The significance of the achievement didn’t strike Mike O’Connell when the Kings beat the Devils in Game 6 June 11 to win the Stanley Cup. O’Connell didn’t quite grasp it later that night, when he celebrated alongside his Los Angeles hockey operations staffers at the Staples Center.
It was only several days after the championship was clinched that the former Bruins general manager finally got it. O’Connell, now in charge of pro development and special assignments for the Kings, saw a picture of himself standing alongside Nelson Emerson and Mike Donnelly, who also work in player development.
“The Cup was over our heads,’’ O’Connell said. “We’re in the locker room. Our heads are wet from champagne. Knowing what we did with these kids, sharing the moment with them, seeing that picture, it takes a while to set in. But that’s when it hit home.’’
Around these parts, the Cohasset native is better known for being the Bruins general manager from Nov. 1, 2000, to March 25, 2006. O’Connell, groomed as Harry Sinden’s right-hand man, staked his claim by making brassy decisions. Not all of them worked.
Following the 2004-05 lockout, O’Connell’s management group opted to say goodbye to veterans Brian Rolston, Mike Knuble, Dan McGillis, Martin Lapointe, Michael Nylander, and Sergei Gonchar. They had contributed to the Bruins in 2003-04, when they were upset in the first round by a Montreal club coached by Claude Julien.
In 2005-06, left with spare parts such as Alexei Zhamnov, Brad Isbister, Dave Scatchard, and Brian Leetch, the Bruins sputtered badly. On Nov. 30, 2005, O’Connell traded Joe Thornton to San Jose for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm, and Wayne Primeau. Before the season was over, O’Connell was fired.
O’Connell was also behind transactions that contributed to the Bruins’ 2011 Cup. On Sept. 14, 2005, he signed Tim Thomas to a one-year contract. On March 18, 2006, a week before he was let go, O’Connell signed Thomas to a three-year, $3.3 million extension - in retrospect, one of the shrewdest contracts any GM could ever claim.
With O’Connell at the draft table, the Bruins selected Patrice Bergeron with the No. 45 pick of the 2003 draft.
“I was extremely happy the Bruins won last year, I really was,’’ O’Connell said. “I was happy, especially for the players that I had something to do with bringing in. It was good to see them win, and I was glad I had something to do with it.’’
This past season, his sixth with Los Angeles, O’Connell believed the Kings could do some big things. O’Connell wasn’t involved in last year’s trade that brought in Mike Richards from Philadelphia. But he understood that the ripple effect - Anze Kopitar as the No. 1 center, Jarret Stoll as the third-line pivot - was just as important as acquiring Richards for his talent, determination, and leadership.
As GMs, coaches, and scouts repeatedly note, it’s critical for players to fill roles. For instance, it wasn’t just that the Bruins lost a go-to right wing this past season when Nathan Horton was sidelined with a concussion. It also meant that Rich Peverley, usually a third-liner, had to play out of position.
The Kings, like the Bruins in 2010-11, had depth all around. They were healthy. And they had a superstar in goal.
O’Connell recalled watching a Boston University-UMass game sometime in 2006-07. JonathanQuick, drafted by the Kings in the third round of 2005, was excellent in the Minuteman net.
“Brilliant game,’’ O’Connell said. “I remember going down to the locker room and chatting with him. Seeing his personality, his stature, he had that star quality about him in the way he carried himself.
“Certain players have that. Right then, I thought this guy could be a star.’’
Five years later, the former UMass star carried his club through the regular season, then swaggered into the playoffs. Quick and the Kings dispatched the top-seeded Canucks in five games. They swept St. Louis in the second round.
Following the clinching win over the Blues, O’Connell was again next to Quick in the dressing room.
“He’s taking his stuff off, and he looks like he’s played 10 games total, not 82 plus the playoffs,’’ O’Connell said. “He’s so fresh. So clear. No bags under his eyes. No tiredness. Not a hint of a tired body or demeanor.
“Right then, I thought, ‘Holy [expletive], we can do something special.’ ’’
For the 56-year-old O’Connell, winning the Cup reflected the role he played in helping the team’s young players. The Kings, whose AHL affiliate is in Manchester, N.H., leaned heavily on their up-and-coming talent to roll through the postseason.
Among the Kings who made stops in Manchester: Quick, Jonathan Bernier, Slava Voynov, Dwight King, Alec Martinez, Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan, and Kevin Westgarth - a balanced mix of star power and grinders. O’Connell was crucial in helping them prepare for the NHL.
“We ended up counting on them in the playoffs,’’ O’Connell said. “That gives them a huge boost of confidence. They know they can play in this league and win in this league. Now they know what it takes.’’
Something about the Kings’ postseason dominance didn’t seem right to O’Connell. It was strange, he said, when they took a 3-0 lead over the Devils. When New Jersey fought back to win the next two games, in a strange way, O’Connell felt better.
This summer, when the Cup visits the South Shore for a day, O’Connell will feel just about right.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
Blue Jackets achieved goal
The Blue Jackets made a lot of noise during draft weekend, even without trading Rick Nash.
On Friday, Columbus acquired goalie Sergei Bobrovsky from Philadelphia for three picks (No. 45 and No. 117, as well as a fourth-rounder in 2013).
Bobrovsky’s market was set by the Lightning-Predators deal a week earlier. On June 15, Tampa Bay landed Anders Lindback, Kyle Wilson, and a 2012 seventh-rounder from Nashville for Sebastien Caron, two 2012 second-round picks, and a 2013 third-rounder.
