All The President’s Men: The 1990 Boston Bruins (Part 3)

Today, we wrap up the tribute to the 1990 Boston Bruins, the franchise’s first President’s Trophy-winning team, with the run through the playoffs. This was written 20 years ago and has been updated in certain sections, but apologies for some of the wooden writing- we’ve come a long way since 2000. Hope you have enjoyed this look back at that team and season.- KL

Andymoog

As the 1990 playoffs began, the Boston Bruins were riding high with a regular season title, but knew they faced a tough opponent in the Hartford Whalers, who had an impressive and ever-improving young core. The B’s and their fans knew that all of the goodwill of a President’s Trophy would be for naught if they were knocked out in an upset, and the Whalers had the talent to do it.

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All The President’s Men: the 1990 Boston Bruins (Part 2)

(The 1989-90 President’s Trophy Boston Bruins retrospective continues with the second half of the regular season. Part 3 looks at the 1990 playoffs and will be posted soon- KL)

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         In the first couple of days in 1990, Sinden pulled off a key trade, acquiring veteran two-way center and former Frank Selke Trophy winner Dave Poulin, the Philadelphia Flyers’ captain in exchange for Linseman.  When the deal was announced, Poulin was less than enthusiastic about joining Boston, having been a Flyer his entire career and visibly stunned that he had been traded.

            “I’m going to go home, sit down with my wife, and go over our options,” he remarked when initially interviewed.  “I’ve tried to keep my options open.”  These words were hardly a ringing endorsement from Poulin, who had just been dealt from the only team he had ever known.

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Friday Flashback: All the President’s Men: the 1990 Boston Bruins Pt. 1

Wrote this about 20 years ago for the 10-year anniversary of the 1989-90 President’s Trophy Boston Bruins team that came up short in their quest to bring the first Stanley Cup back to the Hub in 18 years. It would take the B’s another 21 years, but at the time, it was just another promising group that did everything but win the championship. I originally wrote the piece in 2000 to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the team’s only (at the time) regular season championship, but have updated it in the years since with a new intro today and thanks to later access to players who were a part of the club to insert quotes and memories of that team.  Given that it is a complete season recap including playoffs, the word count comes in at around 9,000 words, so we’ll break this up into 3 parts over the next few days.- KL

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The Boston Bruins are one of the National Hockey League’s more storied franchises, yet they’ve also been somewhat star-crossed in their near century of existence, coming up short in numerous opportunities to capture more than the six Stanley Cup championships in team history. Most recently, the B’s and their fans saw heartbreak in 2019, losing a decisive game 7 at home to the St. Louis Blues.

30 years ago, another Boston hockey club took their fans on a dizzying ride and tantalized the region with an unforgettable run that had more than its share of peaks and valleys after a terrific regular season. It almost ended before it began with a near-upset at the hands of a younger, upstart Hartford Whalers team, followed by another memorable matchup against an archrival and an extended run through the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is their story.

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May 15, 1967: Schmidt, Bruins pull off the “most lopsided trade in NHL history”

Espo Hodge

As the 1966-67 season concluded, significant change was about to happen in the National Hockey League, as it prepared to double in size from six teams to twelve. Expansion meant the end of the NHL’s Original Six era, but at the same time, something special was brewing in Boston.

After years of waiting in eager anticipation, the sad-sack Bruins and the club’s fans were rewarded with the 18-year-old hockey prodigy Robert Gordon “Bobby” Orr. The precocious blueliner arrived to remarkable fanfare in an age well before the proliferation of the internet and social media, more than living up to the hype that followed him down from Canada. Having been touted as a player who could help reverse Boston’s fortunes on ice, the rookie Orr took no time to establish himself in the NHL, going on to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best first-year player. However, superb as Orr’s performance was, hockey is a team game, and he was just one man. His presence alone was not enough to secure a finish better than fifth for the first time since 1959.

