savard had come back earlier than he should have from his concussion to take part in the disaster that ended the previous season. He missed more than twenty games to start the new season, and then was hit by former teammate Matt Hunwick. The hit was clean, but it was a clarifying moment that Savard should not play again soon.
As time passed it became apparent “not soon” could transition to “not again”. As more time expired updates went from “no change” to “still experiencing symptoms”. Undoubtedly, the loss of Savard led to the Kaberle trade as Savards offensive wizardly was the corner stone of the Bruins powerplay. As he began to improve slightly he made appearances at games, sitting with Bergeron in the luxury box when Bergeron sat out two games during his own concussion. As spring turned to summer Savard took to twitter (@MSavvy91) and become one of the most entertaining players with welcome insight into the Bruins, and a knack for knowing who’s going to get hot.
NHL 36 is a new “all access” show that will follow around one NHL star for 36 hours. It airs on NHL network. The first episode featured All Star Chicago Blackhawk and US Olympian Patrick Kane. His episode followed around Kane and mostly his father. One highlighted segment was his dropping the puck for the charity game between the Chicago police and fire departments.
The Bergeron episode which should be finished taping now will cover his time from the end of the holiday break to sometime after the Phoenix Coyotes game. The game was not a great one for anyone on either team, and Bergeron was an uncharacteristic minus player and was also four minutes below his season average in ice time. I’m not sure if this was precaution against injuries caused by the lack of special teams play or if something else contributed. How this will play out on tv is anyones guess.
While it’s hard to complain about the quality of the two players selected for NHL 36 so far, they are somewhat odd choices. Leaving aside Patrice Bergeron’s amazing rap skills and Patrick Kane’s well discussed earthy and personal celebrations after winning the Cup, neither is exactly the type who screams “drama is about to happen”. Yes, both of them scored Stanley Cup clinching goals, and both are young enough they can easily be expected to play another 5-10 years but I can’t see them as the most inherently interesting players on either team.
Just from watching the Bruins “Summer with Stanley” specials two of the Bruins better known players leap to mind as more engaging guys to follow. Tuukka Rask is a well known ham, and doesn’t appear to have ever met a camera he wouldn’t spare some attention for. Even more he’s got an active sense of humor and thanks to Ilya Bryzgalov’s on camera exploits on 24/7 goalies are getting interest from fans. Brad Marchand also leaps to mind. Aside from being one of the NHL’s rising stars, he provided the Stanley Cup playoffs with one of the most quotable lines in years.
The Blackhawks too are home to the well traveled Hossa who landed on Chicago, his fifth team before winning a Cup. While it would probably require a tiny bit of bleeping out expletives, Dan Carcillo could no doubt be engaging to watch for 22 minutes. Carcillo’s fresh into Chicago from the massive overhaul of the Philadelphia Flyers. With his journey back to the NHL after a rocky end in Ottawa and time spent in both the KHL and AHL, Ray Emery’s story could be quite fascinating as well. Given how much talking Patrick Kane’s father did during that episode, I can’t help wonder if guys a bit more extroverted than Kane and Bergeron might not make for better tv.
Two thousand eleven was the most exciting, enthralling and simply satisfying year to be a Boston Bruins game in almost four decades. Some of the stories that made the year special are due a little more talking about.
Honorable Mention: Zach to Zenith
In 2007 the Bruins picked a small, skilled center from the Everett Silvertips as their first round pick. This was a draft that saw Patrick Kane go first, and follow his top selection up with a cup clinching goal before Hamill would ever make back to back NHL games. Injuries and ill luck in Providence saw Hamill’s stock drop dramatically in the eyes of observers and the team. Then a funny thing happened. He came into camp and outplayed not just his fellow AHL players but more than one of the NHL players. Since then he’s gotten two call ups, played all three forward positions and earned his stay. From the man many would consider the most conservative, veteran reliant coach in the league he’s earned the ultimate trinity of accolades: trust, regular shifts and special teams play.
