PRO HOCKEY NOTES
Jillson likes his prospects
He'll vie for spot on Bruins blue line
Although many of the forward positions are locked up, battles for goaltending and defense spots will play out when the Bruins open training camp in Wilmington in a little more than two weeks. One prospect the team is eager to see is 23-year-old defenseman Jeff Jillson. Jillson, a native of North Smithfield, R.I., and Shaone Morrisonn appear to be two of the youngsters most likely to make the full-time jump to the NHL from the minors.
With veteran Don Sweeney in Dallas, Bryan Berard in limbo, and Jonathan Girard out for the season after a serious car accident, there are more questions than answers behind the blue line. Jillson, who split time between San Jose and its top affiliate, Cleveland, last season before being dealt to the Bruins in the Kyle McLaren trade, feels ready to play a regular role in The Show. He spent the summer working out in the Warwick, R.I., area and said he can't wait to get going.
"I'm excited," said Jillson. "I worked as hard as I could this summer and when it gets to this time, you start to get the itch back again."
Despite the Bruins' struggles last season, management -- general manager Mike O'Connell in particular -- didn't want to rush Jillson into the lineup. O'Connell said he felt that maybe Jillson had been rushed into the league in San Jose and he didn't want to put that kind of pressure on the young player. From his perspective, Jillson said that was a tough situation to evaluate.
"Any player, the main goal is to get to the NHL, and when you do get there, you never think you're rushed," he said. "But looking back on it, it was just one of those things where guys were unsigned, there were a few injuries, and players just have to play in those kinds of situations when guys are in and out of the lineup.
"Then, when a few guys were signed, I did get sent down. I did spend about three or four months both years in the AHL and got some time in the NHL, so I got to experience both leagues. You learn different things from both. There were a lot of first-time experiences for me just as far as being a pro. There were a few ups and downs. There were a few coaching changes. I was sent down and then called back up again. There were a lot of things I went through during the course of the year and a half. Getting those things under my belt at a young age should help me down the road in terms of how to adjust to things."
Jillson said he knows there are job openings on the Bruins' roster but he hasn't been worrying about where he fits in.
"Right now, I'm just concentrating on having a good training camp," he said. "I try not to think too far ahead. I feel when I do that, I tend to get in trouble. I just try to take small steps and my main focus right now is to continue to do the things off the ice these last couple of weeks that are necessary and just try to have the best camp I can."
In 26 games with the Sharks last year, he had six assists and averaged 13 minutes 45 seconds of ice time. In Cleveland, he had three goals and five assists in 19 games. With the Baby B's, Jillson tallied 15 points in 30 games, including four goals, and added a pair of assists in four playoff contests. He said he would like to be able to chip in offensively in Boston.
"It's something I like to do a lot," he said. "At the same time, at the next level the guys are so good that some of the opportunities you get in the AHL aren't necessarily there in the NHL, so you have to pick and choose your spots.
"That's the whole idea about maturing and when the play is there, you make it and when it's not, you make the safe play. That's something I've really tried to focus on. I definitely want to take care of my own end first, then, when the opportunity presents itself, I definitely like to jump in the offense."
