I wrote a few months ago about the underwhelming to disappointing summer the Boston Bruins were having, just a few years after winning the Stanley Cup, and just one year after adding perennial 30 goal scorer Jarome Iginla to a roster that was 17 seconds away from forcing a Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals. That was before the B’s traded Johnny Boychuk for nothing that could help them this season, and that was before the injuries and excuses began. This Bruins team is bad. It’s the worst I’ve felt as a fan about the team since the 2009-10 season, but even then, a young Tuukka Rask had given us a reason for hope. This team isn’t tough, can’t score, and has deficiencies on defense that make the goaltending look bad. How did it happen this way to a team that won the second President’s Trophy in franchise history last spring? What has to happen for things to get better?
The highlight for the Bruins in the summer of 2013 was the acquisition of Jarome Iginla in free agency, after the B’s had failed to complete a trade with the Calgary Flames during the season. Iginla instead was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom the Bruins swept on their way to their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in three years. Unfortunately, Iggy’s stay in Boston ended with a second round playoff exit at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens (who lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New York Rangers, who lost in the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, meaning the B’s didn’t even come close to being beaten by the best team in the tournament). Once again a free agent, Iginla took his talents to Denver to join the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2014.
Players come and go. That’s the nature of professional sports, but Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli did not bring in anyone to replace Iginla. Iggy was brought in to replace the production on the top line that Nathan Horton had contributed from 2010 to 2013 (Iginla was more productive than Horton in the regular season, but lacked Horty’s playoff scoring touch that defined his tenure in Boston), and without a player of that caliber drawing coverage and creating space, the production of Milan Lucic and David Krejci has also suffered this season.The Bruins offense is the worst it has been since 2009-10, the year before they traded for Horton (as well as Gregory Campbell, when the Bruins traded Dennis Wideman to Florida), when 4th liner Daniel Paille had to play significant minutes on the top line alongside Krejci and Lucic. The team has restrictions with the salary cap, but they have been doing a lot more subtraction than addition to this once great roster in recent years, and not just with the 1st line right wing position.
The Bruins lost some major pieces of their identity be choosing to move on from defenseman Andrew Ference (now living in hockey hell as captain of the lowly Edmonton Oilers) in 2013 and enforcer Shawn Thornton (now with the Florida Panthers) in 2014. The Bruins team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011 was not the fastest, not the most prolific offense, and not the most talented team in the NHL by any stretch of the imagination. They won with grit, hard work, physicality, and otherworldly performance in net after otherworldly performance in net by Tim Thomas. Guys like Ference and Thornton were quintessential Bruins in that regard. They were the glue guys in the dressing room who brought a physical edge on the ice. Ference was the guy who started the “Starter Jacket” tradition during the 2011 playoffs, awarding a vintage Bruins jacket he found in a thrift shop to the player of the game (and eventually giving it to the retiring Mark Recchi in the banner raising ceremony), and continuing similar rituals during other playoff runs. Thornton added a certain energy to the game, even if he wasn’t dropping the gloves, and adding Thorty to the lineup against the Vancouver Canucks allowed for the Bruins to play with an edge they did not have when he was in the press box.
At least when they let Ference walk in free agency, there was confidence that young defensemen Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton could step up and take on more responsibility on the blue line, but with the departure of Thornton this summer, it was a shift in philosophy as much as a change in personnel, and it has not worked thus far. The Bruins reacted their playoff loss to Montreal by thinking they needed to get faster and more skilled to be able to go toe to toe with Montreal in the future. That may not be wrong. The Habs had a player (who has since retired) very similar to Thornton in the form of Princeton grad George Parros. Parros is another old school tough guy, and has a mustache that never got the memo that the 70s ended, and was teammates with Thornton on the Stanley Cup winning 2007 Anaheim Ducks, but the biggest difference between the two players was that Thornton was playing significant minutes for the Bruins, while Parros sat in the press box during the playoffs for the Canadiens. The Bruins called up from Providence an enforcer named Bobby Robbins, a UMass Lowell grad who had never played in the NHL before this season, but had a little bit of Hanson Brother in his game and brought energy and toughness to every shift. He was sent back down shortly thereafter, and the Bruins are left with a little bit of skill, and not enough toughness on their roster. They did not necessarily need Shawn Thornton, but they do need a tough guy.
