Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Perception vs Reality

The Bruins took a beating for trading the Hart Trophy winner, Joe Thornton. Oh, did they ever...scores of people who hadn't watched a hockey game in 10 years were lamenting the loss of the great, unique, amazing Thornton who had led the Bruins to such great heights. What would they do without Joe? The franchise is doomed! I'll never watch them again! They are dead to me!

These people, for the most part, couldn't tell you three specific things about Thornton's game...and many conveniently forgot that he certainly had some serious flaws. I'll be the first to admit that he's an excellent passer, that he's nearly impossible to move from the back of the net, that he has a tremendous power-play pedigree. I will also remind you that he doesn't shoot the puck, that he takes dumb penalties and that his game is remarkably easy to shadow with an aggressive checking line in a playoff series. I also know this: that this was the Bruins' Scott Kazmir moment...but less destructive.

Hardcore Mets fans are convinced, for better or worse, that the Kazmir trade was necessary. It woke up the Wilpons from a string of terrible decisions and opened their eyes. They brought in Omar Minaya and expected better baseball decisions...and they were rewarded with countless smart, aggressive baseball decisions ever since. They are now in a position to have extended success for the foreseeable future. All because they botched a trade so bad that it made everyone's head spin.

The Bruins situation is eerily similar, albeit not quite as bad for two reasons: 1) Sturm, Stuart and Primeau are actually servicable hockey players and b) most importantly (I've been harping on this since the trade actually happened), there is a hard cap in the NHL. The Thornton trade, like the Kazmir trade, woke up the Jacobs family, finally forced Harry Sinden and his Brigade out of the front office and brought in a regime, through Peter Chiarelli, that is setting out to make calculated, aggressive hockey decisions. Sounds obvious, but I'm conviced Mike O'Connell ran his team by searching Google for online forums like "We Love Enforcers Who Can't Skate Well", "The Draft Isn't That Important" and "If NHL '94 Doesn't Need More Than One Scoring Line, Than Neither Do We".
In the Mets case, they could have afforded Kazmir forever, so the only benefit was that it shook things up...but in the case of the Bruins, they received the Kazmir-induced shake-up, the booty from the Thornton trade (three servicable players)...and tons of cap room. Luckily, Chiarelli, with help from Jeff Gorton et al, delivered, producing two studs: Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. Chara is certainly a freak of nature who is a very solid defensemen (with flaws, I may add, but still very good) but Savard...he's the reason I write this song....he's virtually Joe Thornton without the pedigree, attention and reputation. Check this out:

2006-2007 - Regular Season - Points - TOTAL POINTS

11 MARC SAVARD C BOS 31 games 11 G 30 A 41 P
15 JOE THORNTON C SJS 34 games 9 G 30 A 39 P
20 PATRICE BERGERON C BOS 31 games 10 G 27 A 37 P

Interesting...first of all the franchise-killing decision has, in 12 short months, been somewhat resolved. Second, the Bruins have two centers in the Top 20 in scoring. They are very much in the mix for the playoffs. They've been very competitive since everything settled down in October. All the panic and doomsday scenarios, when you take a step back, were a tad overplayed. Briefly, the Phil Kessel testicular cancer thing seems to be, thankfully, a managable situation. If he's okay physically and mentally, he's going to be amazing...he has top notch hands and wheels, but cancer is obviously unpredictable.
All in all, I'm enjoying the Bruins. For those who swore them off, just want to let you know that there's actually been a regime change...not sure if you noticed. Yes, the crowds at the TD are currently pathetic and it's going to take a little while to fix that, but in the end there is in fact a hockey team in Boston and we could be watching some late spring hockey very soon.


Clarke said...

Very, very well said.

Machon said...

Agreed, right on target. The games have been very exciting to watch as well. Fast paced, great puck movement, nice goals, and a team that is not pushed around very easily makes the games very enjoyable. Heck, even Tim Thomas and his frantic goaltending style can be thrilling at times.

Clarke said...

For the record, here's part of what I wrote about the Thornton trade right after it happened...

But here’s the thing…this trade, because of its large scope, could end up being a blessing in disguise. If this thing blows up, and there’s a good chance it might, it’s got to come down hard on O’Connell and the front office. This one’s totally on them. And if that causes heads to roll and some changes to be made, so be it.

See, I’m of the opinion that this team was going nowhere from day one. There hasn’t been one day since the lockout ended when I felt they were a legit Cup contender. Unfortunately, that’s been the case too often in the last 10-15 years. And what’s been the one constant over that time? The management. The players come and go. Coaches come and go. But the same group of people keep calling the shots and the franchise just keeps spinning its wheels.

I wouldn’t trust their long term vision even if Joe was still here. I certainly don’t trust it with him being traded away. And that’s the problem.

Hadley said...

Good call!

Clarke said...

I was wrong about a few things too. For example, I thought Wayne Primeau was a worthless throw-in and that was a little harsh in retrospect. But the overall sentiment was largely the same as the one in your post and stands up to the test of time. People who were making that trade out to be then end of the world weren't seeing the big picture.