Bruins make alternate plan
By the end, the wheels had gotten squeaky. There was not as much magic remaining in his stick. His whip-like shot had lost some of its snap.
But even if Mark Recchi’s legs weren’t what they once were, the future Hall of Famer’s head and heart were enough to negate his shortcomings.
After winning his third and final Stanley Cup, Recchi said goodbye, leaving the Bruins with a lone alternate captain to Zdeno Chara. While Patrice Bergeron, Chara’s right-hand man, fills the alternate’s role as well as any around the league, Recchi’s departure leaves the 2011-12 Bruins down a go-to leader.
“It will have to be by committee,’’ Shawn Thornton said of replacing Recchi. “He’s one of a kind. Anybody who plays that long, has three Cups, his résumé speaks for itself. The stuff he did off the ice, he’s a special man, that’s for sure.’’
While nobody has Recchi’s credentials, the Bruins shouldn’t be lacking in candidates who could wear the second “A.’’
“I really feel we’ve got some strong leaders in that dressing room that are common-sense guys,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We’ve got guys that coaches like [myself] really appreciate. That’s guys who don’t get too high or too overconfident, remain humble, and understand that the start of this season is a whole new season.’’
Last year, Recchi had 14 goals and 34 assists in 81 games. In the playoffs, Recchi added five goals and nine assists while riding shotgun with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. But it was Recchi’s presence, on the ice and in the room, that made him one of the most respected men to wear the Boston jersey.
“He never went out of his way to try and be somebody he wasn’t,’’ said Andrew Ference, one of the players who might assume Recchi’s alternate captaincy. “I’ve mentioned before about Z, what a great leader he is, because Z’s just himself. Within the confines of this dressing room, we know that everyone has their own strengths. Some guys lead by example. Some guys are more vocal than others. Whether you have something on your jersey or not, I think you have a responsibility to add what you can to the dressing room. I don’t think it changes who you are or what you should be.’’
Former Bruin Steve Begin briefly served as an alternate captain in 2009-10. In a moment of self-deprecation, Begin referred to the “A’’ on his jersey as just a stain. But Begin and every other hockey player knows that such titles are very important. One ex-Bruin, who was passed over for an alternate captaincy, acknowledged not being in the right frame of mind for one game because of his disappointment.
In 2008-09, following the buyout of Glen Murray, the Bruins were left with only Bergeron wearing the “A.’’ At the start of the season, Julien announced that the second captaincy would rotate between Ference, Marco Sturm, and Marc Savard.
This season, such a scenario might be under consideration. Players who could fill Recchi’s spot include Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Gregory Campbell, and Chris Kelly - trusted, hard-working foot soldiers who are just as comfortable with the coaching staff as they are with their teammates.
Ference has been an alternate before. The defenseman is one of Julien’s go-to men to gauge the mood of the room and what the team might need.
Seidenberg, coming off his first full season in Boston, was one of the team’s five most important players during the playoff run. Seidenberg might not start the season paired with Chara. The Bruins would most likely prefer to spread out the ice time among the defensemen. But in the playoffs and in critical situations, Seidenberg and Chara will be the team’s shutdown pairing.
Neither Campbell nor Kelly has been a long-term Bruin. Campbell arrived in the Nathan Horton deal in June 2010. The Bruins acquired Kelly from Ottawa prior to last year’s deadline. But both are respected and well-liked by those wearing suits as well as sweaters.
“It’s going to have to be a group effort,’’ said Thornton. “Then again, there’s other guys who are a year older and a little more experienced. They probably bring a little more to the table, too. Obviously we’ll miss that aspect of it. But there’s other guys around. It’s about time they start stepping up and maybe filling that void too.’’
Regardless of who becomes the second alternate, 2011-12 will be an opportunity for Bergeron to assert himself even more. This will be the first season of Bergeron’s three-year, $15 million contract, his third deal with the Bruins. The contract includes a no-movement clause, which indicates how much management trusts the No. 2 center.
In 2003, when the Bruins selected Bergeron in the second round, the shy Quebec native was still learning English. Eight years later, Bergeron has mastered his second language and has not been shy about using it on the ice and in the room.
The 34-year-old Chara is so finely conditioned that he could play into his 40s. But it’s a given that if Bergeron is still in Boston after Chara’s career concludes, he will take control of the “C.’’
“Everyone looks up to him,’’ Thornton said of Bergeron. “He’s got a pretty good feel. When he speaks, people listen. He leads by example a lot. But he’s probably more vocal than you guys know. He doesn’t make a show of it. He doesn’t need everyone to know about it. In that locker room, he probably has some of the most respect among his peers, that’s for sure.’’