The Bruins trip to the Stanley Cup Finals has been nearly six years in the making.
On November 30th, 2005, many Bruins fans and media members criticized then Boston General Manager Mike O’Connell when he traded former No. 1 pick and star player Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau and Brad Stuart.
Yes, the Thornton trade did set the team back during the rest of the 2005-06 season as the Black and Gold finished 13th in the Eastern Conference with 74 points. The year after saw Boston improve by just two points from the previous season with 76.
Theoretically, many would figure that the Thornton trade set this team back several seasons judging by these point totals. But little did anyone know that the best was yet to come; beginning with the hiring of Peter Chiarelli — replacing O’Connell — as the team’s GM in the summer of 2006. Though Chiarelli didn’t officially start his tenure until mid-July of that same year, the changing of the guard was underway.
The 2006 Draft turned out to be productive to say the least as the Bruins drafted Phil Kessel with the fifth overall pick, while also taking Milan Lucic (pick No. 50) in the second round and Brad Marchand 71st overall in round three. During the draft, Boston traded former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for one of its top prospects at the time, Tuukka Rask. Fast forward days after the Draft where both Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard signed as unrestricted free agents and you now have some pieces to the puzzle.
Although the Bruins only tallied 76 points in 2006-07 under then head coach Dave Lewis (who can forget him), Chiarelli added some more pieces featuring Dennis Wideman from St. Louis (for Brad Boyes), Chuck Kobasew and Andrew Ference via Calgary (for Stuart and Primeau).
Over time, the Bruins’ roster saw the additions of the likes of head coach Claude Julien — replacing Lewis after 2006-07 — Michael Ryder, Shawn Thornton, Mark Recchi, Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, Daniel Paille and Dennis Seidenberg shape the roster with Hall of Famer Cam Neely eventually taking over as the Team’s President after the 2009-10 season.
Eventually, Kobasew was dealt to Minnesota for a second round pick and Wideman was part of the deal that sent Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell to the Bruins, much to the delight of the fans. Just a couple of days after Horton and Cambell’s arrival, the Bruins drafted one of the prized prospects in the draft — with Toronto’s pick as part of the Kessel deal — Tyler Seguin second overall.
Pressed against the salary cap in recent years, Chiarelli did a great job clearing some cap space and some dead weight as seen in previous playoff collapses against Carolina and Philly. And this season, the Bruins replaced the likes of Sturm, Vladimir Sobotka, Matt Hunwick, Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart (just to name a few) and replaced them with Marchand, Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and even Tomas Kaberle.
Though Kaberle hasn’t met his high expectations since coming to Boston, he is still a part of the changing of the guard in the Bruins’ locker room along with Kelly, Peverley, Seguin and Marchand. Combine that with a strong veteran presence from Recchi, Chara, Ference and Patrice Bergeron (one of only two members remaining from that 2005-06 team along with Tim Thomas) and a good mix featuring Lucic, Horton, Seidenberg and David Krejci and you have yourself a strong locker room.
All of this movement by Chiarelli, Neely and company might not have been possible in the long run if Thornton wasn’t traded to San Jose by O’Connell. And as strange as this may sound, Bruins fans might want to thank each of them for the beginning of an evolution and a new found spirit in The Hub of Hockey.
Stick tap to Ryan Porth of RLD Hockey for his post from today about how the Bruins and Canucks rosters were built.