Power play? Check.
A way to beat the trap? Check.
A little buzz restored in the Hub of Hockey? Check.
The Bruins broke their stand-pat ways yesterday with a bang, acquiring the widely-sought Sergei Gonchar from the Washington Capitals in a move that has the potential -- if not the inherent expectation -- to return the Black and Gold to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
Gonchar, who will turn 30 next month, leads NHL defensemen in points this season (7-42--49 in 56 games) and will be in uniform tonight when the Bruins face the Rangers on Causeway Street. In return, the Bruins sent former first-round pick Shaone Morrisonn to the Capitals, along with the first- and second-round pick in this June's draft, as Washington continues to strip payroll from its roster the way Bob Vila would rip into the yellowed wallpaper of an aged Victorian two-family.
"It's kind of keeping up with the Joneses, because other teams have been doing things, too," noted veteran Mike Knuble. "But we just got a big piece of the puzzle."
Gonchar's heavy shot and deft mobility at the point should give the Bruins real presence on the power play, something they've dearly lacked since March 6, 2000, the day Hall of Famer-to-be Ray Bourque was dished to Colorado. A strong, fast skater, Gonchar also provides the kind of speed and skill that should help the Bruins break through menacing trap defenses, an all-important factor in the Eastern Conference, where the trappist wonk New Jersey Devils reign as the defending Cup champs.
"I think you'll see him out there a lot with Joe's line," said forward Brian Rolston, referring to the Joe Thornton-Glen Murray-Knuble trio. "It will give us that speed through the neutral zone -- a trap-buster, I guess you could call him."
Gonchar, reached in Washington yesterday afternoon, had reservations on an evening flight to Boston. He will wear No. 55, the same number he wore for the Capitals, and the newest Bruin said he was relieved to have his trade finalized.
"The last two or three weeks have been tough on my family," said Gonchar, who entered the season with 102 goals the last five seasons, tops among NHL defensemen. "After all the rumors, I'm glad everything is behind me. I just want to move on now, and play hockey for Boston -- a great city and a great hockey town."
Pressure on Boston general manager Mike O'Connell ratcheted up a little more Tuesday night when the Montreal Canadiens, a surprising survivalist in the East this season, plucked skilled winger Alexei Kovalev from amid the Ranger ruins. As the Tuesday trading deadline approaches, many of the Eastern powers have augmented their lineups with high-end talent, especially the Senators (Peter Bondra from Washington) and the Flyers (Sean Burke from Phoenix; Alexei Zhamnov from Chicago).
The Maple Leafs, who rubbed out the Bruins, 3-2, Tuesday night, also were actively in pursuit of Gonchar. But O'Connell, making his boldest move since assuming the GM role four years ago, was able to outbid the Leafs with a package that included the 21-year-old Morrisonn, and the two picks that likely will be slotted somewhere around Nos. 24-28 and 54-58.
"We're glad we got it done," said O'Connell, who felt he could surrender Morrisonn (picked No. 19 overall in '01) because the club holds the rights to what it believes is a rich crop of young defensemen sprinkled throughout the minors, college hockey, and Europe. "We think Sergei will be everything and more that he was in Washington. We feel we have a fairly cohesive unit right now."
Few deals in recent Bruins history can equal the Gonchar trade for its immediate wow factor. In some ways it parallels the March 1994 deal, also with Washington, in which the Bruins sent 100-point scorer Joe Juneau to the Capitals for Al "The Planet" Iafrate. Gonchar's presence -- and potential impact -- also mirrors that of Bill Guerin, the ex-Boston College winger whom the Bruins obtained in a swap with the Oilers, only to lose him less than two years later to Dallas via free agency.
The wow factor, detected immediately on radio talk shows late yesterday morning and through the afternoon, was present in the club's dressing room following an early-afternoon skate. As Morrisonn collected his skates and sticks, hurriedly parting without a final word with his teammates, the rest of the Black and Gold skated around the Vault with what looked to be a decided jump in their steps.
"Obviously, anytime you gain the leading scorer among defensemen in the NHL, you're going to improve," said rookie goalie sensation Andrew Raycroft. "[Morrisonn] is young, and he's going to improve. But to get veteran leadership and scoring on the back end, it's huge.
"Management did its job. Now it's up to us."
For his part, O'Connell downplayed the wow factor.
"No, I wish," said O'Connell, asked if he felt a surge of energy and excitement after consummating the deal following roughly 10 days of what at times were intense negotiations. "I guess that's the training that comes from playing, you're always thinking, `OK, what's next?' And that's whether you win or lose. Hopefully, at the end of June, there will be a real wow factor here."
Gonchar, who will cost the Bruins the balance of his $3.65 million deal ($700,000-plus) for this season, is arbitration-eligible as a Group 2 (high compensation) free agent as of July 1. O'Connell said he would like to sign him to an extension, but neither the Bruins nor Gonchar have yet broached the subject of a new deal.
"To be honest," said Gonchar, "I haven't been thinking that far ahead. There have been so many rumors going around lately, so much circulating, all I've wondered is where would I end up. I'm just happy it's behind me now and I'm going to play for a good team -- we have the summer to decide about next year."
Because of his high offensive numbers, Gonchar likely could double his money on a one- or two-year deal in arbitration, if he opted not to negotiate a conventional extension. After giving up Morrisonn and the two picks, the Bruins wouldn't be likely to repeat history and walk away from the award, as they did when faced with the sums bestowed upon Dmitri Khristich and Bryan Berard. They would keep him at the arbitrator's price, or trade him to a club willing to fork over $6 million or more for a season or two.
Gonchar, who has logged an eye-popping 27 minutes 47 seconds in average ice time this season, no doubt will have his presence felt most on the power play, where the Bruins have struggled most of the season. The power play has been their dysfunction junction; the Bruins are ranked 15th as of yesterday morning. They have been blanked in seven of the last 10 games, going 3 for 29. They have been held without a power-play goal in 36 of 67 games -- numbers that did not bode well with the postseason fast approaching.
"You look at my game the last two years, and this year, I passed it a lot more," said Gonchar, asked if he felt he would be more a shooter or a passer at the point here. "But I like to mix it up, and that depends on what we're doing with the power play, overall. I think Boston got me for whatever I am. I guess they know what I can do, and I don't think they're going to try to change me. Hopefully, it's going to be good for everyone."