The Bruins came within two victories of winning the Stanley Cup two weeks ago, and now here they are, with a couple of new high-profile right wingers and what some obviously believe is a vastly different team than the one that was ousted by Chicago.
Truth is, it’s not all that different when you take a closer look and examine what I like to call the spine and limbs of the team. To wit:
■ The essential three players, the spine, of the 2013-14 Bruins will be the same: Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron. When it came time for the Blackhawks to make their push from a 2-1 deficit in the Final, they did so first and foremost because of injuries to Chara (hip flexor) and Bergeron, the latter of whom needed time in the hospital to recover from a collapsed lung, which came soon after he received a pair of nerve-block injections in his chest in order to play in Game 6.
Rask in the next few days is expected to sign a long-term contract extension, reflecting the fact that he is now among the game’s elite goalies. Bergeron most likely will do the same any day now, with one year remaining on his deal. “We’re very close on both,’’ general manager Peter Chiarelli said during a noon conference call on Saturday. Chara’s contract virtually guarantees he will retire a Bruin, although Daniel Alfredsson’s surprise decision Friday to leave Ottawa reminds us once again we should never assume that players, like the NHL’s owners, view this as anything but a business.
■ The limbs of the team, the next four players (two arms, two legs) who are essential to the Bruins’ success next season, actually were upgraded last week — despite the abundant fan keening and crying over the trade/unloading of Tyler Seguin. Loui Eriksson, the key piece of Thursday’s trade with Dallas, immediately became one of Boston’s essential limbs, joining forwards Milan Lucic and David Krejci, and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. Eriksson is Boston’s first legitimate 30-40—70 winger since Glen Murray, more durable and a greater scoring threat than the departed Nathan Horton (Blue Jackets property for the next seven seasons).
For the record, Horton has had one 30-goal season (with Florida in 2006-07) and his top production in three seasons with Boston was 53 points. Few likely will agree, but I never viewed Horton, despite his being slotted as the No. 1 right winger, as one of the club’s seven essential players. He was far too inconsistent and perennially delivered less than his talent package and frame (6 feet 2 inches, 229 pounds) promised. Eriksson easily should equal Horton’s point production, likely surpass it, whether he’s receiving passes from Krejci or Bergeron. In fact, it could be that his skill set makes either Krejci or Bergeron more productive.
Jarome Iginla, signed on Friday, turned 36 last week, and only has to be here what he was for the Penguins once he joined them at the trade deadline this past season. Flipped to his off wing (left), he went 9-14—23 in 28 games (regular season and playoffs). No question, Iginla will be an essential part of Boston’s success in 2013-14. If not for his age, he would be considered one of the four limbs. But his age, in part, is why he was still left on the shelf Friday afternoon, with Boston’s base salary of $1.8 million ($100,000 above Gregory Campbell) his best offer. By the way, had Eriksson hit the open market, he likely would have seen bids as high as $7 million a year (vs. his cap number of $4.25 million).
So, all in all, last week’s moves by Chiarelli and Co. did nothing but improve the club’s body of 7-8 players. Rich Peverley, shipped to Dallas in the Seguin deal, was never part of that body. He was an overpaid role player.
Seguin, despite his speed, flash, and promise, also was never part of it. He coulda, shoulda, mighta been, but he was not. Not yet. I am not going to join the lengthening line of character assassins who now portray him as a party boy gone wild, because, well, I didn’t do that when he was here. Granted, there was plenty of innuendo, and it only takes limited digging on the Internet to find abundant pictures of Seguin living out the after-hour fantasies of most 19-, 20-, and even a few 50- and 60-year-olds. He is a kid. Teammates found his act frustrating. Same for coaches and the front office.
Better and fairer, in my opinion, to stick with what really damned Seguin — his overall game and paycheck. For all his flash and dash, he too often didn’t get the job done. He often looked skittish, if not downright afraid, when in possession of the puck. When first in the zone, rather than hold the puck and wait for teammates to present options, he would opt time and again to dash wide along the boards or head behind the net. We saw very little stop and start, little inclination or ability to find the open man, endure a hit, carry the puck strong-man style to the net. In short, he did not want to own the puck, the trait that often separates the greats from the wannabes.
To be a great scorer, or at least a consistent offensive threat, forwards have to win on muscle or on skill. Seguin does not have the size or mind-set to win on muscle. However, he has the skill, similar to Phil Kessel in his time here before he forced his trade to Toronto. Kessel, who remains somewhat skittish with the puck, has gone on to accept his life as a winger instead of a center — something I believe Seguin also will have to accept. Kessel was turning into more of an offensive force than Seguin by his third season (last in Boston), and since punching his ticket out of here he has gone on to augment and improvise his game on a team that finally made it to the playoffs.
