Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe

Bruins green along blue line

No more trades. No more free agent signings. They have a roster. Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell went into the weekend with three key signings yet to complete -- Andrew Raycroft in net, Nick Boynton and Hal Gill on defense -- but no sense of urgency to make a deal to close holes on defense.

''We're going to go with our kids in back, and if we have to make an adjustment or two once the season starts, we'll go from there," said O'Connell, whose latest (and last?) addition last week was the rehiring of veteran forward Travis Green. ''We think our forwards, top to bottom, are as good as anyone in the league. Our defense is our biggest question, and we've got to get a couple of kids to step up -- and we think they will."

The kiddie korps of blue liners includes Mark Stuart, Andrew Alberts (out of Boston College), Milan Jurcina, Jonathan Girard, and Kevin Dallman. Assuming that Boynton and Gill will come to terms, the rest of the pack will be Brian Leetch, Ian Moran, and Jiri Slegr. Translation: At least one of the aforementioned kids will suit up for sure for the Oct. 5 opener, and at least two more will be slotted in for the Nos. 7 and 8 on-call defensemen.

''The guys we're talking about here aren't stiffs," said O'Connell. ''Jurcina had a strong year, and Alberts worked in very well with Providence. Stuart's a top-notch prospect -- Girard, too. Dallman had a terrific year in the minors. We think we've got it covered. And if not, we'll adjust."

Green, who signed on for two years at an average $675,000, added a touch more grit needed for the front lines. He came aboard in October '03, acquired in a waiver draft swap, and proved to be a versatile, valuable addition, his overall impact hindered by a nagging tear in his rib cartilage. He can win faceoffs, bang along the boards, chip in a goal here and there, and otherwise make life miserable for the opposition.

Not to be found among the forwards: a true enforcer. Given the rule changes to be implemented in 2005-06, there is no telling what the need will be for a hired gun. Recent attempts to fill that role have come up short (thy names are Andrei Nazarov and Sandy McCarthy).

''Courage is always going to be a necessary element of the game," mused O'Connell. ''But as far as one guy filling that role, I'm not sure what the need will be with the new rules. To a degree, everyone must play tough. But the enforcer role seems diminished almost every year, and then come playoff time, it disappears entirely."

If there is still a need for brute force, the Bruins have Colton Orr, the Manitoba Mauler, at the ready. The 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound winger averaged nearly 270 penalty minutes the last two seasons in Providence, and though his skating is suspect, he lacks nothing in the strength and courage departments.

''Hey, if we need him, we'll call him up and get him on the team," said O'Connell. ''Colton's got to develop his skating, but that's true of a lot of guys. He can work on that. He's a strong, willing kid."

Youth will rule the day in net, too, with the need to get Raycroft's deal done perhaps second in importance only to the signing of Joe Thornton. O'Connell & Co. are comfortable with a Raycroft-Hannu Toivonen tandem, but that gets a whole lot less comfortable if the 25-year-old Raycroft, the returning Rookie of the Year, can't come to contract terms.

Toivonen, four years younger than Raycroft, doesn't have a minute of NHL experience. If Raycroft became a protracted holdout, O'Connell would have to scurry around for a suitable veteran, perhaps leading back to Felix Potvin.

In the old world, Raycroft might have been able to make a case for better than $2 million a year, and even could have pushed the envelope to $3 million. With only 85 NHL games to his credit, including the '04 postseason, he now more likely slots in around a $1.5 million average.

The total tab for Raycroft, Boynton, and Gill likely will be in the $5 million range, rounding off the payroll at approximately the $38 million mark, just about $1 million shy of the cap. Raycroft and Boynton are the ''must" signs in that bunch, leaving Gill somewhat vulnerable to their demands, as well as the five-deep kiddie korps looking to land jobs on the back line.

''Will those kids be All-Stars off the bat back there? No, not likely," said O'Connell. ''But we've got strength there in numbers, in youth, and, I believe, in talent."

