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Friday, June 27, 2008

Bruins Commentary

Way to not go splitting Bears
Consistent progression key to more wins, fanfare


On Friday, April 4 of this year, the Bruins basically fulfilled their chore in Boston's collective Golden Year of Athletic Achievement. They stamped their first playoff spot in four years (three seasons) by means of a gritty 2-1 tip-over of the flailing host Ottawa Senators and in effect set the path for a half-full seven-game tussle with Montreal.

For GM Peter Chiarelli, the berth clincher was more than just a fun-sized taste of payback against his former franchise. The state of affairs for the inhabitants of ScotiaBank Place ought to serve as a cautionary role model for the Garden's now third-year ice architect as he aims to keep building on the promise he has thus far established.

After Chiarelli left his position as Ottawa's assistant GM, the Senators cleansed their scratched record of early summer vacations and reached the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. That was right before dual coach/GM Bryan Murray incomprehensibly opted to fix what wasn't broken, relinquishing the bench and handing that over to John Paddock. By February 26, Paddock was canned -the official KO bolstered by a 4-0 drubbing in Boston- and Murray reassumed his two-billed hat for the rest of the shoddy journey.

A Zamboni's-load of good that did. Not. The Senators wobbled to a seventh-place finish and submitted to Pittsburgh in four easy first round games.

It's safe to assume that Chiarelli knows better than to mess with the effective coaching regime he brought in last summer. For once, in Claude Julien, the Bruins have a foreman who is neither lacking in sufficient experience and/or expertise (e.g. Steve Kasper, Mike Sullivan) nor simply proving that he has it when he goes elsewhere (Pat Burns, Mike Keenan).

Rest assured, that's plain for all eyes to see and will not be toyed with. The same outlook applies to the padded personnel.

On the whole, the playing roster should also be kept intact and fostered in the same even-flowing manner that it was this past season. This franchise doesn't just want to stop fooling its fans and prove it's a legitimate winner, especially when it has four neighbors who have just won or challenged for their respective championship. It also wants to knead faces that the whole city -better yet, the whole region- can relate too.

Frankly, the Bruins haven't had anybody close to that since Ray Bourque. And, incidentally, Bourque's discharge to Colorado in March 2000 occurred ten months after Boston's last triumph in a playoff series. Well, well.

So how do you revive the franchise face application process? More than anything, you start young.

This means doing everything in your commonsensical power to make the following homegrown players untouchable: forwards Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic; goaltender Tuuka Rask; and defenseman Mark Stuart.

Wouldn’t you know it? As of right now, with Free Agent Launch Day aka Canada Day aka July 1 looming, all those names are fastened under the Bruins’ control and confirmed for September camp.

Foolproof experience and trusty leadership are also musts, but it doesn't look like it can be favorably extracted from the likes of Glen Murray anymore. The two-term Bruin whose 40-plus goal seasons earlier this decade were piteously wasted by the underachievement of his overloaded colleagues is now at a point where 100% health and productivity are beyond reach. He is one of the few recognizable players who appear likely to be ushered out, melancholy as that process may be. (Although, has anyone thrown out the possibility of Murray following the Cam Neely route?)

On a brighter front, Marc Savard and Marco Sturm have served their purpose for the most part. Although, Savard, the man of endless assists, could stand to treat himself to more regular goals. Then there's the too-often-forgotten P-J Axelsson, the lone Bruin who has hung about long enough to recall that 1999 playoff triumph firsthand. Re-signing the ring-bearing Aaron Ward for a second full season in Boston was naturally wise as well.

Starting crease custodian Tim Thomas is himself well-seasoned and carrying out his vocation on an exponentially better basis. Whether or not Rask is ready for a full-time backup position is still a tad gray an issue, but summoning him now can't be any riskier than reeling in Manny Fernandez, ignoring skepticism about his knees in the process, and sure enough placing $4.5 million worth of a battered Minnesota Wild import in the cooler after October. That was Chiarelli’s minor mistake last summer.

Next to coaching, the foundation that the aforementioned Lucic has led in is probably the most important entity to let alone. After all, running a franchise like this is a two-way game: winning and publicity. And those NESN ads starring Lucic and Shawn Thornton with, what do you know, lunch pails, are a start.

Since Lucic is the one who seems to be check-marking all the Gordie Howe tasks, maybe the next step is to follow the example of the cohabitant, newly champion Celtics. Where the Cs have a roaring Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce demanding "Let me hear it!!!" maybe flash the same past-to-present montage and snarling, dirt-swiping bear followed by a stick-wielding Lucic who says "Let's rock and roll!" or something to that effect.

That’ll make for just the buzz the spoked Bs need. But between now and the autumnal equinox, we can stand for continued quiet while we settle into the second half of the Red Sox season.

Keep it cool, Pete. We’ll see you, and hopefully a majority of familiar faces and perhaps a gratifying free additive, in a few months.

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