Edmonton Oilers great Dave Semenko passed away last week after a battle with pancreatic and liver cancer. Semenko was not the best player of his era, but he was one of the most memorable. He was the enforcer for the legendary Oilers teams of the 1980s, a team that was before my time but lives on forever on YouTube. He was Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard on the ice, giving The Great One the security he needed to put up offensive numbers that are unfathomable 30 years later. He was such a star as an enforcer, he even had the opportunity to get in the ring and fight Muhammad Ali for charity.
Perhaps the most touching tribute to Semenko came from Gretzky himself at Semenko’s funeral. Wayne got it. He was maybe the most supremely skilled player ever to lace up skates, but the way he talks about his former teammate and dear friend shows that hockey, even at its highest level, is a blue collar sport where the tough guys are just as appreciated as the high-end finesse players. That Oilers team was loaded, and Semenko was their heart and soul.
There was a time when every team had a guy like Dave Semenko on their roster. Fighting was just part of the game, and as hard as it sometimes was to defend the tradition of fighting in hockey to non-hockey fans, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the importance of fighting in the game.
I believe that if hockey had been invented as a new sport in the 2010s, and the leaders of this upstart National Hockey League trying to make their new game as appealing and sustainable as possible, fighting would never in a million years make the cut. That being said, to keep going with this thought experiment, hockey as we know it would have a much better chance of being invented in 2017 than football as we know it. The pace of play and high floor of acceptable skill required for entry into the NHL plays in hockey’s favor.
As long as there has been hockey there have also been great players who were also good to great fighters from Eddie Shore to Maurice Richard to Gordie Howe to Bobby Orr to Larry Robinson to Mark Messier to Scott Stevens to Cam Neely to Jarome Iginla to to mike Richards to Zdeno Chara. Even guys like Semenko or Terry O’Reilly or Shawn Thornton could probably get minutes in a post-fighting NHL. They would not be stars, and their careers would not have been as long, but in their primes, they could play well enough to make the cut even if they could not or did not fight. The players who lose out in the modern NHL are the guys who can only fight, the John Scotts of the world, or late career Shawn Thornton and George Parros.
According to Hockeyfights.com, a great website I do not check nearly as often as I used to for some reason, there were 372 total fights in 2016-17, which is up from 344 the previous season, but probably not enough to reverse the downward trend of fighting in the NHL. There were 734 in 2008-09, the highest since the 2004-05 lockout, but since the 2012-13 lockout, no season has cracked 500 fights, and the 347 fights in the abbreviated 2013 season feels like something from a different era.
Those are just numbers on a chart, but a clearer illustration came in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. My Boston Bruins won the President’s Trophy that season, but had their hands full with their most hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens in the second round. Ultimately, the Bruins fell to the Habs in seven games. Montreal was the faster, more skilled team, while Boston prided itself on strength and toughness. That’s the rivalry in a nutshell. One key difference in the two teams was the use of the enforcer. Boston had Shawn Thornton, and Montreal had George Parros. The two were friends, and won the Stanley Cup together as members of the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. While Parros spent the playoffs in the press box, scratched from the lineup, the Bruins played Thornton. That philosophical difference was not on its own what put the Habs ahead of the Bruins that season, but it showed how much the game had changed.
In 2011, inserting Thornton into the lineup in the Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks after Nathan Horton got hurt gave the Bruins an edge. They pushed the Canucks around after that, and won their first Stanley Cup since 1972. Thornton alone did not put them over the top, but his presence could not be discounted. Three years later, he was a liability in the playoffs for the Bruins.
The decline of the enforcer has been talked about for years. Before Dave Semenko’s passing, it was John Scott’s inclusion in the All-Star Game that caused a mass-reflection on the legacy of the role in hockey. Before that it was the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak, Bob Probert, and others. Every time, the same sentiments are expressed: fighting in hockey is hard to defend to non-hockey fans, and the role of fighting means less now than it did even five years ago, but nonetheless, without it, the game is missing something, and the guys who do that dirty work are some of the most appreciated in the dressing room as well as with the most hardcore of hockey fans.
If there were ever an opening for fighting to gain a more prominent role in the NHL again, we may have it with the addition of the Vegas Golden Knights to the league. With a 31st team, there are now more NHL playing jobs than ever before, and the talent pool is even further diluted. Teams may place a greater emphasis on protecting their most skilled players, and there may be more roster spots available for guys who can fight better than they can score. Then again, if the next couple years do not bring fighting back to where it was as recently as 2013, it might be gone for good in 20 years.
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?”
