The Bruins team you'll see in 2004-05, provided there is a season, is well on its way to being vastly different than last year's edition. Forward Mike Knuble, a top-line player, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers as an unrestricted free agent Saturday. Free agent defenseman Sean O'Donnell, who was one of the steadiest contributors and a leader on the team the last three seasons, signed a three-year, $6-million deal with the Phoenix Coyotes yesterday.
The club's top right wing -- Glen Murray -- appears close to signing with a new team, reportedly Detroit. But don't expect captain Joe Thornton to be going anywhere. A column by Larry Brooks in Sunday's New York Post said Thornton, a restricted free agent, wants out of town.
However, general manager Mike O'Connell -- who spoke to Thornton and his agent, J.P. Barry, yesterday -- got no indication that Thornton is disgruntled. The GM had lunch with Thornton and defenseman Nick Boynton June 10 in Toronto prior to the NHL awards ceremony and met with Barry at the NHL draft, saying all seemed well. O'Connell contacted both regarding the story in the Post and came away believing there is no discord.
"I read the article [yesterday] morning," said O'Connell. "Someone told me about it. I called Larry [Brooks] and I told him, `I don't know where you got this,' and he said he got it from very reliable sources. But I spoke with Joe in Toronto at the awards dinner. Never did he mention anything to that effect to me. I met with his agent at the NHL draft and never was it brought up that he wanted to be traded. It's all news to me."
O'Connell said that didn't change in the conversations he had with Thornton and Barry yesterday.
"I didn't get anything from them that I didn't get earlier," he said.
The Post story said Thornton, who was playing with a rib injury in the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens, was unhappy he wasn't supported more by management. O'Connell doesn't see how that could be true.
"Larry's comments say we didn't support [Thornton]," said O'Connell. "I think if you look at what we said about Joe, I don't think there's any doubt that we realized he was hurt. I remember sitting in the press conference [two days after the Bruins were eliminated in seven games] saying Joe was definitely hurt."
O'Connell also didn't get any indication that Thornton was upset by the number of players the Bruins were willing to part with to free agency. The loss of Knuble and possibly Murray means Thornton will be getting new linemates.
"I tried to sign Knuble," said O'Connell. "Murray was looking for $30 million for five years. That's too high for us."
O'Donnell said he enjoyed his time in Boston but was thrilled to join Phoenix.
"This was where I wanted to come," said O'Donnell, who played 61 games for the Phoenix Roadrunners of the International Hockey League in 1994-95. "I like the city, I like the team, it's close to LA [where his wife, Allison, works as an actress] and we have a good, young nucleus. There's an opportunity to play a lot."
With the league counting down to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement Sept. 15, there are more questions than answers regarding who will be wearing the black and gold.
"I am very concerned about how to proceed," said O'Connell, when asked if he is worried about the roster when all is said and done. "I think a lot of teams are because of the labor issue. Right now, we're still dealing in today's dollars. When the new deal comes in, we'll be dealing in tomorrow's dollars and I don't know how they work together.
"[Other teams] see it the way they want to see it and they do business the way they see fit, but based on the knowledge I have and what we've heard -- what we've all heard -- I'm not prepared to do that because of the pending labor situation. We've said it for the last two years, even the last three years."
O'Connell isn't sour on the idea of bringing in free agents but the labor situation has handcuffed teams committed to holding the line in terms of escalating salaries.
"We're going to look at [the market], but this is the first time this has happened, something so serious," he said. "I've never experienced this before and I'm waiting to see how it all plays out. If you look at the team that won the Stanley Cup [Tampa Bay], there were four or five skill players on that team, one of whom was the goalie. We have four or five skill players on our team right now, one of them being the goalie.
"How we fill in those spots is going to be the key [as well as] when we fill them in. Hockey's in a tough spot right now. It's a great sport, but there's a labor issue that has to be rectified for the health of the sport going forward. Hopefully, we'll get it squared away and we'll never have to deal with something like this again."