Season In Review

“I’m sorry it went down like this. Someone had to lose.”
–Glen Frey, “Smuggler’s Blues”

With many exciting matchups for Round 2 of the playoffs about to begin, I’m having a hard time getting excited about any of them because the Bruins were not invited to this dance. Sitting home, I figured I’d cheer myself up by remembering the good things that happened this season. There will also be self pity, looks into the past, projections about the future (if there is one) and ice cream.

How do you sum up the events of as season like the Bruins had in 2003-04 where, in my opinion, we’ve seen some of the biggest changes since Ray Bourque packed his bags and left for Colorado? Lets take this one from the top.

Owner Jeremy Jacobs

Jeremy Jacobs’ reputation over the years is as an owner whose only interest in his team is the money earned from ticket and concession sales. This year he loosened the purse strings, telling GM Mike O’Connell, “build me a winner.” He also attended more Bruins games trying to become more fan friendly. And after declaring that Bruins tickets are too expensive for the average fan, he decided against raising ticket prices for next year (it’s a start). Bob Kraft’s Patriots have raised the the bar for sports in New England, winning two championships. Kraft built a new stadium with his own money. The Red Sox have new owners who are committed to bringing the first championship to Boston in over 80 years. Jacobs says that he wants to be a good owner, too.

Prez Harry Sinden

According to CBSSportsline.com, Harry Sinden may finally retire from the Bruins after 34 years. Rumor has it that GM Brian Burke of the Vancouver Canucks will be offered the position (and maybe GM, too), since his contract will expire at season’s end. As GM, Sinden made several blockbuster trades that kept the Bruins stocked with talent and ensured a playoff berth for over twenty years. Almost as much talent left when Harry refused to pay them what they thought was fair market value for their services. If Harry leaves, it will truly be the end of an era.

Coach Mike Sullivan

First year NHL coach Mike Sullivan stepped this season. Sullivan coached AHL Providence Bruins last year, getting to know the Bruins’ system and junior players while bringing them to the playoffs. Sullivan’s first season in the bigs was successful, introducing a more defensive system and shuffling his line combinations to create more scoring opportunities. He put Thornton and Murray on different lines when they weren’t producing. Most important, he halted the December slump that had derailed the team last season. They amassed one of the best away records in the NHL this year. Boston finished second in a very competitive Eastern conference thinking that they could challenge for the Cup this year and Sullivan has been mentioned as a candidate for the Jack Adams trophy. By contrast, last year’s coach Robbie Ftorek saw the Bruins suffer through a 2-3 month slump which almost caused them to miss the playoffs. He was fired just weeks before the end of the regular season.

Defence

Boston suffered some losses to their blueline. Bryan Berard was lost to salary disputes. He was a good scorer, but a defensive liability in the previous year and not thought to be worth the money he held out for. Girard and Moran were lost to injury. Up and coming defenseman Jonathan Girard almost died in a car crash before the season began. He missed the entire season, and it was questionable whether he’d ever play hockey again but has recently begun to skate and hopes to rejoin the team next season. Moran was put on waivers but was reclaimed in light of Girard’s injury, but himself suffered a high ankle sprain that ended his own season.

In good news, Boston added some quickness to its blueline the later part of the season , picking up Jiri Slegr from Vancouver and Sergei Gonchar from Washington. This certainly helped strengthen Boston’s anemic power play which probably gave up more short handed goals than it scored. With Nick Boynton, Boston three relatively fast offensive D-men and 3 physical stay at homes in Hal Gill, Sean O’Donnell and Dan McGillis, which makes for some promising combinations. It’s doubtful that Moran will return next year, although a healthy Girard could crack the lineup.

Offence

Boston signed both Samsonov and Rolston to new contracts this year (1 year each). Samsonov missed most of last season to wrist surgery, but seemed to make up for lost time. Skating with Joe at times, he forced Joe to skate and shoot more (Joe tended to stand still and pass to Murray) making him a more dangerous scorer. Samsonov also found young rookie Patrice Bergeron to be a fine linemate. Fan fave and enforcer P.J. Stock was demoted to the AHL, and a rotating cast of characters including Zamuner, Donato, Grosek, tough guys McCarthy (now back with the Rangers) and Doug Doul and the 4th line became another scoring line. Murray’s stats suffered without Joe, but he skated and backchecked more. Knuble proved he can play and score wherever he is. Rolston IMO had an off-season — before Slegr arrived he played point on the powerplay and penalty kill. Brining in Slegr and Gonchar was supposed to free him up and give him more time on offense, but he didn’t put up great numbers. At $2.5m per year, it’s quite possible that he will be moved during the offseason. Zamuner is too seldom used on that 4th line and earns $2m per year, so don’t count on him returning either. Glen Murray? Fugeddaboudit. We already traded him once so I wouldn’t doubt we’ll do it again. Moving these three would make it easier to resign new acquisitions Gonchar and Nylander, two guys we really don’t want to let go of. Ted Donato was a bargain, earning about $450K, putting up respectable numbers and bringing a lot of energy, enthusiasm and short handed goals. Travis Green should return, as he was excellent in the faceoff circle and played gritty, hard nosed hockey. Like Knuble he can play well on any line with any other Bruins player.

Goaltending

I believe you’ve met our goaltender, Andrew Raycroft? A top finalist for the Calder Trophy, Andrew has had a stellar year. I believe that Felix Potvin was as good as a goalie coach as he was a backup goalie this year. Everyone said that Raycroft was a great positional goalie, but I get the sense that Felix’s calm under pressure rubbed off on Andrew. Hopefully Raycroft will not fall into the sophomore slump that some goalies face. Tim Thomas was called up from the AHL as backup last season and did a respectable job, but the other guy to watch for is Hannu Toivenen (sp?). Because of these two guys, I think Felix has used up his nine lives in Boston. Besides, he probably only has a few more years in the NHL and he didn’t get a lot of ice time this season playing behind Raycroft. I think he wants to be the number 1 guy somewhere, and I wish him the best of luck.

Well, that’s about it. Any players not mentioned by name probably don’t have to worry. Contracts for most of the players expire with the CBA, the primary exceptions being Joe and Martin Lapointe. On the one hand this was a smart move — if there’s a salary cap the Bruins get to pick and choose exactly who they want to keep, then fill in the other positions from the minors. On the other hand, their contract negotiations tend to stretch out longer than necessary. Of course, a work stoppage would make that point moot.

I think the Bruins played a great season. At this point, they are are a very strong regular season team, but a revolving door on the coaching office has made growth difficult. Mike Sullivan has enough good qualities and (for now) the support of management, and hopefully he will be around for awhile. Our young core of players gains experience every year and with one or two veteran additions this could become something great. Okay, time for some ice cream.

Comments? Questions? Buehler?

Salary figures quoted were from TheSportingNews.com.