I was wrong about the Seguin Trade. I’ve admitted it, and I would be more insistent that the Bruins admitted it if it would change the fact that the trade happened and that Tyler Seguin is never coming back (at least not in his prime). I wrote in the summer of 2013 (on the day the trade happened if I remember correctly) that Seguin was a disappointment, and that Loui Eriksson was a better fit for the Bruins, and he has been nothing to write home about until very recently. Reilly Smith has exceeded my expectations, but that was only because I didn’t know who he was before the Bruins acquired him from Dallas. At any rate, the Bruins gave up on Tyler Seguin too early, and Seguin might score 50 goals for the Dallas Stars this year. It could be argued that Taylor Hall would have been a better fit for the Bruins, but he was off the board when they drafter at #2 in 2010. With talent like that, the Bruins should have been more patient, and should have allowed him to flourish in the offensive zone rather than harp on his defensive shortcomings. Seguin is still only 22, and has found a home in Dallas. Meanwhile the Bruins are struggling to score just as badly as the year before they drafted him.
Peter Chiarelli was enough in Boston’s defensive depth at the beginning of the season to trade Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders during the preseason. Boychuk, like Ference and Thornton, was a big part of the Bruins’ physical identity during both Cup runs, and had only gotten better since his first significant ice time during the 2009-10 season. After Dennis Seidenberg went down with a knee injury last season, Boychuk stepped up and established himself as the team’s second best defenseman after captain Zdeno Chara. In return, the Bruins got two second round picks, and a conditional third rounder, which felt like a bad return on a good player who is only 30. The trade looked even worse as Chara, Adam McQuaid, and Torey Krug have all missed significant time with injuries this season while Boychuk is making a great impact for the suddenly competitive Isles.
The Bruins have mismanaged the roster when it comes to the salary cap. I understand wanting to keep a good team together, but the Bruins overpaid players they should not have, and the salary cap has not gone up the way Chiarelli may have thought it would. The Bruins owe Chris Kelly $3 million this season and next season. They owe Loui Eriksson $4.25 million this season and next season. They owe Milan Lucic $6 million this season and next season, and his price is likely to go up if he becomes an unrestricted free agent as scheduled. The Bruins will also have to pay more for impending young free agents Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, Craig Cunningham, Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton (all restricted), Matt Bartkowski, and Carl Soderberg (unrestricted) after this season, not to mention veterans Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, whom the Bruins seem more and more unlikely to bring back, given the circumstances. That’s a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of variables keeping the Bruins where they are. A trade or two needs to be made to make the picture clearer.
If it were up to me (which is it not), almost everyone on the roster would be on the table for trade talks. The only players I would not trade under any circumstances at this point are Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Dougie Hamilton: the Norris Trophy winning captain, Selke Trophy winning alternate captain, and the promising young defenseman. The Bruins sold too low on Seguin, and after the Boychuk trade, my lack of faith in their ability to get a proper return on Hamilton has only been reaffirmed. David Krejci should not be traded under any circumstances, for all intents and purposes, but I left him off the list because of the long shot possibility of packaging him up to get a Jeff Carter, or an Anze Kopitar, or a Jonathan Toews, or a Ryan Getzlaf, but that will never happen. I love Tuukka Rask, but the Bruins drafted goalie prospect Malcolm Subban (P.K.’s brother), and the years the Bruins would spend developing him into a franchise goaltender are years that Tuukka is under contract. Going forward, they will only be able to keep Rask or Subban long term, so both should be on the trade block now. Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly are two players I would trade (for the right return, obviously) without feeling bad about it, and while I like them, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Dennis Seidenberg, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Reilly Smith, Carl Soderberg, and Torey Krug are all players they could move and teams would be willing to give up substantial assets to acquire if the Bruins become sellers at the trade deadline.
