I recently read this article by Stephen Harris in the Boston Herald. He compares this season's team to the pre-lockout team of '03/'04, and I must admit to being somewhat amused by what he said:
"It was widely seen as a squad that would win at least one Stanley Cup, maybe more."
I recall those days rather well, and there were few if any Bruins fans who thought that team had a chance of going beyond the second round. I recall what the pundits said too. The general belief was that the B's didn't have the depth to win a cup, and they were right. Nobody who was paying attention thought that team was going to win a Cup. This despite the late season rentals of Gonchar and Nylander who were never more than just passing through. Samsonov's best days were behind him, although he played with more heart than any other Bruin during the playoff series with the Habs. Rolston and Bergeron had yet to fully mature, and like many young players during that time seemed destined for true greatness... in the future with some other team.
And then there was Jumbo Joe. Looking back, it was just wrong. From the day he was drafted the pundits around the league heaped praise on him and by extension on the Bruins. We fans bathed ourselves in it. But it was never quite right. He was brought along too slowly. Then too quickly. Then it seemed everyone expected him to be a natural leader as well. Joe Thornton is a very good player who will tally your team a lot of goals. But he was never "the" player, the one that everyone seemed to expect him to be. And the blame for that falls squarely on the Bruins management who mishandled him from the start and built the wrong expectations. Yes, he played injured during the playoff series. But in that series he was more often a liability than an asset, taking stupid penalties and playing frustrated. He may not have been able to play at 100% but he had 100% control over how he played and over the way his play affected the rest of the team.
Were they a team destined to win a cup? No. The management showed little respect for the players or for the fans and the players showed little respect in return. Time and again players came to Boston only to fail or worse, move on to a higher salary elsewhere. Looking back, it was truly awful. The fans that turned their backs on those Bruins had every reason to do so. They were a broken team and a broken organization.
We should all be grateful that today the Bruins are no longer broken. No matter how well they do for the rest of the season, the Bruins are an immeasurably better team than anything put on the ice in the O'Connell days. They have respect for one another from the top down, they work hard, have fun, and they play like a team. Even today I read comments from fans who long for a big name free agent to "fix"the team or "push them over the top." These fans just don't get it. Hockey is the ultimate team sport and that goes for the entire team, on and off the ice. You could fill a team with "name" free agents and it would fail without the proper management and attitude throughout the organization. It is this rare and elusive quality that the Bruins have today in spades.
Look at the current roster today, because in ten years many of their names will be remembered well. Hell, some of them may even be hanging from the rafters. Look at those names, because one day they will make the '03/'04 roster look weak in comparison.