The Bruins’ locker room, mostly the same since TD Garden opened in 1995, is being overhauled. By the time the first puck drops in that building Oct. 12, everything in their quarters will be sparkling: new stalls, fresh carpeting, and revamped lighting. Even the Spoked-B logo, previously woven into the rug (and don’t you dare step on it), will now hang from the ceiling.
As for the inhabitants themselves, they largely remain in their places.
Unless the captaincy group decides on a new arrangement, the stalls of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and David Pastrnak will line the far end. Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug will park near the main entrance. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak will sit opposite Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Charlie Coyle, and others in the supporting cast.
No bold reimagination was needed for a team that last saw that room under more somber circumstances, its season stopped 60 minutes shy of the Stanley Cup. It’s essentially the same group. Don Sweeney enters his fifth camp as general manager having parted ways with short-time contributor Marcus Johansson, hard-hitting plugger Noel Acciari, and no one else of import. He had to reserve his bucks for restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, who entered the weekend sans contracts, but few other big-picture issues worried him.
Short of coming off a Stanley Cup celebration, Sweeney, coming off a season in which he was named GM of the Year in the NHL, is where every GM wants to be.
The structure of his team is rock-solid. Bergeron, Krejci, Coyle, and Sean Kuraly are as good a set of centers as any in the league. Speed, skill, and grit abound on the wings, though a few jobs are up for grabs. Rask and Halak are happy to share net duties for another year. The defense may have its early bumps, since Chara, 42, is on borrowed time, John Moore (shoulder) and Kevan Miller (knee) are recovering, and McAvoy and Carlo are contractual question marks. But there are no malcontents. Once everyone’s back in the room, there is more than enough depth and talent to make another run.
Aided greatly by bargain deals for his three elite forwards (combined price tag of Bergeron, Pastrnak, and Marchand: $19.7 million), Sweeney has drafted and developed this franchise to the elite the last three years, after two years out of the playoffs. It has been the right method because a few kids a year have arrived to supplement the core. It has allowed Sweeney to make intelligent trades (Coyle for Ryan Donato; Johansson for picks) and free agent signings.
Though the McAvoy and Carlo deals are likely to eat up all the remaining $7.4 million in cap space and then some, and eventual extensions for Krug (who could command some $8 million on the open market) and DeBrusk, the Bruins this summer committed more money to their coach — Bruce Cassidy, believed to be earning in the $3 million range on a three-year extension signed this past week — than incoming talent. The July 1 prudence sits in stark contrast to some of Sweeney’s less-inspired signings, such as giving five years each to Matt Beleskey (2015) and David Backes (2016).
Winger Brett Ritchie, signed for one year and $1 million, is a big (6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds) body who moves well, and struggled to score the last two seasons in Dallas (13 goals) after a breakout year in 2016-17 (16 goals). Center Par Lindholm, another bargain at two years, $875,000 per, had one goal in his first NHL season after four years in the Swedish top division. Maybe Ritchie wins a job as a No. 3 right wing, meshing with Coyle and left winger Heinen. Maybe Lindholm joins that rotating cast of buzzsaws on the fourth line, kills penalties, and chips in a few goals. Or maybe neither does anything of note in a Bruins sweater, and become waiver-wire fodder. If so, so what?
They have fired-up kids such as Karson Kuhlman, who outplayed his modest projections to finish last year as the No. 2 right wing. Anders Bjork and Zach Senyshyn have speed to burn. Maybe Backes has more to give than he showed last season. A bunch of these kids, such as centers-of-the-future Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka, will bake in Providence another year. That will not hamper their development.
In pro sports, stagnancy is a synonym for decline. But with good health, this should be a Cup-worthy team again. As long as the issues of September — Bergeron’s wonky groin, the ongoing RFA discussions — don’t stretch into Thanksgiving, it’s easy to imagine the Bruins near the top of the Atlantic Division.
They are not wanting for chemistry or leadership. They have the experience of last season, the fire to do it again. Things may be a bit slow in the first half while Cassidy tinkers with his lines and pairs, assesses options young and old on the wings, and pieces together his back line. But the view here is a second-half run like last season should have the Bruins primed for another long spring.
It all seems so simple, doesn’t it? It all went so well, that small matter of Game 7 aside, so why not do it again?
“I think it’s awesome,” said Rask, refreshed after a summer spent mostly off the ice. “We fell one game short last year and we have a hungry group of guys. We want to go out there and prove that we’re still a great team.”