I would be more confident in the Bruins’ ability to build through the draft and the farm system if Chiarelli was any good at drafting. Much like Theo Epstein with the Red Sox, much of his championship roster was put together by his predecessor, with key acquisitions like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Tim Thomas being made my former GM Mike O’Connell (now the Director of Pro Development for the LA Kings), and the trade to acquire Rask on Draft Day from Toronto happening while Chiarelli was still under contract with the Ottawa Senators (was it Chiarelli? was it O’Connell’s people? was it Harry Sinden? My guess is Harry, but that’s another column for another day). Chiarelli’s greatest drafting successes came early in his tenure when he selected Phil Kessel (#5), Milan Lucic (#50), and Brad Marchand (#71) in 2006 (in 2009, Kessel was traded to the Maple Leafs for the draft picks that became Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight, and Dougie Hamilton), but he’s gone cold since then. His best recent draft selections were Seguin (#2, 2010) and Hamilton (#9, 2011), but that was because those were picks acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs so high it would be really hard to miss, and even then, they dealt one of those players after three seasons.
Other Bruins drafts were highlighted by Subban (#24, 2012), a goalie drafted by a team that didn’t need a goalie, Jordan Caron (#25, 2009), Jared Knight (#32, 2010) and Ryan Spooner (#45, 2010), who have not been able to establish themselves at the NHL level, and Zach Hamill (#8, 2007) who was drafted ahead of Logan Couture, Brandon Sutter, Ryan McDonagh, Lars Eller, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Max Paccioretty, all of whom have become productive NHL players while Hamill washed out of the Bruins’ organization, was traded to Washington for Chris Bourque (Ray’s kid), and now plays professional hockey for the hockey club HPK in Finland. There is still hope for 18 year old Czech prospect David Pastrnak (#25, 2014), but he will not be able to help the Bruins turn their fortunes around this season.
Normally, it would be natural to blame the coach for a roster with a history of success to not be as motivated as they used to be, but it’s hard to blame Claude Julien for this. I’ve been critical of Julien before, and I think his system has its flaws, but you can’t put this season all on him. Claude didn’t trade Johnny Boychuk. Claude didn’t let Shawn Thornton take his talents to South Beach. Claude didn’t let Jarome Iginla leave and try to replace his production with minor league talent. Claude may have been frustrated with Seguin’s inconsistency on offense and liability on defense, but he wasn’t the one who thought Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow were a satisfactory return for a 21 year old sniper, either. Claude Julien may be on the hot seat in my mind someday, but it will not be this day. The B’s have bigger problems than the coach.
Right now, the Bruins are a mess, and Chiarelli, Julien, and Team President Cam Neely have their work cut out for them. Trades need to be made, and draft picks are not a good enough return. Players who can put the puck in the net should get a higher priority than they have been getting. If they can put more skill around the solid foundation of Chara, Bergeron, Hamilton, and Krejci, good things will happen, and Julien’s system is such that with good defensemen, either Rask or Subban can thrive. They might be able to turn it around this year, but I’m not holding my breath.
Every great team has to move on from the past. Tom Brady and Vince Wilfork are the only players that remain from the last Patriots team to win the Super Bowl. The Celtics just traded away the last remaining player from their championship contending days from 2008 to 2012, and are looking ahead to the future. David Ortiz is the last player remaining from the 2004 Red Sox, and they have been moving on from players from the 2007 and 2013 World Series squads left and right. Peter Chiarelli can fix this. He was captain of the hockey team at some school called Harvard, and is highly though of enough from his peers to be named to the front office of Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and now he has to use his Ivy League intelligence and hockey IQ to fix the Bruins team he built into a champion once already. The questions that remain are “when?” and “how?”
Now that the Olympics have come and gone, NHL hockey is back. Here are some thoughts about the NHL as we approach the trade deadline and the playoffs.
The United States came away without a medal because a team coached by Dan Bylsma couldn’t get past Claude Julien’s defensive system or Tuukka Rask’s goaltending. Bylsma’s Pittsburgh Penguins looked like the best team in spring of 2013 in the NHL until they faced Julien, Rask, and the rest of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Bylsma’s Pens scored only two goals against Tuukka in their four game sweep at the hands of the Bruins. Bylsma’s Team USA roster, which had led the tournament in scoring up to that point, did not score a single goal against Team Canada in the semifinals and were shutout once again in the Bronze Medal Game against Team Finland. Bylsma’s reputation as good hockey coach is based on winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 when he inherited a team that had been in the Stanley Cup Finals the year before and from a strong performance on 24/7 in 2010, but the sweep last spring and the collapse in the Olympics could and should cause his stock to plummet.
