Saturday, December 20, 2008

The '03/'04 Cup Team

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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Back in Black

Ok, not the most original title, I know. Yes, I am back, my three readers. And of course, so are the Bruins--back, in black, and, oh man, are they back!

Where to start. Hmm... maybe my return would be a good excuse for a recap of the season so far.

The season started out normally enough. The post I had planned to start the season would have gone something like, "They've come this far but can they take it to yet another level?" And in the early going it looked like more of the same as last year: good, but not great hockey. The home loss to the Leafs was disappointing, but you can't win them all, right?

And then something happened. The Stars came to town and they brought their goons with them. Sean Avery and Steve Ott may have been the best things to happen to the Boston Bruins since the last time we beat the Habs in a playoff series. Imagine the very idea of coming into Boston and trying to intimidate the Bruins with cheap shots. The Stars tried it with the result that nobody is likely to try it again for a very long time. The Bruins beat the Stars in every sense of the word. During that game the Bruins came together as a team. I will long recall seeing Savvy pounding on Avery at the end of the game. Sure, it may have been more symbolic than pugilistic, but the gesture held great meaning.

Prior to that game the Bruins were 5-3-2. Since the drop of the puck against the Stars on Saturday, November 1st, the Bruins have gone 14-1-1. Thank you, Dallas. And thank you Mr. Avery. Good luck to you in your next profession. I don't know what you will do, but I'm sure it will be sleazy.

The next highlight has to be a 6-1 stomping of Montreal at home. That felt oh so good.

Unfortunately the next memorable game wasn't nearly so sweet. Those Rangers are pretty darned good. The Bruins lost in a shootout in New York. This was a tough game where for one of the few times since November 1st the opposing team seemed of similar caliber.

Speaking of teams of similar caliber, the home game against the Red Wings has to be the second most memorable game of the season so far. What made this game truly awe inspiring was that the Wings played very well. Unlike other opponents they didn't let the B's into their zone like water through a chain link fence. The Bruins had to really work to win this one. The score may have been a lopsided 4-1, but the play was much closer. You really got the feeling that the Wings had brought their A game and still lost.

Lastly, the low point of the season, at least for me, came on November 26th, in Buffalo. Not only was this the only regulation loss in November, but it was an awful game to watch. This was made worse for me by the fact that The Dish Network failed to pick up the NESN broadcast for Center Ice so I had to watch the Buffalo broadcast. Now, I'm not such a die-hard fan that I can't watch another teams' broadcast. In some cases it's a welcome change. But the Buffalo broadcast team is just awful! They do it old school and it's about as much fun as watching a puck dry after a game. Give me Jack Edwards. He may be partisan to the point of silliness sometimes, but at least he's always having fun. And his fun is contagious. And Brick, of course, is the perfect counterpoint. I really think those two are the best broadcast team in the NHL. But I digress.

I have way more thoughts, but I'll save them for another post or two or three.