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MICHAEL HOLLEY

Smooth move under pressure

Go ahead, Mike O'Connell. Gloat a little. It may not be your style, but there's nothing wrong with walking into a bar and raising a toast to yourself. You have to remember that being Mike O'Connell is not such a bad thing after all.

After the necessary and smart trade you just made for Sergei Gonchar, you should direct-dial the boss -- before the drink -- and remind him of his gloomy, pre-Christmas commentary. Ten weeks ago, Jeremy Jacobs was saying, "I wouldn't want to be Mike O'Connell right now." The Bruins were sliding, Jacobs was saying he couldn't be more displeased, and the owner was even suggesting that the downhill slope was actually a sequel to Robbie Ftorek's worst days.

Other than that, Jacobs was thrilled with the job his general manager was doing.

Seriously, O'Connell probably knows he can be taken off the hook now. He is no longer the office punching bag. He didn't turn into a reactionary when Jacobs essentially placed a spotlight on him and told him to start singing.

The irony is that Boston's GM was in an unfamiliar position yesterday. Bruins fans have long complained that their organization is not the kind of date known for picking up the check. But it was the Capitals who were cutting payroll this time, and the Bruins were there to grab the league's best offensive defenseman and his $3.65 million salary.

Of course, we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves. Gonchar is eligible for arbitration next season, and he could easily become a $6 million-to-$8 million player. If he remains a Bruin under those conditions, then Jacobs's team really will have made itself over philosophically.

For now, O'Connell has built a team that is capable of winning a few rounds in the playoffs. Maybe this is not the move that makes the Bruins the favorites to win 16 postseason games, but it's certainly realistic to expect 12. The Bruins have won just one playoff series in the last nine years. Before yesterday's deal, that drought was likely to continue. Boston is one of the NHL's worst teams on the power play, and the 29-year-old Gonchar immediately helps in that area.

With any trade, there is always a quibble or two. In this case, the only nitpick is that the Bruins might have given up more than they needed to. Capitals GM George McPhee acknowledged that the market was limited and a lot of teams couldn't give them what they wanted. The Bruins wound up sending Shaone Morrisonn and 2004 first- and second-round picks to Washington.

If O'Connell had leaned more heavily on the suddenly cheap Capitals, he probably could have acquired Gonchar for Morrisonn and a $100 gift certificate to the Capital Grille. He still didn't give up a whole lot, considering what he got in return.

I realize it's often difficult to say nice things about the Bruins, especially when they get into their disposable, Las Vegas marriage mode with their coaches. Sometimes it seems that "fire the coach" is permanently sketched on their June calendars. But if you view the organization objectively, you have to acknowledge that a few annoying things have changed.

O'Connell didn't just pick up a skilled defenseman with 42 assists yesterday. He took a win-now mentality and landed an above-average player. The last time the Bruins made a comparable move, they wound up with Bill Guerin.

The GM clearly is not the bragging type, but if he were he could argue that his smart streak didn't just pop up in the previous 24 to 48 hours.

Remember all the gnashing about the goaltending in the offseason? O'Connell was confident Andrew Raycroft and Felix Potvin would be more than sufficient. He was confident that he didn't need to call one of his old teams, Detroit, and try to make a deal for Curtis Joseph.

He was right.

Raycroft is not Martin Brodeur, and he may not be Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Those who have watched him this season understand that he is a legitimate goalie, and he is a goalie whom the Bruins developed. Not that being better than Byron Dafoe makes one Ken Dryden, but would you rather have Raycroft than Dafoe (or Jeff Hackett)? I would.

And although O'Connell should be good at selecting coaches by now -- he went through Pat Burns, Mike Keenan, and Ftorek before finally handing off to Mike Sullivan -- he did make the correct call by hiring Sullivan. The current coach of the Bruins is young enough to relate to today's players, intelligent enough to know that he can't be their buddy, and experienced enough to know what pro hockey fans in New England want.

They want to see a well-coached team that has a chance to win a championship. They want to see an astute management team that makes the proper deals, and they want that team to be backed by an owner who truly wants to win.

After years of being perceived as a western New York recluse, Jacobs is now the star of "Look Who's Talking." He obviously spent some of his talking time taking cryptic shots at his GM but, hey, that's a lot more than he said in the old days. Jacobs did, presumably, sign off on the deal that brought a talented and well-paid player to town. That's progress, too.

The owner's words from December look kind of funny in the March light. He said then that he wouldn't want to be O'Connell. If he said it today, there would be confusion. What kind of guy doesn't want to be Mike O'Connell? That's the question.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is holley@globe.com.

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