The fact that Rask proved to be just as effective without Julien means that he’s a great goalie and not just a pretty good goalie with the benefit of playing in Julien’s defense-first system. Tuukka was the biggest factor in Finland earning a medal in Sochi, and the biggest factor in the Bruins reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Rask arrived on the scene in the NHL too late to be selected by Finland (who is historically stacked with goalie talent as a country) for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but when then-USA backup goalie Tim Thomas struggled, Rask was the kid who carried the B’s into the playoffs, and Rask was the one who outlasted 2010 Olympic MVP Ryan Miller in a thrilling six game series against the Buffalo Sabres. Tuukka is entering the prime of his career and he has shown time and again that he can hold his own and then some with the best goaltenders in the world. Rask’s Bruin teammates Patrice Bergeron of Canada and Loui Eriksson of Sweden may have had great tournaments and earned more valuable medals, but Rask’s Bronze Medal performance was one for the ages.
Besides Rask, the best player for Team Finland was 43 year old Teemu Selanne, who played in his record tying sixth Winter Olympics and was named the MVP of the Olympic hockey tournament. This is just another accolade for Teemu, who is in the midst of his victory lap of a final NHL season. The Finnish Flash served as captain for Team Finland for the first time in 2014 and has 24 goals in Olympic play including four from the Sochi Games. He is poised to help the Anaheim Ducks make another playoff run this spring, after helping them win the franchise’s only Stanley Cup championship in 2007. The Ducks are among the NHL’s best teams, and Selanne might have enough left in the tank to make southern California go Cup Crazy once more. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Teemu has had a great career, but it’s not over just yet.
Alfie’s time. Another aging veteran player who shined in the Olympics is Swedish forward Daniel Alfredsson of the Detroit Red Wings. Alfie is 41 years old, and just added a Silver Medal to his collection to go with the Gold one he earned in Turin in 2006. Alfredsson was a face of the Ottawa Sentaors for much of his career, and was the NHL’s longest tenured captain prior to signing with the Red Wings in the summer of 2013. Like Jarome Iginla, who I wrote about a few weeks ago, Alfie has done almost everything you could possibly want to do in a hockey career except win the Stanley Cup. He’s over 40, but he can still play at a high level. The Wings are in a tough division and a tough conference, but it’s the same division and conference Alfie has played in his entire career. The Bruins, Habs, and Leafs don’t scare him, and he commands a lot of respect from the players and coaches of those teams. It’s just another storyline to look out for this spring.
Sabres trade Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues. We’ve already had the first major trade of the season. Ryan Miller, the star goalie and face of the franchise in Buffalo was traded to St. Louis. It’s a sad time for Sabres fans, but they’re trying to rebuild, and Miller is a free agent at the end of the season, and it’s not fair to him to waste the prime of his career on a roster where he doesn’t have a chance to win. In return, Buffalo is getting a pretty good goalie in Jaroslav Halak, but this trade really makes the Blues one of the top teams this spring. St. Louis has been building towards something big for a few years now, and this trade just might be what it takes to put them over the top. Miller will join fellow United States Olympians David Backes and shootout hero T. J. Oshie in an attempt to being Lord Stanley’s Cup to the Show Me State for the first time. Miller, who sad on the bench in Sochi behind Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, will certainly have a chip on his shoulder when the Kings come to town in what has become one of the best rivalries in the Western Conference. It should be a lot of fun to watch.
