|By Paul Noonan
About ten years ago, there was budding hope in Bruins’ nation.
With Joe Thornton, the Bruins were looking to rebuild a franchise that had begun to slip. A few years later, things looked even brighter. The GAS line (Bill Guerin, Jason Allison and Sergei Samsonov), Thornton developing into a superstar, Sergei Samsonov winning rookie of the year. Were reasons to get excited for the Bruins both at the present and in the future.
However, with each bit of good news, bad news came as well. No members of the GAS line are Bruins anymore. Ray Bourque asked to be traded. There were a couple of first round exits to the Canadiens, Joe Thornton was traded. Throughout it all, we put up with the owners’ fake attempt at building a winner. The optimism always seemed to overshadow the owners’ inability to get it done.
But for the first time in the better half of a decade, that optimism disappeared. On that fateful day shortly after Thanksgiving, when the untouchable franchise player suddenly became trade bait, everything changed. The Bruins' went through a drastic overhaul ultimately leading to the hiring of new GM Peter Chiarelli. With Chiarelli the B's have a chance to fix things and start anew, a chance they must take.
For the first time since Thornton was drafted, the Bruins have a top-five pick. In many scouts eyes ,any of the top five players would be a worthwhile pick, potential NHL star. That player can be added to a pretty solid foundation.
For the first time since Bourque left, the Bruins have a defense that will cause anybody problems. From offensive threats like Brian Leetch and David Tanbe to stay-at-home bangers like Andrew Alberts and Mark Stuart, the B’s have a well-rounded defensive corps.
In net, Hannu Toivonen looked good before his injury and could be another in a growing number of great Finnish goalies. On the depth and experience front, the Bruins covered that last summer with guys like Brad Isbister, Tom Fitzgerald and Shawn McEachern. Brad Boyes and Patrice Bergeron are good young tandem to build around on offense.
The Bruins are just a few players away from the playoffs, and now they need to take notes. The final four teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs are perfect models. Buffalo, Anaheim, Carolina and Edmonton all went through the troubles Boston did this year. But with patience and good decisions, they quietly built themselves into Cup contenders. Each team has a strong core of home-grown talent, a couple of big free agent pick-ups, a good trade or two, and voila.
The B’s have the tools to do the same. Bergeron, Boynton, Toivonen, Alberts and Stuart are homegrown talents any team wouldn’t mind having. I still stand by my comments earlier this year that the Thornton trade will pan out. Sturm and Stuart are two guys who have talent and experience and will chip in plenty.
This summer, the B’s have a chance to do some damage on the market. Andrew Raycroft and Glen Murray could be trade bait that would bring something very good in return. While the free agent pool won’t be as juicy as last summer, there will be some strong talent out there that the Bruins should try to rake in. They have plenty of financial room to work with. They have to be willing to spend $5 million or so on a player like a Pat Elias or Zdeno Chara, someone of All- Star caliber, that would come in and make a big impact. If the B’s plan on using Raycroft in a trade, look to Philadelphia, or Tampa Bay, or St. Louis, or Columbus as possible trade partners. Those teams have guys like Nikolai Zherdev, Martin St. Louis, Keith Tkachuk and Niko Dimitakos, or a choice of a few other quality players.
It is tough to say how good GM Mike O’Connell was. It Isn ’t easy to always get the better half of the deal, when your superiors are penny pinchers. O’Connell became the victim of time. The way the team was being run, it was only a matter of time before everything collapsed. If the Bruins want to return to respectability, that attitude must change with Chiarelli.
The salary cap may be as high as $45 million next year.
If Jeremy Jacobs tries to convince us again that the B’s need to aim for a few million under the cap, then we need to worry. The Bruins are only a few key pieces away from a team that could do some damage, but Jacobs needs to open his pocket for a change. The Bruins could build a contender without cracking $40 million, but that shouldn’t be a mandate.
If the Bruins exceed that price, let it be, especially if it results in a winner.
Just as the NHL felt the game was becoming stale, so too did the Bruins. The NHL was willing to make the necessary changes to return to respectability.
Now the Bruins must be too.