By Joe Haggerty
OTTAWA Theres a simple mandate for this Boston Bruins team.
The promise has been weighing them down since they shriveled up like the old"Shrinky Dinks" toysagainst the Philadelphia Flyers last spring, and it greeted them this fall with higher pressure and farless tolerance for mediocrity.
Some Bs players have noticed and commented privately that the pressure on the team seems more concentrated and unwavering this season than ever before, and theres a golden reason for that.
The Black and Gold have made it to the Stanley Cup semi-finals two years running, havent advanced beyond that second round of the postseason since way back in the rookie season ofTed Donato in1992 and havent won a Stanley Cup since way back in the pre-Hacks with Haggs year of 1972. To put that in perspective, Donato has been retired for five years and is the head hockey coach at Harvard University -- so it's accurate to say it's been a hell of a long time since the Bruins have done anything significant during Lord Stanley's tournament.
Stuff needed to change significantly this year for the Bruins, or things aregoing to start getting awfully uncomfortable for coaches, managers and players that just cant seem to get over the hump in Boston -- a place where "getting over the hump" has become child's play.
Credit Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli for stepping up strongly and announcing with actions rather than the truculent, hollow bluster preferred by others among hisNHL brethren that he waswilling to provide his hockey team with exactly what they requiredown the stretch this season.
The Bs needed TomasKaberle to elevate a sagging power play sputteringat an 18 percent success rate, and now they have him. Two years ago Chiarelli hit a bullseye with a dealfor Mark Recchi and a draft pick thats still benefitting the Bs long after former Bs prospects Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff are done with the Tampa Bay Lightning -- andout of hockey.
But that same year Chiarelli missed a chance for a better defenseman after settling for depth D-man Steve Montador who was a good player, but wasnt skilledenough to stepupfor the Bs once injuries hit their defensemen group and knocked down both Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick. A year ago the B'strade for Dennis Seidenberg looked like it was going to help strengthen their blueline in time for the postseason, but the team lost him to injury before the playoffs.Last year's Bruins alsonever truly found the scoring up front among group of forwards simply didnt have the right stuff, and that also goes on Chiarelli's trade deadline watch.
Neither of those teams had the right combo of personnel, and Chiarelli didnt quite go for broke in either scenario with big names potentially available each of those past two years. There was probably a sense particularly last summer -- that the Bruins general manager didn't have a killer instinct during the trading season, and perhaps lacked the willingness to overpay for a potential championship run.After the team's moves this week, Chiarelli and the Bruins are going for it this season, and leaving no doubt about it with their bold moves more than a week before the Feb. 28 deadline.
They want to go for it. The Bruins front office really want to do it. These trades mean that theyre giving us every opportunity, and that means its essentially up to us to go out there and do it, said Recchi, who has a pair of Stanley Cups on his resume among his 20 plus seasons of NHL experience and knows what it takes in an NHL dressing room. Were still working at consistency and working for 60 minutes. Its a process and we want to be going full steam ahead for the playoffs."
The Bruins paid a heavy future price in their 2011 first round draft pick, former first round selection Jumbo Joe Colborne and a conditional second round pick if the team A) signs Kaberle to a contract extension or B) gets to the Stanley Cup Finals this season.
Theres plenty of argument about the actual real value of the package sent in the form of a 6-foot-6 NCAA center trying to shed the tag that he doesnt play close to his massive size, and a first round pick that could be as low as the 25th selection in the first round. One thing that can't be denied: the immediate "Kaberle Effect" on the power play that helped set up a key Dennis Seidenberg goal in the third period of Friday night's 4-2 victory over Ottawa.
It brings more confidence into everybody to have a guy like Kaberle in our lineup, said Chara, who is going to get his fair share of goals blasting away from the right point. With him in there you know hes going to make plays and have some confidence, and that gives everybody else confidence.
Weve tried to make those moves in the last few years. It shows commitment and belief that we have in all of our players.
Theres little argument that securing Kaberle and to a lesser extent Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly makes the Bruins a serious, speedy threat for aStanley Cup in the wide open Eastern Conference. The Penguins are beset with injuries to their superstars, the Capitals are still undisciplined andbeatable, and the Flyers are relying on inexperienced rookie goaltending.Slotting Kaberle at the left point and Zdeno Chara on the right point has the makings of a special power play combo, and that's the kind of efficient, consistent power play production that the Bruins will need on a long run through the tough and tumble Eastern Conference.
The Bruins could afford to part with a young, unknown center given their surplus of pivots (Bergeron, Krejci, Campbell, Seguin, Kelly, Peverley, Savard), and the fact they still own Torontos No. 1 pick from the Phil Kessel deal that once again seems like itll be a Top Five pick.
But no matter how bare one potentially views Bostons cupboard of prospects orpicks after a slight overpayment to the Maple Leafs, theres always somerisk in sending talented young players and unknown draft choices in exchange for a veteran rental player for the durationof the current season.Kaberle is in the last year of a five-year contract he signed with the Maple Leafs, and both sides indicated some level of willingness to discuss contract extensions at a later date. The deal will essentially be judged by how Boston fares the rest of the season, and whether Chiarelli can lock up Kaberle long term over the summer. The B's have needed a puck-moving defensemen and power play specialist since Sergei Gonchar left town before the NHL lockout, and Kaberle is that guy.His 157 power play assists over the last six years rank him third in the NHL behind only Joe Thornton and Sidney Crosby, and that tells anyone all they need to know.
Chiarelli said he viewed this season in much the same way he approached the Dennis Seidenberg trade a year ago a player that could help the Bruins in the short term as a midseason acquisition, and could also potentially be contract extension material if a mutual fit existed on both sides. The next two months give a good window for both player and team to make some determinations.
Much the way Seidenberg evolved into a good fit in the Boston dressing room from a player and personality standpoint, now the Bruins and Kaberle both get to try each other on for the next three months. It was pretty clear what happened on the ice: during the first four power play in Friday nights 4-2 win the Senators were draped all over them.But the fifth PP showed off Kaberle's ability to distribute the puck, and eventually it earned Seidenberga power play goal on a nifty open look at the Senators net.
Its important. I looked upon this trade as we looked upon the Dennis Seidenberg trade, like hes a guy that we want to resign. It gives you, having the time you acquire him to the time you sign him, it gives you the flavor of how the player fits in with the group, said Chiarelli. And of course there is a chance we wont resign him but I want to resign him. We want to resign him. "Ive had some brief conversations with Rich Curran, his agent, and nothing is forthcoming and nothing will be forthcoming until after the season. But Ive had a good history with Rick Curran and Orr Hockey Group and weve had a good history. I think it would be smooth sailing to sign him when it comes to that time. So its an important part of this deal because we are giving up significant assets.
Most important of all, the Bruins players truly believe that management has made an unmistakable push with the right kind of players, and that unifying thought is that its Stanley Cupor bust this season in Boston.B's management has done everything possible to improvea team with some weaknesses, and now it's up to the remaining players to make good on it.
Chiarelli and the Bruins have gone all in on their hand this season, and now its time to see how good they can possibly be.