Endorsement No. 1 Don't be surprised if the Bruins decide to hand goalie Andrew Raycroft the reins and give him a chance to earn the No. 1 job without making a trade for an established No. 1 such as Curtis Joseph, Sean Burke, or Mike Dunham. They tried it last season with John Grahame and it didn't work out. Jillson, who played with Raycroft, said he thinks the 23-year-old has the talent to handle the task. "He's a great kid," said Jillson. "Obviously a great goalie. He never gets rattled. He is always levelheaded. He just has that presence on the ice. Knowing he's back there when you do make a mistake, he's got a pretty good shot of covering up for you. I think he definitely has the qualities to be a No. 1 goalie." . . . Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, in town Friday to participate in a forum with Patriots owner Bob Kraft, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, and Red Sox owner John W. Henry as part of WEEI's fund-raising for the Jimmy Fund, was asked by the station's John Dennis about who makes the financial decisions regarding the club, and Jacobs said it was team president Harry Sinden. "Harry is ultimately the person who calls the shots so much as how much we spend," said Jacobs. "Harry and his organization -- it's not something I do. If he were to go off the wall or do something seriously that would put us in financial jeopardy, I would reconsider that, but right now that's not my job." Jacobs said although those in management look at signing free agents, they're not going to go hog wild, especially considering how high they are on their prospects. "[Sinden] makes a value judgment and he's very good at it," said Jacobs. "Believe it or not, there is a logic to this. We have a tremendous core of young players coming through the system. They're very talented. Every time you superimpose somebody on that, you take the opportunity away from that younger player, and that's what the Bruins have to be sensitive to." . . . WEEI's Glenn Ordway, who moderated the panel of owners, asked Jacobs about the current landscape of the NHL, which is going to change when the collective bargaining agreement expires in a little more than a year. Jacobs answered the question but said he was worried about a potential fine, given that commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't want anyone talking about the NHL's strategy for a new CBA. "The commissioner is dedicated to having cost certainty when it comes to a labor agreement," said Jacobs, who is heading into his 29th season as owner. "Labor is the largest cost we have in operating a team. It's believed that under this thought there will be cost certainty and those of us who have contracts going past this year will have to honor those contracts, and it will cost you. If you have, theoretically, a $35 million payroll cap and you're at $65 million or $70 million, which a lot of us are now, you will be forced to pay that off and will go against your cap or whatever it is, and you will suffer from a talent standpoint. It's a balancing act here. When you hear about somebody being signed for $10 million or you see a guy like Curtis Joseph [whom the club has considered dealing for] coming in at $8 million, it sounds great. But you realize if there's another $16 million that you're going to be carrying against your cap next year, you've got serious issues. That's where you've got, thank god, the brain trust we have in Boston in a guy like Sinden and O'Connell who can manage these issues going forward."
Money matters Jacobs said the Bruins are looking at a $50 payroll for this season. They have yet to re-sign talented left wing Sergei Samsonov but the owner seemed optimistic that issue would be resolved. Jacobs said he's committed to having a competitive club but he's also committed to having a fiscally responsible club. He saw the problems the Buffalo Sabres had -- up close, since he lives there -- and doesn't want that type of uncertainty here. "Boston makes money and will continue to make money," he said. "When I say it makes money, it doesn't lose a lot is a better way to put it. We've got teams losing $20 million or $30 million a year and these guys are close to going out of business. If we don't have a healthy league, we don't have a healthy team. So it's up to guys like us in Boston who have it good to help bootstrap this league up, kind of like the rising tide raises all ships. We've got to keep this going for another year and hopefully the lifeblood of going forward for this league will be in the balance. We have Minnesota going to the [conference] finals with a $20-some million payroll. Boston is looking at a $50 million payroll. This is very tough." . . . Jacobs later compared his team's payroll to that of the New Jersey Devils, who ousted Boston in the first round of the playoffs and went on to win the Stanley Cup with former Bruins coach Pat Burns at the helm. "Our payroll and New Jersey's are almost exactly the same," said Jacobs. "We just didn't spend it in the right places. It's not a payroll-driven issue, it's a management issue. It will be very interesting when there is a cap and we all have to worry about the way we manage our teams. Let's see how good my management is because I trusted them with the future of this team and I expect them to do good. It's very hard to try to buy a championship. The ones that I've watched do it, their lows have been too low. I think the Florida Marlins are a very good example of a team that has to virtually rebuild the franchise. The fan base is totally destroyed in Florida. I think you have to balance them. I think hockey is a sport you have to grow and develop it." . . . One fan at the forum at the Player's Club at Fenway Park asked Jacobs about seeing Ray Bourque win a Cup in a different uniform than the Black and Gold. Jacobs had nothing but praise for Bourque but said trading his team's captain was difficult. "Ray is a true professional, he has been his whole life," said Jacobs. "Giving him the opportunity to raise that Cup was painful for us. That he did it in Colorado is hurtful. I have to say it, I was very sad to see it. I wish we could have done it for him in Boston. We weren't able to. He's a great guy, a good human being, and a tremendous asset not only to Boston but to hockey in general." Say what you will about the Bruins' business practices, but no one would argue with that sentiment . . . 18 days to training camp.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.