Thursday, December 01, 2005


You never get a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression

Maybe a reader can help me with this: in the aftermath of the Joe Thornton trade, I'm having flashbacks. Seven or eight years ago I watched a documentary (or long set piece), probably on the CBC, that was kind of a "behind the scenes" dealy on the 1997 Bruins training camp. Thornton and Sergei Samsonov were both newly-drafted 18-year-olds.

As you may recall, there was a period of maybe two years there where the only reason Bruins management wasn't savaged for wasting a #1 overall pick on a flop like Joe Thornton was that they had drafted Samsonov #8 overall; he had a terrific rookie year, won the Calder, and generally looked like the next Pavel Bure.

Anyway, the camera was with Bruins management in the stands, watching practice. Mike O'Connell was Asst. GM at the time, and he was absolutely ripping Thornton. This guy doesn't look like he knows how to play... clueless... show some heart...etc. etc. Anyone else remember this? I guess Joe never really convinced O'Connell otherwise. A few more thoughts:

- In yesterday's post, I called Thornton a Top 5 NHL forward. I think I might have been stretching it a bit, but not by much. Which forwards in the NHL today would you clearly rather have than Thornton? If you keep it to the under-30 set, I'd say Iginla, Kovalchuk, Lecavalier, Nash, and Heatley. You could add Crosby and Ovechkin too, if you like. Roughly equal worth, I'd add Brad Richards and Marleau, although they haven't shown the offensive abilities that Joe has. There's a few over-30 players who are his equal or better as well, but it's tough to say you'd rather have Forsberg or Alfredsson when they're 6 years older, at least from a GM perspective.

- Yeah, it's a terrible trade, but that doesn't mean the Bruins are doomed. Teams are successful for all sorts of crazy and unpredictable reasons. Even if Sturm and Stuart aren't any better than advertised, the Bruins might end up being good again. Last season, Thornton had a sub-par offensive year, and Boston had 104 points. In September 2003, the Flames were 85-1 to win the Cup, and came within one game (or half an inch, depending on your perspective) of paying off. We hockey fans like to think we know what we're talking about, but we most certainly do not.

- The Sharks still have a tough row to hoe if they're going to make the playoffs this year. Statistically, they have to play like a Top-4 conference team the rest of the way if they're going to squeak in. That's certainly possible, but it's tough. Last season, they had a brutal start too: through 19 games, they were 3-6-8-2 (here's an SI piece from Dec.7/03 that doesn't have them projected in a playoff spot). Then in their last 63 games, they went 40-15-4-4.

I doubt they'll do it again, but I don't know. What I do know is if they do squeeze into the playoffs, I don't want to play them in the 1st round.


(Just for the record, Matt is terrified of a Flames vs. Thornton matchup because it would represent a final showdown between the authors of the '04 playoffs' two biggest choke jobs.)

I was thinking of exactly that part of the doc myself (The New Ice Age: A Year In The Life of the NHL)

They were talking of Thornton as a total bust, he wasn't ready for the big leagues etc, while Samsonov was going to be the next big star.

Ironically, in the years following the doc, Thornton surged ahead of Samsonov only to be sent packing in last night's deal.

Thanks Jardine! I knew I wasn't imagining that whole thing. And I'm positive that it was O'Connell who was the most vicious.

I just left this comment over at 'Hockey Rants'
"You are right about it not making any sense, and sometimes you have to chalk something like this up to 'bad chemistry'. Not that there is anything wrong with Thornton, or his leadership, but sometimes too many leaders in the nest is a coaches worst nightmare. The only winner here is the W. Conference. I always felt that Thornton was being wasted playing right coast hockey."

Frankly, they should split the league into the NHL and Right Coast Hockey, Inc.

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