“He has won in the league,’’ said Columbus general manager Scott Howson said about Bobrovsky. “He had a great first season. He’s won over 40 games in the league.
“I think he has the potential to be a very good NHL goalie. He’s still a young goalie. We now have two goalies who have a chance to be No. 1 goaltenders [with Steve Mason], and we’re going to see how it plays out.
“I wanted to come out of here with a goalie. That was really important to me, and the market is shrinking fast. [Josh] Harding signs, Lindback got traded, the market became pretty scarce. That’s a factor in the price we paid.’’
It’s unclear whether Bobrovsky projects long-term to be a sharper go-to goalie than Lindback.
The 23-year-old Bobrovsky has more NHL experience. In the last two years, he appeared in 83 games for Philadelphia. This past season, as Ilya Bryzgalov’s No. 2, he went 14-10-2 with a 3.02 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage -hardly ace numbers.
In comparison, Lindback has appeared in only 38 games for the Predators the last two seasons. In 2011-12, he was 5-8-0 with a 2.42 GAA and a .912 save percentage. The 24-year-old Lindback, however, may have a greater ceiling once he sees more action.
“Very, very similar,’’ Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton said this past season when comparing Lindback and PekkaRinne. “The reason Anders was not a first-round pick was that he got sick in November of his draft year and played in only two more games.’’
Lindback was diagnosed with Still’s disease, which causes muscle aches and joint pain. He has been on medication for the illness.
Lindback was the 207th pick of the 2008 draft, yet another of the low-level picks that have either made the Nashville roster or have been used on the market. Much of the credit is due to Framingham native Jeff Kealty, Nashville’s chief amateur scout.
Ex-GM Taylor gets his due
The Kings finished the season with eight first-round picks on their roster. They drafted Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Bernier, Drew Doughty, and Dustin Brown. To the homegrown talent, they added Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, and Simon Gagne. While much of the credit goes to Dean Lombardi, the Kings have been quick to praise former GM Dave Taylor, who occupied the helm until 2006. With Taylor calling the shots, the Kings drafted Kopitar and Jonathan Quick in 2005 and Brown in 2003. It shows how people who are long gone can still have an impact on a winning franchise.
On second thought . . .
One of MikeO’Connell’s shrewdest signings - that of TimThomas - almost didn’t happen. In the fall of 2005, following the conclusion of the lockout, O’Connell extended a contract offer to the goalie. At the time, Thomas was in Finland, having made peace with the reality that his NHL career was over. Initially, Thomas refused to sign with the Bruins. He wanted to stay in Finland rather than play in Providence, where he believed the Bruins would assign him following training camp. After heeding the advice of his family and agent Bill Zito, Thomas accepted Boston’s offer. Sure enough, the Bruins assigned Thomas to Providence Oct. 3, 2005. He appeared in only 26 games for Providence before receiving a promotion, clearing re-entry waivers, and landing in Boston.
Pahlsson bids farewell
Former Bruin Samuel Pahlsson said his farewell to the NHL by signing with MoDo of the Swedish Elite League last Monday. The final NHL numbers for the 34-year-old Pahlsson: 798 games, 68 goals, 131 assists, one ring, and countless headaches for opposing top forwards. Pahlsson, drafted 176th overall by Colorado in 1996, was shuttled to Boston in the Ray Bourque trade on March 6, 2000. Pahlsson, who never found the right role in Boston, played only 17 games in Black and Gold before he was wheeled to Anaheim for heavyweight Andrei Nazarov. Pahlsson hit his stride under Randy Carlyle, who deployed the Swedish center alongside Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer during the Ducks’ 2007 Cup run. In the Stanley Cup Final, the line’s primary task was to make life horrible for Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson. The Ducks won the Cup and Scott Niedermayer nabbed the Conn Smythe Trophy. But ex-Duck Shawn Thornton credits Pahlsson and his linemates for being the difference-makers in the series.
Don “Toot’’ Cahoon stepped down as UMass coach last Tuesday. The Minutemen should consider Mike Cavanaugh, Jerry York’s longtime No. 2 at Boston College, for the position. As a dark horse candidate, one possibility is Jim Montgomery. The former Maine star has drawn excellent reviews in his short stint as coach and GM of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints . . . For the seventh straight season, a goalie was not selected among the top 10 in the draft. The last puck-stopper to be selected that high was in 2005, when Montreal took Carey Price with the fifth pick. Price has worked out well for the Canadiens. But goalies remain too risky to be drafted so high. Teams believe they take longer to develop, and that better value is available later in the draft . . . The Bruins are scheduled to spend part of their training camp in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. That might be reason enough for players to wish for a lockout. The positives (road bonding time, connecting with Bruins fans in the Canadian plains) don’t outweigh the negative of traveling so far from home in the preseason. That stuff catches up to teams in the end . . . The NHL Players Association will conduct member meetings in Chicago Monday through Wednesday. Executive director Donald Fehr will brief members on upcoming CBA negotiations. Here’s hoping for high attendance. Tough to get players to commit to meetings during prime golf weather, but this stuff is important . . . Unable to confirm nasty rumors of P.K. Subban being deep in study of Euro 2012’s finest flop jobs. When it comes to diving, soccer players have no rivals. Reminds me of those PGA Tour “these guys are good’’ commercials. Personal favorite: hands clasped to the sides of the head, with the requisite writhing on the ground.