Canada wins Gold, but they really want a certain silver Cup. 1993, the year that the Montreal Canadiens defeated Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings, was the last time a Canadian team won the last game of the season and got to hoist the Stanley Cup. The following year, Mark Messier and the New York Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games and a streak of American teams dominating the NHL began. If the regular season ended today, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the only two Canadian teams in the tournament. The Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets are close, but currently a couple points out of the final playoff spot in the very tight Western Conference, and the Ottawa Senators could get back into it with a little winning streak, but the once mighty Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have struggled mightily this season. It’s been a rough stretch for Canadian hockey fans. The Flames probably should have beaten the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, and the Canucks were heavily favored before losing in seven games to the Bruins in 2011. The Oilers were lucky to be in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, but they have failed to reach the playoffs since then. Hockey fans are passionate and territorial by nature, and Canada takes hockey more seriously than any other country on the planet. It must be sickening seeing cities like Anaheim, Los Angeles, Tampa, Dallas, Raleigh, and Denver winning the Cup when fans in those cities didn’t pay attention to hockey a generation ago. It might not happen this year (and quite frankly, I hope it doesn’t since the Habs and Leafs would have to get past my beloved Bruins to so), but someday the Stanley Cup will return to Canada, and it won’t be just to hand it off to the American team that won it on the road.
Shame on you, Mr. Jacobs. I’ve written on here before about my love for hockey and my love for the Boston Bruins, but sometimes it’s just so hard to love them. It’s not because of the players on the ice. Those guys are great. I love the black and gold uniforms with the classic Eight Spoked B logo. I love the physical play that is synonymous with the Boston Bruins. I love Bruins fans. They get it. The amount of love I have for the Bruins’ players and fans is equal to the amount of hate I have for the Bruins’ owner. Jeremy Jacobs is an old, cheap, scumbag that could make Mr. Burns look charitable. He underspent on the team for years and locked the NHL players out three times to squeeze more money out of them. He lives in Buffalo and clearly only cares about making money. He’s lucky to have bought a hockey team in a market that loves it’s hockey or he’s never be able to get away with what he does. In a league where many teams struggle to sell tickets, Bruins tickets are hard to come by these days. What he’s doing now is making it so the regular hockey fan can’t afford more than one or two Bruins games a year, if that. Season ticket holders were notified of a huge increase in ticket prices for 2014-15, and they are rightfully outraged. Since 2008, prices will have more than doubled. Jacobs almost got the 2012-13 season cancelled like he did in 2004-05, and we would have been too fed up to come back if the team weren’t so good. This is the thanks we get for supporting a team when we probably shouldn’t. I want hockey to be successful and I want the NHL to do well, but guys like Jeremy Jacobs are the reason normal people can’t stand rich people, and are in the way of the NHL growing into a more mainstream sport. Shame on you.
There is one Bruin who is one of the best players from his country, but not making the trip to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla didn’t get much consideration for Team Canada this time around, but he’s already earned two Gold Medals, one in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the other in Vancouver in 2010, and there’s only one prize in his career he still needs to achieve: his name inscribed on Lord Stanley’s Cup. I am certain that Iggy will get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto when his playing career, he is a player so good that retiring without winning the Stanley Cup will seem like an unsatisfying career.
Jarome Iginla is the greatest player in the history of the Calgary Flames. In 2002, the same season he helped Canada win it’s first Olympic Gold Medal in 50 years, he won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer, becoming the first player in 20 years not named Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, or Jaromir Jagr to win the award. In 2004, he captained the Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. It seemed at the time like Iginla had a great chance of getting back there again in the near future, but the 2004-05 NHL lockout cost him an entire season in the prime of his career with the best roster around him in Calgary. The Flames slowly declined in the years following the lockout, and found themselves at the bottom of the NHL food chain by the time the 2012 lockout rolled around (The NHL averages one lockout per U.S. presidency over the last two decades. It’s really bad.). When the condensed 2013 season began, hockey fans all around North America knew that Iggy would be the most prized treasure at the trade deadline if Calgary were to get off to a slow start.
When trade talks heated up, Iginla, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, narrowed down his list of teams to which he would accept trades to the four most recent Stanley Cup champions: the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was right to think those would be the teams that gave him the best chance to win the Cup in 2013, seeing as they would eventually be the four remaining teams in the tournament. The Bruins and Penguins pushed the hardest to acquire Iginla. The Bruins offered two defensemen from their AHL affiliate in Providence, while the Penguins offered two college players, one from Yale and another from St. Cloud State (both schools would end up reaching college hockey’s Frozen Four for the first time later that month). The Bruins were under the impression that they had a deal in place, and former Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward even reported news of the trade on TSN and on Twitter. The next morning, Bruins fans woke up expecting that the news of Iggy’s trade to Boston would still be a reality, but that was not the case. The Flames went back to their franchise superstar, believing the two trade offers to be equal in value, and let him make the decision. The Penguins were one a hot streak at the time and seemed like they were far and away the NHL’s best team.