Number 10: Drafting Dougie
When the Toronto Maple Leafs put on a late season surge that yanked them out of the lottery and had them threatening to reach the playoffs. The Bruins had a huge need for a top defensive prospect. With the top of their blueline aging, and the pipeline containing middle pairing or lower potential players the hope of a top defensive prospect being drafted waned with every Leafs win. The June draft saw a few odd things happen, an out of zone pick by the Jets.
Several teams in need of defense opted for forwards, and as number eight was called, and the Flyers opted for Couterier, Bruins fans went mad. Four of the defensemen expected to go in the top ten were still on the board. The excitement was not limited to fans. The normally straight laced and reserved Peter Chiarelli walked to the podium. He didn’t have just his elusive smile, but a full bodied laugh as he stood up to perform one of the most important duties of a general manager. He picked Dougie Hamilton. When he was asked later he said what every GM says when they select a player “I never expected him to be there.” I believe him.
Number 9: Kaberle Trade
Possibly the most speculated trade in Boston Bruins history came to pass. In order to make room for Kaberle the Bruins had to jettison Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler to Atlanta-now-Winnipeg to have cap space. The trade was designed to fix the Bruins ailing powerplay. It did not. With the quote-unquote assistance of the former Maple Leafs powerplay quarterback the Bruins went on to have the worst powerplay in memory. With a salary of over four million dollars he became the fifth defensemen in icetime sharing even strength shifts with rookie Adam Mcquaid.
During his tenure, Julien defended him, players defended him. Peter Chiarelli even defended the former Toronto Maple Leaf. Fans were not so impressed. The media was not so impressed. In the end the divide between lip service and throwing good money after bad was demonstrated as Kaberle would sign with Carolina Hurricanes.
Number 8: Lucic Hits 30
When you walk into training camp the fall after you are drafted and the comparisons to a guy who’s number is in the rafters, living up to the hype can take a little work. When you skate poorly and have a slew of nagging injuries in your third year, your fourth year, the first of a new contract is crucial. Boston is no stranger to either great or disappointing players. The former are lauded for decades past their last game, the latter are often run out of town (see above).
With a big contract to justify Lucic had a lot to live up to. With a wretched team playoff performance directly in the rear view mirror, he and the team had a lot to live down. With the aid of the newly arrived large bodied Nathan Horton and the slick passing David Krejci, Lucic finally started to live up the hype by potting thirty regular season goals. He finished the season leading the Bruins in goals, and ahead of John Tavares, Alex Semin, Brad Richards and Patrick Kane.
The NHL has a lot of players. You’d never know this from the advertising that might mention six or seven, and usually only one or two, you know who they are. Despite the dearth of mentions of other players worth noting, here’s a few to know. Some are purely fun to watch, some might give you a leg up on your next fantasy hockey league draft. Here’s a few to keep you busy
Adam Henrique: The young New Jersey Devils center has been money in the bank since his call up. He leads all rookie forwards in TOIG. He’s tied for first in assists and third in points on his team. Seems to do just about everything well.
Brad Marchand: Last weeks NHL first star is more than just a pest extraordinaire. Last years playoffs were not a fluke. Watch him handle the puck at full stick extension or two inches in front of his skates. He’s leading the Bruins in goals.
Jarome Iginla: The Calgary Flames captain may seem like an odd player to highlight given that he’s won the scoring title in the past, but It seems the only time you hear about him is when it’s October and he’s having one of his patented slow-roll starts. The guy has been just about a point per game winger his whole career, without ever having a center who could be called a top 20 NHL pivot.
Jared Cowen: Fellow rookie Adam Larsson, teammate of Henrique may be getting what press is spared on newly minted NHL defensemen but Cowen is the real deal. The six foot seven behemoth is a lot faster than many would expect, is climbing the scoring charts. He’s nearing triple digits in hits, is blocking a lot of shots and has more takeaways than giveaways.
Mike Smith: Don’t look now, but before Smith injured himself he’d climbed to #12 in save percentage and was among the league leaders with 15 wins on the season. The 15 wins had him tied with Quick and Lundquist.