Monday, September 8, 2008

In Retrospect -- Blowin' up the Bruins

It's been a little less than three years since Mike O'Connell pulled the trigger on the biggest trade of his career -- sending Joe Thornton to San Jose and effectively closing the books on the Millenial Bruins. Of course, we all know what happened next: the Bruins fired O'Connell and coach Mike Sullivan, cleaned out most of the rest of the roster, and went into a 2-season hibernation. Fans stayed away in droves, many finally swearing off the team after many years of mismanagement and lukewarm attendance. This was only two years (including the lockout) after the Bruins narrowly missed a #1 playoff berth and appeared to be on track to break their Cup drought with a talented young core of on-the-rise players.

Needless to say, the dismantling of the early-2000s roster is still a sore spot among many Bruins fans, particularly those who still have a Thornton jersey hanging in their closet and have never heard of Phil Kessel. But let's take a closer look at the career arcs of the core early-2000s players who were eventually ditched in favor of a rebuild:

Joe Thornton - The centerpiece to the Bruins franchise didn't miss a beat in the transition to San Jose, leading the league in scoring and winning the Hart. However, he continues to carry the label of postseason choke-artist, which was basically the reason he was traded in the first place. To date he has only solidified his, and the Sharks', reputation for being pretty on paper but worthless in a Cup run.

Bill Guerin - His star has faded steadily since the lockout, having played for 4 teams in the past 3 seasons. As captain of the horrid Islanders, he'll probably never reach the 30-goal level again in the new, sleeker NHL.

Jason Allison - Having jumped ship early (2001) to LA, Allison has basically disappeared from the hockey radar. Despite being a nearly point-per-game player throughout his career, and still near his athletic prime at age 33, Allison's injuries have made him a non-factor.

Sergei Samsonov - The other half of the 1997 draft jackpot, Samsonov has played for 5 teams in the past 4 seasons, including 23 shutout games in Chicago. He experienced a mini-renaissance late last season with the Hurricanes and might still be a serviceable 3rd-liner.

Byron Dafoe - Flamed out in dramatic fashion with the Thrashers, ending his NHL career at 33.

Brian Rolston - Has developed into a reliable two-way, 30-goal forward with the Wild... and cashed in this summer to the tune of 4 years, $20 million. Welcome to the new, fiscally responsible NHL.

Anson Carter - Digging back a little further into the 99-00 campaign, Carter looked like he would be a franchise staple in the model of Cam Neely. Since that season he has played for 7 teams and scored 30 goals only once. Another victim of the new NHL.

Martin Lapointe - Have we found a theme yet? The Bruins overpaid for Lapointe after the Wings made him look like an All-Star. Since the lockout he has yet to score 15 goals in a season.

Glen Murray - Ok, the theme is "power forwards don't really fit in the new NHL". Murray's a sentimental favorite, but one look at his stat sheet tells you he's no longer a marquee player. Was bought out and will likely finish his career in a "mentor" role.

Andrew Raycroft - Is trying to survive the living nightmare of being hyped as a rookie, traded for a possible Hall of Famer, and falling flat in the league's most intense media market.

Hal Gill - Also became a target for Maple Leaf fans, having proven a tad too slow for the new style of play. A lucky trade to Pittsburgh has given his career a new lease on life.

Sean O'Donnell - Won a Cup with Anaheim, but never developed into elite status. Has the good fortune to play behind Niedermayer and Pronger.

Jozef Stumpel - Exiled to Florida, he never took that next step to become a top-6 forward.

Mike Knuble - Has found a place with the Flyers, develping into a reliable 30-goal forward with defensive skills.

Nick Boynton - Career never recovered from leaving Boston, playing his prime seasons in Phoenix and now Miami.

Dan McGillis - At one time, McGillis was considered one of the rising young stars in the league. Inexplicably, he imploded after signing with the Devils and is no longer able to hold an NHL roster spot.

P.J. Axelsson - The lone vestige of the early-2000s Bruins, he has found a niche as a hardworking 2-way forward with declining skills and a penchant for absorbing devastating hits to make a play. Will have to fight for minutes this season against prospects little more than half his age.

Average games played last season: 52.8
Average points scored last season: 28.4 (not counting goalies)

Yikes. Put that roster on the ice today and you've got yourself a lottery draft pick. About half a dozen of these guys will not start the season on an NHL squad. Only Thornton, Rolston and Knuble have avoided career collapse of some sort... and they're not exactly what you'd consider the core of a dynasty.

Of course, none of this justifies the ineptitude of the Bruins' front office over the past several decades. But it should give us pause to consider that, had the team been kept together, we might be in the same position that we now see in Toronto -- a once-proud, Cup-starved franchise saddled with aging and ineffective veterans with no clear way out.

Thank God for Joe Thornton.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


President of Bruins Nation said...

Calling Tuuka Rask a hall-of-famer takes guts!

Tom said...

I might look back on it and laugh, but in the now I think there's a good chance he could turn out to be THAT good. has him rated as the 8th-best prospect in hockey -- the guys ahead of him are Toews, Erik Johnson, Price, Turris, vanRiemsdyk, Voracek and Okposo. Right behind him is Bernier. If he's in the same class as Price and Bernier, the logical conclusion is that he'll have a long and distinguished career... if he sticks to good teams perhaps distinguished enough to be enshrined someday.