Bourque: Capital investment

When Ray Bourque turned pro with the Bruins prior to training camp in 1979, he bought his father a Cutlass Supreme in appropriate colors: black and gold. The future Hall of Famer, the No. 8 pick in that year's draft, signed a three-year deal worth $100,000 per year.

Christopher Bourque, son of the Bruins' legend, last week signed a three-year deal with the Washington Capitals, and at minimum he should collect upward of three times what his old man made upon entering the league.

According to a source familiar with the younger Bourque's deal, the Capitals paid the ex-BU winger slightly more than $500,000 as a signing bonus. Even if he were unable to advance beyond the AHL level, the 19-year-old Bourque would pick up nearly another $250,000 in minor league salary, bringing him a total of some $750,000 over three years even if he never plays an NHL game.

Meanwhile, there are jobs galore in Washington, which as of Friday ranked 30th (dead last) in dollars committed (just over $14 million) to payroll in 2005-06. It appears that owner Ted Leonsis is committed to a lean-and-mean salary approach after bleeding gallons of red ink during his tenure.

The Washington Times last week reported that GM George McPhee has offered a contract to one-time Capitals sniper Peter Bondra, whom he dished to Ottawa prior to the March '04 trading deadline. Bondra, 37, twice cracked the 50-goal plateau with the Capitals and totaled 140 over his most recent four seasons.

Teams may feel need to jump at chance to raid colleges

In the midst of the long and ugly labor talks, it looked as if college hockey would come out a big winner, with the league's entry-level salaries expected to be rolled back significantly. With less dough to entice players to leave campus early, the thought around the industry was that underclassmen would be far less inclined to bolt early for the pros.

But there was an unexpected twist when the final document was hammered out. Yes, entry-level money was shaved, by approximately 33 percent to a maximum $850,000, but NHL clubs will no longer hold the rights to college players in perpetuity.

The collective bargaining agreement mandates that college players, if unsigned by Aug. 15 of their graduation year, are rendered unrestricted free agents. With that kind of leverage looming out there, NHL clubs, rather than getting backed into a negotiating corner with 22- and 23-year-olds, will be far more motivated to turn kids pro a year or two ahead of that strike date.

''No question, they'll be coming at them earlier," said local agent Matt Keator, one of many who believed the rolled-back salaries would benefit everyone -- the players, the college squads, and the pro teams. ''The NHL clubs just won't want to be backed up against the deadline. And you'll see kids turning pro before they're ready -- ready in terms of their game, or just ready in life in general."

Bruins GM Mike O'Connell, realizing that he'll be doing business differently, said he called Boston College coach Jerry York and Boston University coach Jack Parker last week, essentially as a courtesy to explain what could play out in years to come.

''We've always considered ourselves a partner, of sorts, with the Beanpot schools -- BC, BU, Harvard, and Northeastern," said O'Connell. ''And our preference has been to leave the kids in school, let them develop, let the schools benefit from their staying there.

''Now, the CBA really forces us to take them out early. It's not the way we've preferred to do business, but we're all learning here. It's a whole new system. Some of it good, some of it not so good."


Canadian club is strong
Joe Thornton
and friends wrapped up the Canadian Olympic camp Friday in Kelowna, British Columbia, and Jumbo Joe connected for two goals in the farewell scrimmage. Thornton, Rick Nash, and Simon Gagne (the Flyer the Bruins couldn't land in a Ray Bourque swap) these days virtually enter themselves as a trio for international play. No doubt the Yanks will be encouraged to hear boasts from the Team Maple Leaf camp that they could field two Olympic squads, either of them able to win gold at Turin.

Yan can play
Agent Matt Keator continues to talk with the Bruins about a deal for former draft pick Yan Stastny, who is eligible to become a free agent next summer. ''He'd like to be in the NHL, and we're trying to work that out with the Bruins," said Keator. ''Meanwhile, you won't believe the offers we're getting for him to play in Europe." Stastny's younger brother, Paul, was selected 44th overall by the Avalanche in the recent draft.