Iginla chose Pittsburgh in the hopes that he could win the Cup with the man he assisted on the Gold Medal clinching overtime goal in Vancouver against the United States, Sidney Crosby. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma had other ideas and the two never got to spend much time on the same line. The Pens kept winning until they ran into the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Some teams would have fallen apart after having the rug pulled out from under them like that, but the 2013 Bruins were not most teams. They were playing an inspired brand of hockey that Pittsburgh had no answer for, and had a Finnish wall in front of their net named Tuukka Rask. The Bruins swept the Pens in four games, and reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years, ultimately losing to the mighty Chicago Blackhawks in the closest six game series in history. Another year of being so close, yet so far for Jarome Iginla.
In the summer of 2013, Iginla became a free agent, and he turned out to be nothing more than a rental for the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose priority was finding a way to fit superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang under the NHL’s hard salary cap. The Bruins were making moves of their own to retool the roster, and Nathan Horton elected to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency, so it made all the sense in the world for Iginla and the B’s to put the trade deadline drama behind them and join forces.
In the short term, Iginla has been as advertised, and the Bruins are better now than they would have been with Nathan Horton. Horton was the type of player to coast through the regular season, but step it up in the playoffs. Iggy gives the same effort every night, and his made linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci look better this regular season. Iginla goes into the Olympic Break with 17 goals and 26 assists, which puts him 2nd only behind Krejci on the team in points this season. Iggy has had a reputation as one of the best fighting skill players in the NHL, which makes him a perfect fit for what Claude Julien’s Bruins try to do. Jarome Iginla was born to be a Bruin, but it took him until he was 36 years old to get there.
While Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Loui Eriksson are all in Russia trying to earn Olympic Gold for their countries, Jarome Iginla has just one more goal in mind. This month gives him a chance to rest a little bit because there is still a long way to go. He came to Boston for one reason, and he has yet to find it.
The 2010 Vancouver Olympics were exciting because it showcased some of the best hockey players in the world, and the tournament came down to the United States and Canada. In the Gold Medal Game, Patrice Bergeron and Tim Thomas were both dressed and representing their countries. This year, the Boston Bruins have five players going to Sochi to represent their countries in the Olympics. They are five players from five different countries, and while they have nobody on Team USA (maybe next time, Torey Krug!), it is a good cross section of the NHL talent represented, and some of the most important players for a team that has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice since the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. It should be an excellent tournament once again, and the B’s will be well represented among the countries expected to make it interesting. Other teams may have more Olympians, but the Bruins have guys who are as important to their homelands as they are for the team that pays them in Boston.
Zdeno Chara, Slovakia. Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has left the team a couple games early to carry the flag for his native Slovakia in the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The Bruins gave him their blessing, because something like that is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a great honor. Chara headlines the list of five Bruins who will be playing in Sochi this month, and when they all come back, he will resume his duties as their undisputed leader regardless of who takes home the Gold. In the Olympics, Chara is the captain for Slovakia. As one of the best lockdown defensemen on the planet and the tallest player in NHL history, he will be tasked with slowing down the most skilled players from each team he faces. It’s the kind of thing he does on a nightly basis for the Bruins, but is taken for granted because he’s been here since 2006 and he’s so consistent. In 2010, Chara and Slovakia made it to the Bronze Medal Game, but lost to Finland. In Sochi, he’s sleeping on a bed that is too small for him, so it’s likely he’ll be literally restless in his 2014 quest for an Olympic Medal.
Patrice Bergeron, Canada. Patrice Bergeron is the longest tenured Bruin, and the second in command in the dressing room after Big Z. This is Bergy’s second time representing Canada in the Olympics. His first ended with his first of two championship celebrations on the ice in Vancouver (the second was when the B’s won the Stanley Cup in the summer of 2011), and he’s back on the world’s most talented roster looking for another Gold Medal. The Canadian team is loaded, as evidenced by their ability to add Martin St. Louis to the team this week to replace his Tampa Bay Lightning teammate Stephen Stamkos. Bergeron is a great two-way player, a perennial Selke Trophy candidate, and is one of the best in the business at winning faceoffs. He’s competing with the like of Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews for ice time, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year showed that he is more than capable of holding his own against the best players in hockey.
