New title adds luster to story
We return you now to your regularly scheduled programming.
Well, hold on, not quite. After nearly 40 years of same old, same old September training camps, this one is different for the Bruins. They officially return to Causeway Street ice today as defending Stanley Cup champions, still basking in the glory and hum of June 15, the day they once and for all put the aura and Orr of 1972 behind them.
No more lamenting about holes in last season’s lineup, soft goaltending, the lack of second- and third-line scoring, questionable coaching decisions, too many men on the ice, or - the age-old favorite - ownership that won’t pony up the cash to make this team a thoroughbred.
Sixteen wins over the course of April, May, and June cleaned all of that out of the attic, and switched the focus of the franchise from its faded, dog-eared past to today and tomorrow.
“Our guys are fit, ready to go,’’ proclaimed team president and franchise face Cam Neely. “They’re anxious. They’re excited. And we believe we’re poised to have good seasons for years to come.’’
We will hear a lot these next few days, weeks, and months about turning the page, and not resting on laurels, and of course what’s past is past. These are the words of all defending champs.
The Bruins will be no different. You can bet coach Claude Julien will be writing those words on North Station’s subway walls. His team has a requisite 82 dates ahead of it, starting with the Oct. 6 season opener vs. Philadelphia at the Garden, and potentially another four grueling playoff rounds, which, lest anyone forget, consisted of 25 games last spring, three of them Game 7 clinchers.
Not a lot has changed over the last 92 days. Michael Ryder departed over the summer for Dallas, taking with him his inconsistent stick. Mark Recchi carried his third Cup straight to the retirement checkout window. Tomas Kaberle found a big payday in Carolina, where maybe he can flourish again in a less defensive-minded game plan. Here in the Hub of Hockey, he was far less than advertised, and to have him stay any longer would have been hard on the eyes and probably harder on the standings.
Up front, the Ryder-Recchi departures open up opportunities for ex-Canadien Benoit “Get Up!’’ Pouliot, acquired as a free agent, and invitee Chris Clark, 35, one of those ever-reliable wingers who projects as a potential bedrock component for Julien. Ultimately, whether Clark sticks will depend on the readiness of kids such as Jordan Caron, Ryan Spooner, and Jared Knight to play the varsity game.
“Size, real good skill,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli, musing over Pouliot’s assets, which in 2005 enticed the Wild to make him the fourth pick overall in the draft. “He’s a guy who can put the puck in the net.’’
Pouliot has Ryder potential, both in terms of potting pucks and creating frustration.
Joe Corvo takes Kaberle’s roster spot and also inherits the responsibility, one Kaberle didn’t fulfill, as rainmaker on the power play. The key difference is that Corvo, acquired in trade from Carolina upon Kaberle signing in Raleigh, is far more of a shooter than the Czech veteran.
Kaberle was ever-reluctant to unload, in part because he doesn’t have much of a shot. Corvo won’t be Kaberle’s match for passing, or perhaps overall puck-moving, but he has a hard, heavy shot. Coupled with fellow point man Zdeno Chara, who owns one of the hardest shots in the league, he should help create a much different dynamic on the power play. Penalty killers now have to respect both point shooters.
“Like [Dennis Seidenberg], he’s gotten better as he’s gotten older and more experienced,’’ said Chiarelli, reflecting on Corvo. “We’ll see a strong player, a strong skater with a terrific shot.’’
And that’s really about it in terms of the Black and Gold’s new look. Otherwise, the team that skated off with the coveted silver hardware in Vancouver just over three months ago is the same one that will attempt to be the first repeat winner since the Red Wings in 1997 and ’98.
Most important, franchise goalie Tim Thomas is back, and though he is 37, it would not be a surprise to see him used just as much as he was last season (a career-high 82 games, including all 25 playoff matches).
“I think it’s important to have goals,’’ Thomas said during Monday night’s “State of the Bruins’’ forum at the Garden. “That’s something that certainly has served me well over the course of my career.’’
Thomas, for years pegged as only a minor league goalie, finished the year with the Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and his second Vezina Trophy.
“And it came to me this summer,’’ said Thomas, dwelling on the importance of setting goals. “I have no choice but to shoot for it again.’’
For all their ability to battle through very tough factors last spring, including the absence of top playmaker Marc Savard and the loss of power forward Nathan Horton for six-plus games in the final round, the Bruins won the Cup first and foremost because of Thomas’s netminding (16-9, .940 save percentage, and 1.98 goals-against mark).
Average playoff netminding would have had them done again after a round or two (cue the list of laments). Excellent goaltending might have brought them to the Finals. It was the Tank’s utter otherwordliness that delivered the franchise’s sixth championship and finally ended the longest Cup drought in team history.
The letting go of all that begins today. It’s a new NHL season. And for the Bruins, who for so long were prisoners to their tie-dyed, bell-bottomed, Nehru-jacketed past, it is a blissful break from tradition.