Joe had to go
The big mistake was making him the captain in the first place.
Joe Thornton is a wondrous passer, a phenomenal catalyst for scoring, a likely member of the 2006 Canadian Olympic team, and an offensive force with which many, many teams will have trouble for a good number of years to come.
But he was not a great leader.
This doesnít make him a bad guy, but it made him the wrong guy to give direction to a team that desperately has been seeking it.
One of the two images of Thornton that stick out in my mind for his final seasonís work with the Bruins is generic, one is specific. The generic is the one that made the Bís the most prolific-scoring 5-on-3 team in the league: Thornton, setting up in the right wing circle with the puck on his forehand, ready to thread a perfect pass to someone crashing on the far side Ė Bergeron, Leetch, or Murray cocked and ready to fire. The specific image is that of Thornton burying a Maple Leaf with a check behind the Boston goal line on the night before Thanksgiving.
There was too much desire to dangle as in the former, not enough desire to lay the lumber like the latter.
Professional athletes have seen it all twice. They have heard all the talk while they have walked the walk. It is my experience that professional athletes respond only to one thing: action. Now, taking nothing away from Thorntonís finesse, itís hard to get all fired up about a pretty pass. What put a charge into the Bís this season was when Thornton would make one of his rare bull rushes a la Erik Cole or blasted the body on someone in the wrong color sweater. To hell with subtlety. Itís bashing bodies that gets teammatesí attention.
Was Joe accountable as captain, and did he insist on his teammatesí accountability? What players say in the room will stay in the room for the most part, so as non-players we never will really know Ė but it sure seemed as if there were a few riders in the early part of this season that never got called out by the captain.
Maybe Thornton didnít feel comfortable doing that. Okay, again, it doesnít make him a bad person Ė but it does make him an ineffective leader. I wish him luck in San Jose, and -- where he will not have to bear the burden of personal leadership Ė he may have some fantastic years there.
Coming here are three fabulous skaters: As a play-by-play commentator for ESPNís NHL coverage for five years, I was principally assigned to the Pacific Division. I got a lot of looks at the three players coming to Boston. Brad Stuart is the real deal. Stuart can move his body and move the puck Ė the two things the Bruins have needed most on the blue line. He has a ton of NHL experience (377 games) and heís only 26. An excellent passer, he will immediately improve the Bruinsí situation when heís on the ice. Will he make the occasional mistake in the Bruinsí defensive zone? Yes, but who better to offer advice to a still-improving defenseman than the Bís newest part-time coach, Ray Bourque?
Marco Sturm has scored more than 20 goals in each of his last three seasons. He is Samsonov-quick and a pest of a penalty-killer. He creates a paradoxical situation in perception, as he creates so many opportunities that some feel he should have better numbers. If he does what he HAS done for San Jose, Boston fans should be happy.
And that brings us to Wayne Primeau. Some lead, others follow. This guy leads. Primeau never has scored ten goals in an NHL season. He isnít flashy, he wonít win any Homecoming King contests, but he goes into every conflict chin-first and hates, hates, HATES losing. If you knock him down, youíd better be ready to knock him down again because Primeau is going to do everything in his power to get up. He is quality depth, a guy who is proud to bring his lunch bucket to Boston.
Gone is a great passer, a rotisserie favorite, and a nice guy.
Here, now, are three former first-round draft picks, an extra $1.5 million dollars of cap room (you donít think Mr. Jacobs and OíC are satisfied, do you?), and a helluva lot more re-engineered-by-recent-transactions grit (for reference: see Rangers, New York).
This season is still in peril, and this is the most dramatic trade since Espo. But before reflexivly condemning it (check out Canadian sports websites Ė woo!), people ought to review some game tapes and ask themselves where the ACTION was that was going to lead professional athletes, to inspire them, to make them accountable if they didnít give every ounce on every shift.
Bruins fans should give this deal a good long look before casting any criticism because what we have here is a change in policy. It says hating losing is more important than keeping a star who just wasnít a leader.