In 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, beating Jarome Iginla’s Calgary Flames in a thrilling seven game series. The following year, the National Hockey League became the first major professional sports league to cancel an entire season. After that the Bolts were never able to find that magic. Cup winning coach John Tortorella lost his job and has been seen behind the benches of the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks since then. In 2011, the Lightning went toe to toe in a tight seven game Eastern Conference Finals with the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins (Side note, that Game 7 in Boston was the tightest most evenly played hockey game I have ever seen. There were no penalties and Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson made for an epic battle of two aging heavyweights in net. If Nathan Horton doesn’t beat Roloson after getting set up by David Krejci and Andrew Ference, they might still be playing.), but took two steps backward in 2012 and 2013. This year, it looked like a great chance for the Bolts to make some noise, but it never materialized.
It started last summer, when the Bolts tried to work their way around the new collective bargaining agreement by buying out longtime captain Vincent Lecavalier, and orchestrating a trade to bring him back for less money. They wanted to keep Vinny, but not for his current salary cap hit. The NHL would have none of it, and Lecavalier ended up signing with the Philadelphia Flyers. Early in the season, Steven Stamkos, Tampa’s explosive young goal scorer, broke his leg in a game in Boston. It looked like Tampa’s strong start would be for nothing.
The Lightning did not relent after the injury to Stamkos. They got strong performances from goaltender Ben Bishop and newly appointed captain Martin St. Louis. The Bolts looked like the third best team in the East after the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, and GM Steve Yzerman looked like a serious candidate for Executive of the Year, then the Olympic roster selection happened.
Yzerman, the longtime captain for the Detroit Red Wings, also served as the GM for Team Canada in the Vancouver and Sochi Olympic Games. Stevie Y had the task of drawing from the incredibly deep well of Canadian hockey talent and putting together the best team possible. Initially, Yzerman had Stamkos on the roster as a reserve, and Marty St. Louis left off the roster entirely. Yzerman was trying to balance what was best for Canada with what was best for the Lightning, and he needed his 38 year old captain for the playoffs. St. Louis took it personally. He wanted out of Tampa after that. As it turned out, Stamkos wasn’t ready to play when the Olympics rolled around, so Yzerman ended up adding St. Louis to Canada’s Olympic roster anyway. Canada ended up winning the Gold Medal for the second straight Olympic tournament, and they were so dominant that they would have done it with or without Marty.
The NHL trade deadline was not long after the Olympics ended, and despite taking home a Gold Medal, St. Louis still wanted out, so Yzerman dealt him to the New York Rangers in exchange for Rangers captain and impending free agent Ryan Callahan. Stamkos was just coming back as St. Louis was leaving so the Bolts never got that combination going at the same time despite playing really well for most of the season. Even though he got a good player in Callahan, who is ten years younger than St. Louis, there is no guarantee that he’ll stay in Tampa this summer. Callahan was a captain in New York and he could be a captain again if he signs with his native Buffalo. Stamkos was named the Lightning captain upon his return, and it looked like they still had a chance to do something this spring, until Ben Bishop got hurt.
With all the turnover and injury to the Bolts’ top forwards, Bishop was the brick wall in net that kept them afloat all season long. Bishop’s injury at the end of the regular season turned a favorable match up against the Montreal Canadiens into a four game early playoff exit. Everything that could have gone wrong for the Lightning went wrong.
When the Bolts celebrated the 10th anniversary of their Stanley Cup win last month, they chose to do it on the night where John Tortorella was in town as coach of the Canucks. Noticeably missing from the celebration were Lecavalier and St. Louis, who were key contributors to the 2004 team, but are now playing against each other in the entertaining first round playoff series between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. There was a time where Tampa looked like a hockey hotbed despite being located in Florida, but now Lightning fans are stuck wondering what might have been.
The first weekend of the hockey playoffs is in the books, and it shows us just how close the teams that make the playoffs are with each other. The Boston Bruins won the President’s Trophy for being the best team in the regular season, but defeating the #8 seed Detroit Red Wings has been no easy task. The Wings struggled to get into the playoffs, but that was because they lost key players like Pavel Datsyuk for a long time in the regular season. Now, Datsyuk is back, and scored the only goal of Game 1 in Boston on Friday night, and the series between Boston and Detroit feels a lot like the hard fought series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks than a series between the #1 and #8 teams in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins evened the series 1-1 with a 4-1 win this afternoon, but one thing is for sure: nothing is handed to you in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can be the best team, but you have to prove it. The President’s Trophy is given, whether you want it or not, but the Stanley Cup must be taken, and sometimes the toughest team to beat is the one you see in the first round. There is no real advantage to being the President’s Trophy winner. It’s just another reason for teams to want to beat you. If the President’s Trophy winner wins, they were supposed to. If they lose, they choked. At this level, everyone can play, everyone can hit, and emotions run high. Everyone wants it a lot, but it comes down to who wants it more.