Hilbert wants out
Four years into his tenure with the Bruins (most of it in Providence), Andy Hilbert has asked for a trade. ''He's asked to be moved," confirmed Boston GM Mike O'Connell, ''and I've told him we'll do our best to accommodate him." Hilbert had 79 points in 79 games with the Baby B's last season, and has played only 43 games with the varsity since leaving Michigan early for his shot at the show. Hilbert does not have a contract for the upcoming season, while fellow prospect Brad Boyes, the other star in Providence last season, recently signed a one-way deal worth $600,000.

No Masi
The Bruins passed on prospect Masi Marjamaki, their third pick in the 2003 draft, but the 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound left winger snapped up a three-year entry-level contract with the Islanders. The 20-year-old collected 46 points in 51 games last season with Moose Jaw. Moose Jaw's Marjamaki . . . the nickname potential there was almost as bountiful as Wacey Rabbit.

Lame-duck Senators
The Senators, faced with a bunch of potential free agent defections next summer, likely will deal either Wade Redden or Marian Hossa, the former of whom is the more likely to go; he's slick, but expendable, especially for a GM (John Muckler) who puts a premium on grit.

Bitter taste from Coffey
The Oilers announced last week that they will retire Paul Coffey's No. 7. No telling what uniform part Boston fans would like to see the short-time Bruin retire here. Coffey came to town five years ago, recruited to fill the void left by Bourque, and was bought out only 18 games (and 4 assists) into his sweetheart retirement deal.

Over the top
It appears the Devils last week topped the $39 million cap with the surprising signing of Alexander Mogilny for two years each at $3.5 million. And they still don't know whether 41-year-old defenseman Scott Stevens, recovered from post-concussion syndrome, is going to keep on skating. Clubs are allowed to exceed the cap figure by 10 percent ($43.9 million), but have to shave it down to the max by opening night. Not to worry, says Devils boss Lou Lamoriello, who has committed $18.5 million this summer to the signing of four UFAs: Brian Rafalski, Vladimir Malakhov, ex-Bruin Dan McGillis, and Mogilny.

Punch your ticket
The long-awaited fight extravaganza, ''Battle of the Hockey Enforcers," finally hits the ice Saturday in Prince George, British Columbia. Ex-Bruin Lyndon Byers, originally on the maulers' manifest, has had to bow out with a torn biceps. The most recognizable name on the card is Link Gaetz. They tried to stage this as ''Hockey Gladiators" last summer, but it was bounced from both Winnipeg and Minneapolis. Lowell was in contention until, as Byers said, ''the politically correct" barred the brawlers. Is it hockey? No, of course not, but for the truly hockey-starved, it might get the juices flowing. For your fix, check out:

Directions to camp
Official word on Bruins training camp: Rookies will hit the ice in Wilmington Sept. 8, sessions open to the public. The vets get going Sept. 12, and their first four days (again, public invited) will be on Causeway Street, prior to the annual Black-and-White game, to be held Sept. 16 at BU.

Black and gold and greens
The second Bruins golf tournament, to benefit the club's charitable foundation and alumni, will tee off Wednesday at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth. Cost for a foursome: $2,000 (10 percent discount for season ticket-holders). To get in the game, go to:, or ring Kerry Collins at 617-624-1923.

Channel surfing
It's easy to harpoon the NHL for ending up on OLN (more games like the Alberta Freeze Bowl a couple of years ago!). But Comcast is the giant behind OLN, and the company's reach and power are no joke. However, if ESPN couldn't bump up the ratings in recent years, then the sad truth is that hockey remains strictly an a la carte item on the American viewing menu. An improved game and better marketing will help, but the interest just isn't there in the heartland to make it run with the big dogs.

Kevin Paul Dupont's e-mail address is; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives