The Bruins are Not a Great Team

It was an easier time growing up, for me to be a Bruins fan. Easy, meaning before the strike, before the heavily criticized (yet necessary) superstar trades, and before I realized I was the only one watching anymore. That last statement may be inaccurate, but it remains a fact that the Bruins lie in the wake of the wave that is Boston sports. There is a greatness to be upheld, and the Bruins are not a great team. It is a privilege to even reach the professional level, but wearing the Black and Gold is a transformation for a hockey player, a deep dive into expectations and history. The same could be said about any of the original six, but “Boston is a hockey town”, a critical, cynical cesspool of poisoned opinions and loud mouth, no-nothing, dosed with a pinch of tenacity and respect for the game. In the days of Adam Oates, Ted Donato, Steve Heinze, Don Sweeney and that traitor Ray Bourque (let us save this “traitor” debate for another post), along with the many other “greats” who have skated into the rafters, I was oblivious to the intricacies of how exactly winning in the NHL was accomplished. I understand now more than ever, that it takes a boring, simply conceptualized way of structuring a defense and a defensive offense, and the insulting theory that however dirty, a win is a win. It takes a realization that a team does not need to be great to achieve greatness in the NHL.

Let’s go to the 2001-02 season, coming off of two non-playoff qualifying years and with Allison and Bourque out of the picture. No assigned captain all season, but who needs one when you have two 30 goal scorers, a 40 goal scorer in Bill Guerin and the swift emergence of Samsonov and Thornton. Flash forward to the first round of the playoffs that year, Bruins are number one in the conference, and all time rivals, the Montreal Canadians sneak in with the 8th spot. Bruins lose the series 4 games to 2. That year the Detroit Red Wings, envied by Bruins fans like Russia was looked up to by the young Americans in the Olympics, finish their regular season with the best the record in hockey, and take this record into the playoffs for a no doubt Stanley cup victory. It shouldn’t have taken a “miracle” to beat the Canadians that year, but apparently this was no miraculous feat for the Canadians either. Flash forward to the 2003-04 season, similar situation, same outcome. Replace a couple players here and there, throw in current Bruin top dog Patrice Bergeron, and ride a 2nd place seeding in the conference, under eventual first place and therefore rightful Stanley cup victors the Tampa Bay Lightning, into the playoffs versus none other than the Montreal Canadians. One last element, of course, don’t forget to lose…again.

The tense, past and present, “and/or” who the hell I am actually talking to throughout this post is irrelevant, however I do hope the anger I have held, brought on by broken promises of greatness, is coming through without the usage of vulgarity and self sabotage. That being said, in this hypothetical time machine I have built, take me, for the love of a higher power, to the 2007-08 season. I have to skip talking about Dave Lewis, and I have to skip talking about getting rid of Mike Sullivan, a move I was personally more upset about than the departure of Thornton, and I have to skip talking about Joe himself. I will skip them only because they are posts within themselves, novels I could write and get published. The only thing I will say is thank you for trading Thornton, and thank you for giving us the money enough to receive with open arms the greatest example of a present-day captain in the NHL in the form of the biggest human to ever lace up skates, Zdeno Chara. Thank you also for Marc Savard. Back to the season which saved hockey for me. Coming again off of two non-playoff qualifying years, losing again to the Canadians in the first round of the playoffs, I give you the best damn season of hockey I have ever watched. I give you an extremely good team, playing under Claude Julien’s, New Jersey Devils’ style, boring, simply structured and conceptualized game plan, with no 30 goal scorers, only two 20 goal scorers including playoff hero Marco Sturm who would have never been able to push the Canadians series to a game seven had Thornton still been a Bruin, and a 30-year-old goalie. Take that resilient team, that below average 8th seed by the skin of their teeth team, that boring, offensively primitive team and send them into the following year. Again we achieve a number one seed in the conference. First time since the promise of the 2001-02 season. Give us the Canadians in the first round, on the flip side yet again as the 8th seed. Flirt with greatness, for the first time in my short-lived time as a fan, and sweep them in four games. Take that same team, that same greatness aura which they have allowed now to encompass them, and give them a shot at the cup just like the opportunities of the great teams before them like the Lightning or the infamous Red Wings…right? No. Instead, we will take a handful of elements away from what is an extremely volatile system that is Bruins hockey under Julien’s watchful eye, in the form of injuries and weary skaters, and let us lose to the 6th place Hurricanes. For the sake of the utilization of poetic devices, I will say that graphically, and literally, I have been left with a constant case of blue balls towards Bruins accomplishments, and this Hurricanes loss was no exception. Trust me on this one.

In conclusion, there is no promise of greatness, no longer a greatness expectation to be upheld by the NHL. There is Ovechkin and there is Crosby and then there are hockey towns, with hockey traditions, and the hand full of fans which follow them. Bring a cup back to Boston, and the Bruins again may have a following. Get to the cup finals and lose, and only anticipate taking a step back. Hockey does not have to be great, nor accepted by all, nor conform or sell out to through any medium of the imagination. Hockey is and will be, and we can actually step back and thank Canada for this, for something at least. I will repeat myself to end this post by saying yet again that the Bruins are not a great team, nor do they have to be to achieve greatness. In Boston, yes, there remains a craving for all local teams to win out, to be the best, however for the Bruins, they achieve this greatness quietly, blinded by the smoke and mirrors of Patriots dynasties, Red Sox nation and Celtics Pride. Blinded only enough to realize that though the hockey greatness expectation is fading, there remains a  Boston expectation to uphold, and that is there true and ultimate victory to aim for. In this, as they remain this good team under a mathematically and chemically balance structured, greatness remains within reach, only a Cup away.

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