The Bruins had been moribund for the entire decade of the 1960’s, finishing sixth, or last in the field five of seven years before Orr suited up for his first professional game. Prior to that, the B’s had not won a Stanley Cup championship since 1941, the season before the league’s Original Six era began in 1942-43. Long gone were the championships authored by stalwarts like Eddie Shore, Aubrey ‘Dit’ Clapper, Cecil ‘Tiny’ Thompson, Lionel Hitchman, Milt Schmidt and Frank ‘Mr. Zero’ Brimsek. An entire generation had grown up in Boston without a championship in hockey, and the pressure was on to make the team competitive again. Or, at the very least, get out of the shadow of a powerhouse they shared the Boston Garden with.

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2006: Turning Point

Brad_Marchand

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

(This is a re-worked and updated story done for the New England Hockey Journal in 2011- KL)

If ever there was a year that altered an NHL franchise’s destiny, 2006 was the pivotal one for the Boston Bruins as we look back nearly a decade-and-a-half later.

As the calendar flipped over to January 2006, the post-lockout campaign was a disaster.

Already, the team traded its captain and 1997 first overall pick Joe Thornton. Soon, it would fire GM Mike O’Connell and head coach Mike Sullivan. The B’s finished out of the playoffs with the fifth-worst record. Free agent signings supposed to help put the B’s in contention like Alexei Zhamnov and Dave Scatchard were complete busts, with a grand total of 40 games and five goals in Boston between them.

The franchise had stumbled badly in a decade since the bottoming-out of 1997 that had netted Thornton and Sergei Samsonov. That new era that began with so much promise when the latter took NHL Rookie of the Year honors and the late Pat Burns helped lead the B’s back to the postseason in 1998 was about to be officially done when Samsonov was dealt to Edmonton at the trade deadline in a few weeks. Although few realized it in 2006, a series of critical trades, hires, signings and events paved the way for Boston to become a championship city once again.

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Boston Bruins 1979 Draft Flashback: Ray-sing the Stakes

Bourque

As the decade of the 1970s drew to a close, the United States struggled through a sluggish economy, long gas lines, and growing tensions in the Middle East with ominous warning clouds gathering over Iran and Afghanistan. 1979 also marked the year in which the Boston Bruins held the most important and impactful draft in the team’s history.

            Even if the fruits of the ’79 entry draft (the first year of the name change after having previously been known as the NHL amateur draft since 1963) did not result in a Stanley Cup championship in Boston, each of the seven players the B’s drafted saw NHL action. In fact, the elements of that wildly successful class of players ensured that the B’s remained contenders throughout the entire decade of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s, with a pair of Stanley Cup final appearances in 1988 and 1990, as well as three more trips to the conference final series between 1983-1992.

            The fact that the 1979 NHL draft class as a whole is considered to be the greatest of all (though 2003 will challenge that assertion when all is said and done) underscores the importance of Bruins GM Harry Sinden and his scouting staff’s tremendous haul, the centerpiece of which was a defenseman who would go on to be a first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame player and one of the greatest offensive producers in NHL history with 1,579 points in 1,612 career games with the Bruins and Colorado Avalanche: Raymond Bourque.

            The Bruins could have called it a day alone with the selection of Bourque, but they went on to add a pair of 200+ NHL goal scorers in Keith Crowder and Mike Krushelnyski, while landing one of the powerhouse Brandon Wheat Kings’ biggest stars in Brad McCrimmon, who would go on to be one of the top stay-at-home defensemen, with more than 1,200 career big league games under his belt.

            Although this group was unable to secure hockey’s ultimate prize for Boston, the B’s Class of ’79 is rivaled only by the 1980 and 2006 team drafts as the most critical in franchise history.

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Happy Birthday to the Greatest One

Today is Bobby Orr’s 72nd birthday- born March 20, 1948 in Parry Sound, Ontario.

My friend from New Brunswick, Ian Wilson, celebrates Robert Gordon Orr’s birthday every year and has been doing so ever since I got to know him online 22 years ago. I have no doubt Ian’s been toasting Bobby Orr Day long before I knew him, and as long as he draws breath in this world, every March 20 will be the same.

I never saw Orr play live…at least not that I remember. I wasn’t yet 4 when he left Boston and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1976, but by being a student of the game and watching endless clips of Orr’s glory years with the Bruins, I’m comfortable with calling him the greatest hockey player of all in my own opinion. After all, there are a lot of smart hockey people out there who played with him, played against him, saw him…and if they say he’s the greatest hockey player who ever lived, then who am I to disagree?