David Krejci, Czech Republic. This season, David Krejci was named an alternate captain for the Bruins for the first time in his career. He’s a good two-way player for his size, perhaps not as strong defensively than Bergeron, but certainly more skilled in the offensive zone, and he plays his best hockey in big games. Krejci was a force for the Czech Republic in 2010, and the broken wrist that took him out of the lineup against the Philadelphia Flyers that spring was the catalyst for the Bruins playoff collapse that year. Since then, he’s helped the team win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and come within a couple bounces of the puck from doing it again in 2013, as their best playoff scorer. In Sochi, he’ll get a chance to play with his childhood hero and former Bruin teammate Jaromir Jagr once again. If the Czechs want to win their first Gold Medal since 1998, they will need David Krejci to do what David Krejci does in these kinds of games.
Tuukka Rask, Finland. While Chara, Bergeron, and Krejci have been the most important skaters for the B’s for quite some time, Tuukka Rask has become the anchor between the pipes that Tim Thomas once was. In 2010, Thomas was having a down year, and the rookie Rask had to step up just to keep Boston in the playoff picture. While Timmy got to represent Team USA in Vancouver (He didn’t think the government was too big when he got to wear a USA jersey or accept a hockey scholarship at a public university, but it was when he was invited to meet the President? That’s another rant for another day.), Rask arrived on the scene too late to be considered for Finland’s historically deep pool of goalies. Miikka Kiprusoff got the starting job for Finland, and then he was shelled by the scoring attack of the American team in the semifinal round. In the spring of 2010, Rask ended up beating Olympics MVP Ryan Miller (who started ahead of Thomas for Team USA in Vancouver) and the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the playoffs, before they infamous 3-0 collapse against Philly. Rask did not play a single playoff minute of the B’s 2011 Stanley Cup run, but was the biggest reason the team returned to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013, earning himself a wealthy contract extension this summer. Kiprusoff retired last spring, and now it’s Tuukka Time in Finland. Rask is more fundamentally sound than Thomas ever was, and is rarely caught out of position. Finland is a hockey powerhouse, and he’ll help keep them in it.
Loui Eriksson, Sweden. Loui is still a newcomer for the Bruins. He was dealt to Boston from the Dallas Stars on the 4th of July, just weeks after the B’s surrendered the Stanley Cup Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks. Eriksson is a good two way player, who is starting to find his stride after getting concussed twice in the first half of the season. Tyler Seguin, who was sent to Dallas in that trade, has played better this season, but did not make the cut for the stacked Canadian team. Fairly or unfairly, their careers will always be compared because of that trade. Ultimately, Eriksson is a better fit for what Boston tries to do, and Seguin is a good scorer on a team that is still out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference, as they sit 10th in the West heading into the Olympic Break. Hopefully a strong performance for Sweden can for Loui can carry over into some NHL momentum as the Bruins hope for another deep playoff run.
The Bruins don’t have anyone playing for the USA or Russia, the two other powerhouse teams in the tournament. The Russians have a lot of pressure as the host country, and Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk have been looking forward to this tournament ever since their earlier than expected playoff exit in Vancouver four years ago. As for the Americans, they came so close to winning it all in 2010, and want to prove that their run to the Gold Medal Game was no fluke. It should be a fun couple weeks for hockey fans around the globe!
Steve Yzerman made a name for himself as a leader of men in his playing days with the Detroit Red Wings. Since hanging up his skates, he’s risen through the ranks and become one of the best executives in the NHL, first as an assistant GM in Detroit, then overseeing the 2010 Canadian Olympic team that won the Gold Medal Game over the United States, and now as the GM for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Today, he’s back at it for Team Canada as he announced the final roster for the country that will always be favored in the Olympics. Last week, Team USA GM Brian Burke took a lot of heat for his roster selections, most notably picking Blake Wheeler over Bobby Ryan, but Canada has a much deeper pool of high end talent that their Neighbors to the South.
