In two short weeks, the National Hockey League will officially wrap up the 2015-16 season. Before that summer hiatus happens, the pinnacle of the treacherous grind through training camp, preseason scrimmages, 82 regular-season games, and 12 victories in the spring will come to fruition.
The San Jose Sharks and the Pittsburgh Penguins are in the midst of the Stanley Cup final, a war of attrition to see which team deserves to hoist the greatest trophy in all of sports.
Even though the Boston Bruins are not one of the two teams participating in this year’s Cup final, there are shades of Black and Gold (no, not the Pittsburgh version) all over this championship matchup. Regardless of the outcome of this series, someone who donned the Boston crest will secure his first Stanley Cup ring.
First off, there is Joe Thornton.
“Jumbo Joe,” as he is notoriously known around the league, was drafted by the B’s first overall in the 1997 NHL entry draft and went on to play seven seasons in Boston. During his time in Beantown, he accumulated 454 career points. His breakout year came during the 2002-03 campaign where he racked up 36 goals and 65 assists for 101 points.
As the 2005-06 approached, the Bruins were abysmal on the ice and a shakeup was needed. Despite signing a three-year extension as a restricted free agent in August of that year, the Bruins traded away their three-year captain and franchise player to the Sharks on November 30. The Sharks were a team that was also near the bottom of their respective conference, so the two sides were in desperate need of a major overhaul.
The Bruins received Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart, and Wayne Primeau in return for Thornton. Even though Stuart and Primeau were later turned over in the deal that brought Andrew Ference to Boston from the Calgary Flames (a move that eventually helped the B’s win the Stanley Cup in 2011), Sturm had a respectable career as a Bruin. The German-born winger recorded 193 points in 302 games for the Bruins. Arguably, he will go down in Boston sports history for that epic game-winning goal he scored in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2010 Winter Classic.
As for Thornton, a change of scenery was necessary for him at the time of the trade. After 18 years in the league, he has finally made it to the Stanley Cup finals. This postseason, the 6’4” center has three goals and 15 assists for 18 points, which ranks him fifth among active players. He may not be captain material, but he is still a leader in a veteran locker room over there in San Jose. It is tough to say “what if?” when it comes to the Thornton trade. If the Bruins held onto him, they may not have had the chance to land Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard in free agency during the 2006-07 offseason. Plus, Thornton has never come close to reaching hockey’s greatest prize until now.
As former B’s general manager Mike O’Connell so eloquently put it, he would do that trade again. He got what he wanted; O’Connell got to see the Bruins hoist the Cup before the Sharks.
Sticking with this current San Jose roster, the goaltender was also a Bruin…for only three full days.
Martin Jones was acquired by Boston in the deal that sent Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings. The trade also gave the Bruins the 13th overall pick in last year’s draft as well as defenseman Colin Miller. Shortly thereafter, the Sharks traded for him and signed him to a three-year deal to avoid restricted free agency.
Jones, 26, has put together an incredible run in net for San Jose. In 19 playoff games, he has recorded a 2.17 GAA, a .919 SV %, and three shutouts for a 12-7-3 record. For a guy who backed up Jonathan Quick for two seasons in L.A., Jones was ready for this role. Some fans in Boston questioned whether upper management traded away the wrong goaltender last June.
Now, let’s take a look at the other side of this unique situation.
Does anyone remember those ear-piercing chants that used to echo the confines of the TD Garden not too many years ago?
Phil Kessel was a prolific goal scorer when he was a member of the Bruins. In his final season with the team (2008-09), he posted 36 goals and 24 assists for 60 points. It looked like he was going to be a staple on that top line for the next decade.
However, his alleged friction with B’s head coach Claude Julien, his bad off-ice regiments, and his posh attitude forced the B’s to make another franchise-altering trade. Kessel was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for two first-round picks and a second-round pick.
As we all remember, those two picks in the first round resulted in Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. The situation with Seguin was an interesting one because he did have some good years here, but was not really able to thrive under Julien. Just look at what he has done down in Dallas over the last couple of seasons.
If Loui Eriksson walks away this summer in free agency, the only thing left over from the trade with the Stars will be Joe Morrow.
Not good. Bad return.
As for Hamilton, it is still too early to make a judgment on him since he only spent one year as a Flame so far. According to the rumors that were circulating around the room, it did not sound like that he would have lasted very long in Boston anyway.
In the grand scheme of things, the Bruins won the Kessel trade with Toronto. The draft picks just did not turn out the way that they had hoped. The B’s did not necessarily strike out with the draft picks, but they kept fouling off pitch after pitch until the ball was popped up and caught by the catcher. Please excuse the baseball reference.
Although minor in nature, but the Penguins have a couple of homegrown players on their playoff roster. Brian Dumoulin played for the Boston College Eagles and has become a solid defensive option for Pittsburgh this postseason. Also, Conor Sheary grew up in Melrose, MA and he played his college hockey at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Who did he record his first-career NHL goal against? Tuukka Rask. You cannot make this stuff up.
As you can you, there are ties to the Bruins and to the city of Boston itself all over this final matchup. It will be interesting to see just how invested local fans will be as this series progresses. So, Bruins fans, who do you want to see hoist the Stanley Cup? Whomever it is, he was once skating for your team.