Wayne Gretzky revolutionized scoring and there will never be another one like him- there was so much that came together at the right time for the Great One to score the zillions of points he did with the Edmonton Oilers in the early 1980’s- that firewagon hockey that he exemplified will not be seen again. The goalies are much better today than ever, and that isn’t going to change. Different era, different game.

But Orr was in a class of his own in terms of how he redefined the way the defense position was played- he didn’t just perform- Orr revolutionized the entire concept of how defenders could join the rush and be as dangerous on offense as they could shut down scoring chances in their own end. Those words to describe what Orr did for the game seem so paltry and inadequate to capture the kind of effect No. 4 had on hockey. In the end, Orr changed the game. Scorers will come and go, and I’ll not take anything away from that- Gretzky owns the all-time record for career goals and Alexander Ovechkin may or may not ever break that one…but for me, Mike Bossy was the best pure goal scorer I ever saw. And that includes Mssrs. Gretzky, Ovechkin, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull. No one can ever “win” the debate- there are those who will effectively argue for their respective player. As for me, I’ll take Orr…please and thank you.

The world-renowned Spittin’ Chiclets podcast recently had Orr’s close friend and teammate Derek Sanderson on their show and the ever-colorful Turk had some terrific recollections of Orr. One of the best was when he said that he never saw anyone get the puck away from Orr when he had it…ever. And Sanderson is not exaggerating in the slightest. If you haven’t heard that episode, get going already…

As great as Orr’s eight consecutive Norris Trophies, 2 Stanley Cup championships, 2 Conn Smythe trophies as playoff MVP and Hall of Fame resume is, the sad thing is that we never really saw what he was capable of. Years of playing through serious knee injuries and deteriorating joints took an immeasurable toll on what might have been if Orr had the durability and staying power of someone like Ray Bourque.

What’s amazing about Orr’s accomplishments as a Bruin is that he did it from age 18-28. He left the city and team in his prime, though was fated to play only 26 more career games in the Windy City before his ravaged knees forced him to walk away from the game as a player forever.  There would be no miracle comebacks for Orr, though had he played several decades later, he might’ve had a 15-20 year career…we’ll never know.

Orr is firmly cemented on Boston’s Mount Rushmore of sports icons and no one will ever take his place.

But don’t take my word for it- just watch him for yourselves. I’ve chosen these videos because they will give you a close look at the man…in his own words, as well as those of others who knew him best, competed against him and knew better than anyone what he was accomplishing for the sport.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Orr- may you enjoy many more!

NHL 100-year Tribute video

Peter Mansbridge’s interview on CBC from Bobby Orr’s autobiography launch in 2013

Best and Worst Bruins Draft Picks 1-30; 1963-2019

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I recently posted this to the Bruins sub-Reddit- and thought it deserved a place on my blog.

Took a swing at the Boston Bruins historical draft choices, analyzing the team’s selections since the NHL implemented a rudimentary draft system 56 years ago. Bear in mind that in the pre-1969 years, the draft was different- starting in 1963 thru 1978 it was called the amateur draft before changing to the NHL Entry Draft in 1979 when the teams were allowed to draft 18-year-olds. With fewer teams in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s, selections outside of 10-20 were 2nd round or later, but for purpose of exercise, I’m going to look at picks 1-30 and call it like I see it.

I’m bucking convention by starting out with 1st overall and work up to 30- in a lot of cases, the early selections for the B’s have not been kind, but in full context- most of the time the team was picking 3-7, it came in the days before the current draft system. And because the B’s had made the playoffs from 1968-97, unless they owned bad teams’ 1st rounders, they rarely got a chance to pick inside the top-10 during that time frame.

1- Best: Joe Thornton, 1997: 1st ballot HHOFer- nuf ced; Trading him opened the door for Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to join the B’s in 2006, but he’s been everything Jumbo Joe was projected to be as a teen titan with the Soo Greyhounds in 1997. He just turned 40 in July, which, given the shaggy, golden-locked kid who showed up in Boston 22 years ago at not quite 18, seems impossible to square with the grizzled graybeard who has been with the San Jose Sharks for nearly a decade and a half.

