The Bruins are better this morning than they were yesterday morning for practice, confirmation in itself that the defending Cup champs came up winners at yesterday’s NHL trade deadline.
Big winners? No. But it wasn’t a day of banner headlines. Across the league, trades were few and of relatively low profile and impact. The Canucks and Sabres partnered for the top move, swapping key freshmen forwards (Cody Hodgson to the Sabres, Zack Kassian to the Canucks), while most of the other clubs made Boston-like transactions, filling holes and adding depth, maneuvers that spoke more to building roster security than getting a video clip on “SportsCenter.’’
“That was the theme for this year - frustration,’’ said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, his voice hoarse after acquiring one forward, Brian Rolston, and a pair of blue liners, Mike Mottau and Greg Zanon. “But fulfillment.’’
In other words, Chiarelli had hoped and attempted to do more, but came away satisfied because it was a market mostly of minnows rather than Mobys. The biggest whale of ’em all, Rick Nash, remained dead in the water in the underwater NHL world that is Columbus, Ohio. And although Hodgson and Kassian could be stars one day, they’re not near that level today, their nascent skills just beginning to emerge in their rookie seasons.
Of the three Boston newbies, Zanon stands to be the most significant because he is a solid, steady back liner with an appetite for blocking shots. He was No. 2 overall in the NHL in that subtle, painful art last season with 212 blocks. He has knocked down 104 shots this season with the Wild, less than Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg (131), but a tick better than the 101 by Johnny Boychuk, who suffered a concussion Saturday night in Ottawa and will be out of action for at least this week.
Boychuk’s KO, said Chiarelli, was not the direct motivation to acquire Zanon, but it did underscore Chiarelli’s belief that there is no such thing as having too many defensemen for the playoffs.
“Globally, what I’ve seen over my time in hockey,’’ said Chiarelli, “is defensemen can drop like flies.’’
They also can fail to live up to billing, which has been the case this season for Joe Corvo. Zanon now most likely lands in coach Claude Julien’s top six, with Corvo and Mottau, the ex-BC defenseman who played at Thayer Academy, serving as the reserve blue liners. That’s a far better choice right now than an Andrew Bodnarchuk/Steven Kampfer. The Wild acquired Kampfer in the Zanon swap. And it’s better than last year, when the Bruins retrieved Shane Hnidy from the back-line junkyard as a reserve.
Rolston, among the game’s most gentlemanly and classy performers, will wear the same No. 12 he sported here the first time around when he landed in the Hub in the Ray Bourque deal. He doesn’t wheel like he once did and he doesn’t shoot the puck as hard or perhaps as accurately, but Chiarelli likes his compete level and figures, as an unrestricted free agent, Rolston will want to show he’s worthy of landing another contract. He may not arrive with the thick, gritty dossier that Mark Recchi toted upon his arrival in similar circumstances in March 2009, but he has got some of “Rex’s’’ stuff. He’ll be liked and respected in the room, and his versatility will offer options in a number of roles, including power-play duty.
Rolston, 39, has never been shy about letting rubber fly, especially when assigned point duty. In his 338 games with the Bruins, he landed 1,221 shots, close to four per game. Upon being reacquired yesterday, he ranked as the NHL’s 25th all-time shooter with 3,797 strikes, trailing only four active players - Jaromir Jagr (4,720), Teemu Selanne (4,289), Nicklas Lidstrom (3,854), and Jarome Iginla (3,832). Surrounded by better talent here than on Long Island, he stands to get better looks at the net, some of them assuredly on the power play.
Last year, the Bruins picked up Tomas Kaberle for point duty, and while they figured he would be more a passer than a shooter, they certainly thought he could do more than produce 31 shots (and one goal) in his 24 regular-season games. He then produced only 33 shots (and no goals) in 25 playoff games. No matter how he works out in his redux, it’s a safe bet that no one will have told Rolston he should have shot more.
To see Rolston in his familiar No. 12 tonight, Bruins fans will be reminded of the bad old days on Causeway. When last we saw him here, Rolston was leaving as a free agent, partly as a product of the 2004-05 lockout. The Bruins also lost the likes of (shade eyes here, dear reader) Michael Nylander, Mike Knuble, and Sergei Gonchar at the same time. And once play resumed in October 2006, captain Joe Thornton was dished to the Sharks less than 60 days into the season. The blueprint in hand during those days on Causeway St. was one for disaster.
“Obviously,’’ said Rolston, musing over his return here, “a lot has changed since I’ve been there.’’
To be precise, the team he walked away from now has its first Cup since 1972. Instead of making wholesale changes or desperation moves on trade day, it’s a solid franchise that now focuses on shoring up weaknesses, adding depth, and getting right ‘n’ ready for another run. Winning has its advantages, and yesterday, the Cup parade only eight months in the past, was one of them.