The B’s have a tendency to make it really hard for themselves in the first round of the playoffs. Going into this tournament, the Black and Gold have gone to a sudden death overtime of a Game 7 to decide who advances in the first round. In 2011, they fell 0-2 to the arch-nemesis Montreal Canadiens after two games in Boston, but battled back, stealing two games in Montreal before winning Game 7 off the stick of Nathan Horton and riding that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup. In 2012, they did not fare as well, falling in OT to a Washington Capitals team that wasn’t even trying to score. In 2013, they needed late 3rd period heroics from Patrice Bergeron just to get to overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs, another team they should have beaten sooner than Game 7, before Bergeron sent the Boston crowd home on a high note with an OT goal, resulting in one of my earliest posts on this blog. As a fan of this team, it’s hard to go through the first round of the playoffs and not be really nervous. One bounce of the puck the wrong way, and there might not be a 2011 Stanley Cup Champions banner in the rafters of the TD Garden. One bounce of the puck the wrong way last year, and the roster and coaching staff might look a lot different than it does right now. That’s a dangerous way to live, but that’s hockey.
Last weekend, I went to the B’s last home game of the regular season with one of my best friends. It was a game against Buffalo, and for Fan Appreciation Day, they handed out team pictures, but one of the heroes from this weekend didn’t even make the team picture. Justin Florek, a 23 year old forward, was called up from the AHL Providence Bruins this week because of an injury to Daniel Paille. After the B’s were shut out by Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard in Game 1, Florek put the B’s on the board early in the 1st Period by capitalizing on a mistake by Howard. Forward depth was a concern after Paille was injured against Buffalo last weekend, but Florek is proving his worth to the Bruins right now. It reminds me a lot of the contributions Torey Krug made for the Bruins last spring when Andrew Ference got hurt, before people knew how good he was. He spent all year in Providence, but he’s making the most of his chance with Boston in the most important games of the season.
There is still a long way to go, but my favorite go-to topic is Bruins hockey. It’s not always pretty, but hopefully there will be a lot more Bruins hockey for me to write about this spring.
Last night, an ordinary regular season game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Dallas Stars turned into a life or death situation. Dallas forward Rich Peverley, who along with teammates Tyler Seguin and newly acquired goaltender Tim Thomas and Columbus forward Nathan Horton was one of four members of the 2011 Stanley Cup winning Bruins team playing in the game, finished his shift and went to the bench. Peverley, who had been diagnosed with a heart condition over the summer after the Bruins traded him to Dallas, collapsed while sitting on the bench, and there was a scramble on the Stars’ bench to get him the medical attention he needed. As it turns out, Peverley’s heard had stopped and he needed to be revived with a defibrillator. The medical staff saved Peverley’s life last night, and the NHL rightfully postponed the rest of the game.
When Peverley regained consciousness, he asked to go back into the game. Gotta love hockey players. Pevs was not the most skilled player on the Bruins, but he was rarely out of the lineup during his time in Boston and he was part of the most successful three year run the B’s have had in my lifetime, highlighted by beating Vancouver in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 and facing Chicago in the Finals in 2013. He stepped up on the Bruins’ top line in the Finals after Nathan Horton was concussed on a dirty hit by Aaron Rome, and kept the machine rolling. He caught a lot of grief in 2013 when his offensive production dropped off and was part of the infamous “High Glass Line” that could never seem to find the net. Even if he wasn’t a Bruin, I would have felt compelled to write about this incident because it’s one of the scariest things you can possibly experience in a hockey game, but the fact that so many former Bruins were involved only makes it hit closer to home.
The Stars are right in the thick of the playoff race in the Western Conference, currently sitting on the #8 seed, one point ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes. Rich Peverley is lucky to be alive, and it’s uncertain if or when he will play again, but the Stars have found themselves a figure to rally around. Tim Thomas was a good pickup for them last week, and he has a well documented history of playoff success. This could also be the kind of human interest story that gets casual fans tuned into hockey, and could make Dallas a popular bandwagon to jump on this spring.
Making the playoffs and winning games are obviously important to the Stars’ players and coaches, but last night they dealt with a situation bigger than hockey. Writers and fans alike use phrases like “fighting for their lives” and “sudden death” as they relate to winning and losing, but what Pevs and his teammates and coaches went through was bigger than that. It puts things into perspective. When you lose a hockey game, life goes on. Right now, the Dallas Stars and hockey fans around North America are just happy that Peverley is stable and expected to make a full recovery. The metaphorical life and death can wait until another day.
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.