Here is Canada’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi:
Jamie Benn (Dallas Stars)
Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins)
Jeff Carter (LA Kings)
Sidney Crosby (Pitsburgh Penguins)
Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche)
Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks)
Chris Kunitz (Pittsburgh Penguins)
Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks)
Rick Nash (New York Rangers)
Corey Perry (Anaheim Ducks)
Patrick Sharp (Chicago Blackhawks)
Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)
John Tavares (New York Islanders)
Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks)
Jay Bouwmeester (St. Louis Blues)
Drew Doughty (LA Kings)
Dan Hamhuis (Vancouver Canucks)
Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks)
Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis Blues)
P.K. Subban (Montreal Canadiens)
Marc-Edouard Vlasic (San Jose Sharks)
Shea Weber (Nashville Predators)
Roberto Luongo (Vancouver Canucks)
Carey Price (Montreal Canadiens)
Mike Smith (Phoenix Coyotes)
This roster is loaded. Only Canada could leave such a combination of young talent (Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, Taylor Hall, Wayne Simmonds, etc.) and veteran talent (Mike Richards, Joe Thornton, Jarome Iginla, and Martin Brodeur) off the roster, and still look this good. I’d love to see Iggy and Looch playing for Canada, but Bergeron deserved it more, and I’d rather see those guys healthy and ready to go for the playoffs. I would have liked to see Old Man Marty Brodeur play in yet another Olympics, but Carey Price will probably be the guy in net if it were up to me.
It’s still a few weeks away, but I’m already pumped for the Winter Olympics. It should be a good one!
Brian Burke is a shrewd executive and one of the best people in the world at evaluating hockey talent. He has proven it time and again. He drafted the foundation of the Vancouver Canucks team that is in the playoffs nearly every year, and built the Toronto Maple Leafs roster that nearly knocked off the Bruins last spring. He won a Stanley Cup as the GM of the Anaheim Ducks, and put together the Silver Medal winning Team USA for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. You may not always agree with the moves he makes, but the man gets results. He also doesn’t much care what people say about him. In that regard, he reminds me a lot of Bill Belichick and Danny Ainge. Belichick, Ainge, and Burke are all smart and good at their jobs, but that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to second guess them. It doesn’t make unpatriotic to be critical of the personnel decisions regarding Team USA (or the Patriots, for that matter).
The biggest issue regarding the American hockey roster for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games was Burke’s decision to go with Winnipeg Jets (and former Boston Bruins) forward Blake Wheeler over Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan. Ryan was a big part of the 2010 team, is phenomenally talented, and was drafted #2 overall after some guy named Sidney Crosby in 2005 by Brian Burke of all people, when he was still the GM in Anaheim. Wheeler is a good player, but he was very frustrating to watch when he was in Boston because he could never seem to figure out how to be physical and generate scoring chances at the same time; it was always one or the other with him. Ryan is still a very productive player for a bad Sens team, and he should be representing his country in Sochi next month.
Burke had issues with Ryan’s effort and his aggressiveness. It’s clear he’s going for a certain style with this roster, trying to give Team USA a blue collar identity (which is why Burke probably went with Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Paul Martin instead of Jack Johnson, Torey Krug, and the several other more worthy American-born blue liners), but this isn’t like building an NHL roster. There’s not salary cap to maneuver. There’s no 82 game regular season. There’s no fighting, and less hitting. The games are being played on a larger sheet of ice, providing more space for skilled players to skate. It’s a tournament where the most talented players from each country compete for two weeks. In a situation like that, it seems silly to leave a talent like Bobby Ryan on the table while Russia has home ice advantage and Canada has a much deeper talent pool to work with. The United States is stout between the pipes between Ryan Miller (the MVP of the 2010 Olympics), Jonathan Quick, and Jimmy Howard, but they’re going to need as many scorers as possible against Canada and all the highly skilled European teams like Russia, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic standing in their way.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Brian Burke has the perfect formula for striking gold in Sochi. He knows more about hockey than I do. That’s why he’s in the position he’s in, both with USA Hockey and with his latest project of turning around the fortunes of the Calgary Flames. One way or another, Bobby Ryan being left off the roster will be a major story to follow in Sochi.