Seguin can be as effective as Kessel. Had he not been promised some $35 million over the next six seasons, and had he lit the lamp more often than he lit both ends of the candle, he would still be here. In fact, had he scored 6-8 times instead of only once during the playoffs this year, he might still be here. And, had he done that, the Bruins and not the Blackhawks might have been dancing around with the Cup.
NEVER SAY NEVER
Chiarelli got man after all
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was told by Calgary at the trade deadline that he won the Jarome Iginla sweepstakes, only to learn hours later that Iginla forced Flames GM Jay Feaster’s hand to choose a deal to Pittsburgh instead of Boston.
So, when Iginla’s agent called Friday, suggesting the Bruins sign Iginla as a free agent, Chiarelli would have been well within his right to remind Don Meehan how badly the deal for Iginla was bollixed months earlier.
Not Chiarelli’s style.
“No, I raised my eyebrows and said, ‘Really?’ ’’ Chiarelli said Saturday when I asked his reaction.
Very much a departure from Bruins’ old-world management. Had Meehan and Iginla played it that way under Harry Sinden’s rule on Causeway Street, “Give ’em Hell Harry’’ likely would not have accepted Meehan’s call, or picked up the phone purely for the delight of telling him to go sell bags of ice in Antarctica.
Seguin’s mom voices opinion
The Toronto Star on Friday published a story that had Jackie Seguin, Tyler’s mom, defending her son as an upright citizen during his time with the Bruins. “Boston is now trying to justify why they’re getting rid of Tyler,’’ she told reporter Curtis Rush. “Obviously, they don’t want a fan backlash against [Bruins GM Peter] Chiarelli.”
Jackie Seguin added that her son is a “professional in capital letters,’’ and believes he will thrive when put back at his natural center position in Dallas.
Moms, always an uncomfortable fit in sports, especially when their sons have a few years in the league to make their way. I recall a particularly seething, searing letter I received from Joe Thornton’s mother in the spring of ’98, following his first year with the Bruins.
Jumbo (the nickname I gave him) went 3-4—7 in his rookie year, then 0-0—0 in six playoff games that spring. Her letter took me to task, and wished me a good amount of ill will, because I noted in a story about Joe that the league’s new fortunes guaranteed NHL rookies would not have to head home to scoop ice cream during the summer (yes, there was a time athletes had to prepare for alternative careers).
I pocketed the letter and contacted Thornton’s agent, Mike Barnett, to discuss the story, noting to him how ridiculous everyone would look if the letter saw print. Weeks later, at the start of training camp, I discussed it with Thornton, who, in his carefree teenage way, laughed it all off and said everything was fine. Just a mom thing, he said.
“At the end of the day,’’ Jackie Seguin told the Star, “I’m just the mom. I just want Tyler to be happy.’’
To this day, and I expect forever more, I think of Thornton, his mother, and that letter every time I step up to a counter to order ice cream. In deference to age, diet, and that letter, I always ask for a children’s portion.
Nathan Horton, hired in essence to replace Rick Nash in Columbus, received a whopping seven-year deal that will pay him just over $37 million ($5.3 million cap hit). He set the market for another free agent right winger, ex-Devil David Clarkson, who signed essentially the same deal in Toronto. Huge paydays for a couple of guys who’ve never really delivered the numbers of true power forwards . . . Nice deal and fit in Edmonton for ex-Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who was among Boston’s top handful of performers throughout the playoffs. I figured he would bring offers in the three-year/$9 million range, given his role, age, and injury history. The Oilers stepped up with four years for $13 million . . . The Devils responded to the loss of Clarkson by signing ex-Shark/Ranger Ryane Clowe (five years/$24.25 million) and former Bruin Michael Ryder (lately of Dallas and Montreal) for two years/$7 million. Clowe is tough but a bit slow afoot, and had his brief Rangers tour cut short by concussion. Ryder likely will be as inconsistent as ever, but he has a way of paying attention come playoff time. Now 33, he’ll probably sign two-year, $7 million deals three or four more times over the next decade . . . One of the few good (if not best) deals Friday: Rob Scuderi leaving Los Angeles to head back to Pittsburgh for four years/$13.5 million. He provides precisely the back-end presence the Penguins lacked vs. Boston in the Eastern Conference finals . . . If you want to catch some of the Bruins’ best and brightest kids, head to Wilmington this week (Wednesday through Sunday) to take in development camp. Best to arrive by 10:30 a.m. for the first workout session at Ristuccia. Admission is free.