Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lighting a memorial candle

(NOTE: since this article was written, Doobie has gone solo and left Ghosts of the Garden. For more wit and drastic overuse of metaphors, he can be found over at The Spoked B)

I remember June 21, 1997 well.

My girlfriend at the time had taken me for a mini-vacation in Wilmington, Delaware. As vacations go...well...lets face it, Wilmington sucks. But it was the home of the Wilmington Blue Rocks, a minor league affiliate of my favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals (yes, I *am *sadistic). I don't recall the game that day too well, but I do recall coming back to our hotel room that night and turning on ESPN to get the news about that day's NHL draft.

It was true...the Bruins had done the expected and taken the doe-eyed kid with the golden locks who was the consensus #1 pick by the major media outlets. Suddenly, things were looking up for the Bruins, especially considering they had also nabbed Sergei Samsonov -- considered the best Russian prospect in the draft that year -- with the 8th overall pick.

Things progressed slowly with Thornton at first. He languished on the bench for much of the first year and, while he started to come around in year two, it wasn't until that season's playoffs when he really started to shine, putting up nine points in eleven playoff games. By the third year, he was the team leader in points.

But Thornton never really seemed to get it all together. More specifically, he didn't live up to the lofty expectations of a 1st overall pick. Or at least not in Bruins management's eyes. He tended to be streaky. He tended to disappear in the playoffs. In a world where he had to play in the shadows of legends named Shore, Orr, and Esposito he was often unable to carry the team on his back. Thornton produced, but wasn't necessarily considered a "top-tier" scorer. This same world bore team captains named Clapper, Schmidt, Bucyk and Bourque. All Hall-of-Famers. All numbers retired in the rafters. His low-key style didn't light a fire under his teammates.

So, one year ago to this day, the Bruins traded him.

It was a panic move. The Bruins were one of the worst teams and had just lost nine of their last ten games. But it was effing *NOVEMBER*. The season was barely 1/4th of the way through. Thornton had 33 points in 23 games, so it wasn't like he wasn't producing. And exactly how much can you do when you're surrounded by lower-echelon teammates because your penny-pinching managment team won't open the wallet for big name talent to help you out? If they didn't like him as captain, all they had to do was give the "C" to someone else and let him produce without the added pressure.

And what did they get for him? If you're trading your franchise player, you would hope to get some young studs or a bushelful of high draft picks in return. You know, something to give you some hope for the future. Instead, they got Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. Decent players in their own right, but not special...only Stuart had some promise being the #3 overall pick in 1998. Nor were they young...only Stuart was younger than Thornton, and only by four months. They had just traded their franchise players for two mediocre guys and an above-average defenseman. And no draft picks. Zero. Zilch. Zippo.

So where was this trade supposed to take them? They apparently didn't care about the future, so they were obviously hinging the '05-'06 season on Sturm, Stuart and Primeau. After just over three months of trying this new formula and playing about .500 hockey, the Bruins cut bait on Samsonov -- their other 1997 1st round pick -- and traded him to the Oilers.

And that was that. The hopes of the 1997 class, gone like my ex-girlfriend and with the same bitter aftertaste after the breakup. Samsonov was probably a wash since his contract was done at the end of the year, but no one expected Thornton to be out the door. He had just signed a three year contract in the off-season. And what happened then? Thornton won league MVP after the trade. Samsonov helped take the Oilers to within one game of winning the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile the Bruins finished out of the playoffs last year and are currently the 12th best team (out of 15) in the conference this year.

If anything good came out of all this, it was the death knell for the reign of Sinden and O'Connell and the introduction of Phil Kessel, the latest goldilocked youth for us all to hang our hopes on. And Phil, don't let them give you the "C" unless you're ready to shove a stick up a teammates ass when they get out of line.

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2 Comments:

Blogger TreeBob said...

Good post. I am guessing you think it was a positive trade? ;)

I for one am still glad we traded him away. Although I am miffed that we got so little. Another 1st rounder for this year would have helped.

I love building for the future and have patience but at the end of this season, depending on how things turn out, we might have nothing to show for the trade.

How depressing.

On the bright side we still got Thomas!!

1:26 PM, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Heather said...

Also on Nov 30, 2005, Jonathan Girard retired. Far less news-worthy in comparison to the Joe trade, but more earth-shattering to this girl then the Joe trade, that's for sure.

9:20 PM, November 30, 2006  

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