All that’s left to do . . . is do it.
Stevens continues quest to offer help
By now, Kevin Stevens knows the beast of addiction. “This thing,” he said, “takes and takes and takes.”
Stevens, once the game’s premier left wing and a two-time Cup winner in Pittsburgh, has turned his public battle with drugs into a life’s mission.
The Pembroke-raised Stevens, a star at Silver Lake High and Boston College, lost his playing career, a job as a scout with the Penguins, and became estranged from his family in a haze of opioids and cocaine. His story became a 22-minute documentary, “Shattered,” produced and originally shown on Sportsnet in Canada.
The film, released in February 2018, came last Tuesday to the Regent Theatre in Arlington, as part of a speaking tour that has taken Stevens nationwide. Flanked by his sister, Kelli Wilson, and a panel that included Dr. Michael Hamrock of St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center and state Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington), Stevens expanded on his story after the documentary.
He is not a natural speaker, but he is a dedicated one. In addition to his foundation, Power Forward (powerforward25.com), Stevens co-hosts an addiction-themed podcast called Crosscheck Radio.
“It’s the first thing I have to control,” said Stevens, who claims a sobriety date of May 17, 2016. “If I don’t control that, I have nothing. No family, no friends, no job . . . I’m pretty happy doing that, because I’m pretty happy with my life.”
A drinker but non-drug user as a young pro, he said trying cocaine in a New York City nightclub in the 1992-93 season “flipped a switch in my brain.” Some three months later, during a May 14, 1993, game against the Islanders, Stevens knocked heads in a collision with defenseman Rich Pilon, and thudded face-first to the ice. Reconstructive surgeries left him with plates in his face and pills in his hand.
Addicted and using during his subsequent stops in Los Angeles, Boston, Manhattan, and Philadelphia, Stevens was arrested a number of times and did “six or seven” rehab stints, he said. He was jailed in 2000, when as a member of the Rangers he was arrested in Collinsville, Ill., and charged with soliciting a prostitute and possessing drug paraphernalia. He bottomed out again in 2016, when he was found by police in Braintree with 175 oxycodone pills and charged with conspiracy to sell. Stevens was fined $10,000 and ordered to give motivational speeches.
“He was supposed to do 36 talks in three years,” Wilson said. “He did it in six months, and hasn’t stopped.”
Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of opioid-related deaths in the nation. In 2018, there were 2,032 opioid-related deaths in the Commonwealth, and more than 70,000 nationally.
Admitting it sounds backward, Stevens said he felt he was in more pain when he was taking pills, the cycle of abuse spinning him more harshly. Weighing more than 300 pounds after his most recent arrest, he has steadily trimmed himself thanks to a combination of exercise, therapy, and diet.
He has more clarity today. Hopefully so, tomorrow. “When you’re running around chasing drugs, you really don’t have a purpose,” he said. “About anything. It’s a tough way to live. It’s important, a day at a time for me. Life’s pretty good.”
So many who battle drug addiction never leave rock bottom, much less have a platform to help others get out. Stevens, though his road remains rough, understands his privilege.
Forgotten Bruin made his mark
Bruins fans are forgiven if they don’t remember Kevin Dallman.
Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002 after playing juniors in OHL Guelph, the stocky, offensive-minded defenseman had a brief NHL career. Put it this way: Boston rookie Urho Vaakanainen has played in two NHL games, and he’s already 20 away from passing Dallman for most wearing Bruins sweater No. 58. Dallman, who recorded one assist for the Bruins in 2006, suited up for 154 games over three NHL seasons between Boston, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.
Rather than toil in the AHL, where he spent three full years in Providence, Dallman opted to spend his prime years in the KHL. It was a heck of a run. Dallman, who hung up his skates last week, retired as the KHL’s all-time leader among defensemen in scoring (135 goals, 395 points in 564 games) and made seven all-star teams.
He also has his Kazakhstani-Canadian dual citizenship, and took a pair of unsuccessful runs at Olympic qualification in 2013 and 2017, the latter along with fellow Canadians Nigel Dawes and briefly-a-Bruin Brandon Bochenski.
Catching up with new rules
The NHL’s freshly printed rulebook states that regulation wins, rather than regulation and overtime wins, are now the first tiebreaker for a standings deadlock. Wake me when they ditch the loser point. Catching up on a few of the other changes for 2019-20, at least two of which address situations that affected the Bruins in last year’s postseason:
■ The Krug rule: A player whose helmet comes off must either get his helmet or leave the ice “within a reasonable period of time,” i.e. after making a play on the puck. Had the rule been in place last season (and properly enforced), Krug would have been penalized for steamrolling St. Louis forward Robert Thomas in Game 1 of the Cup Final. However, Blues agitator David Perron would have drawn a minor of his own, for intentionally ripping off Krug’s bucket. That, per the new language, would be a roughing minor.
■ Video review: The NHL’s focus is goals, rather than centralized review of every potential infraction. All goals will be reviewed by the NHL’s situation room in Toronto, and play cannot resume until they have deemed it valid (ideally, this wouldn’t take long). If Toronto observes an incident involving a potential goal that was undetected by on-ice officials, it can signal for a review at the next stoppage of play.
■ Coach’s challenge: The Bruins could have used this in Columbus, after Artemi Panarin’s “puck off the netting” goal in Game 4 of the second round. Coaches, already able to challenge goalie interference and offside, can now do so for missed stoppages of play in the offensive zone that lead to goals. Additionally, challenges are not tied to timeouts remaining; all failed challenges now earn a delay of game minor, and subsequent misses earn double minors. A challenge for missed penalty calls is not in the works.
■ Other video review: All non-fighting majors, match penalties, and double minors for high-sticking will now be reviewed by on-ice officials. The referee can only confirm his call, or change it to a lesser penalty. If a four-minute high stick was called on a player who didn’t make contact, the referee can rescind that penalty. Toronto is not involved in these decisions.
■ Faceoff locations: Following an icing, the attacking team will have its choice of offensive-zone faceoff dot. After a penalty, the power-play team will have its choice of end-zone dot. The Bruins, with right-shooting Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci centering their PP1 and PP2, respectively, are likely to take all their man-up draws on the right (strong) side.
After San Jose named Logan Couture captain this past week, succeeding Joe Pavelski, seven teams entered camp without a player wearing the “C”: Carolina, Detroit, the Rangers, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Vegas. The Leafs have been without one since trading Dion Phaneuf in 2016, and while it makes sense that Auston Matthews gets it one day, no one’s giving it to him with John Tavares on the roster. Boston, which in 2006 pinned letters to Zdeno Chara and Bergeron, employs the league’s longest-serving captain and alternate . . . Those in Bruins management point to Brad Marchand as a reason why no player, no matter his pedigree, should be forever pegged as a grinder. When Marchand submitted a 36-64—100 line last season, he was 10 years into his career. Only one player in history has produced his first two 100-point seasons a decade in: Peter Mahovlich, who did it with the stacked Canadiens of the mid-’70s . . . Not buying the Rangers as a playoff team, even after adding Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and prospect Kaapo Kakko. The Devils, with Taylor Hall in a contract year and a deeper lineup, should be dancing, and not just because Hall stated this past week it’s “playoffs or bust.” . . . Happy 40th birthday Sunday to Patrick Marleau, who remains without a contract. The active leader in games (1,657), Marleau would need nearly a full season to pass Ron Francis (1,731) for fourth all time. Marleau, who had blazing speed until his late 30s, needs six goals to jump Johnny Bucyk (556) for 27th . . . Alex Ovechkin, who turns 34 Tuesday, needs about six more years of 40-plus goals to pass Wayne Gretzky (894) for No. 1 . . . All the best to Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, 24, who revealed he underwent June surgery for testicular cancer, and has made a full recovery. Early detection, as it is for so many, was the key . . . Among the attendees at the Kevin Stevens reception: Don Sweeney, Olympic hero Mike Eruzione, and always-sharp former Boston University coach Jack Parker, avidly sailing and playing tennis in retirement. Terriers and Eagles, getting along.
These days, Bruce Cassidy can afford some fine bespoke suits. In previous seasons, he didn’t always have the finest stitching. He recently recalled a story from his third game as Bruins coach, against Montreal at TD Garden. His pants split before the game, leaving him walking around the locker room in dress shirt and underwear, drawing quizzical looks from players. Stitched up and ready for puck drop, he didn’t think twice until a puck came into the bench, forcing him to bend over. He was once again feeling the breeze. “The camera wasn’t on me, so thank God,” he said. “The people directly behind the bench in the front row probably got more than they bargained for.”