Worst: Barry Gibbs, 1966: Journeyman defenseman. He at least played in the NHL to the tune of 796 career games, most of them not with the Bruins. However, Gibbs leads the No. 1 overall bust hit parade not because of what he did, but because of the player who was selected right behind him at No. 2 in ’66 by the NY Rangers. Wait for it…Brad Park. Can you imagine Bobby Orr and Brad Park together on the Boston blue line? It actually happened for a handful of games right before Orr left for the Windy City, but had they been able to play together in their primes, we’re talking at least 2 more Stanley Cups in that era. Yikes. (H/T to Reddit user Timeless_Watch for pointing this out- I moved Kluzak down to HM)

HM: Gord Kluzak, 1982: Oh what could have been? What if…B’s had drafted Brian Bellows or Scott Stevens there instead of Kluzak? Kluzak had knee injuries in junior hockey days and then got blown up in his 2nd NHL season- without the technology to repair knees that we have today, it doomed him to being day-to-day for the rest of his career and an early retirement. He should have been a long-tenured NHL defenseman, but it didn’t happen for him, and unfortunately, he’s more of a footnote in Bruins lore, which is unfortunate.

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On Rick Middleton’s No. 16 going to the rafters

81-82 Rick Middleton Home Sandow Mesh 004

The Boston Bruins announced Tuesday that Richard D. Middleton aka Rick Middleton aka ‘Nifty’ the right wing who starred for the team from 1976-88, will have his number 16 retired in a game later this November (29th- vs the NY Islanders). The longtime New Hampshire resident and Bruins Alumni fixture is deeply touched by the gesture, which comes three decades after he skated off into the sunset (more on that later).

The former Oshawa Generals star broke into the NHL with the NY Rangers, who selected him in the 1st round, 14th overall, in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. Middleton was also picked by the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the rival WHA that same year, going in the second round, 21st overall.

The trade is right up there with Cam Neely as one of former Bruins GM Harry Sinden’s best heists, sending the over-the-hill Ken Hodge to Broadway for the 22-year-old, who put up 90 points in two seasons with the Rangers. The catalyst for the deal was believed to be Phil Esposito, who was dealt to the Rangers the season before in a blockbuster, which sent Brad Park and Jean Ratelle to the B’s. Espo wanted his old (no pun intended) reliable right wing back, and Middleton was rumored to be a bit of a wild card off the ice…his -38 in 1975-76 certainly didn’t help.

So, Middleton headed off the Boston and after a couple of solid, if unspectacular years (by the standards of the 1970’s), he took off, posting 38, 40, 44, and 51-goal seasons from 1978-82. He peaked in 1984 with a 47-goal, 105-point year (finishing second to Barry Pederson’s 116 points) but the Boston offensive juggernaut was silenced in the opening round of the playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens and Steve Penney, who sent them out with a whimper in 3 games (no points for Nifty). The year before, Middleton had posted a playoff season for the ages (33 points in 17 games), leading the Bruins past two rounds of the playoffs including the memorable 7-game affair against Buffalo where he registered a team-record (for one series) 19 points. Unfortunately, the B’s ran into the NY Islanders dynasty in the spring of 1983. Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Billy Smith & Company dispatched them from the Wales Conference final in a series that never seemed that close, en route to a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, leaving so many B’s fans to wonder…what if?

Middleton’s production steadily declined after that career 105-point campaign, due in part to age and injury, but he did preside over the historic defeat of the Montreal Canadiens in 1988, a first for any Bruins team since 1943. Middleton’s breakaway game-winner in Game 3 (2-0), to put the B’s up 2-1 in the series after splitting the games in Montreal was a fitting coda for a man who had been a part of so many heart-breaking losses to the Bleu, Blanc et Rouge during his entire Bruins tenure. He split the captaincy with Ray Bourque that year, wearing the ‘C’ for home games, until his retirement after the B’s were swept by Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers (their 4th NHL title since 1984) giving way to Bourque’s sole leadership from 1988 until his trade to Colorado in the spring of 2000.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, Nifty was an ubiquitous presence in my budding love of hockey and the Bruins. Although not a pure burner, his golden locks (later shiny pate as his hair thinned and ultimately gave way to a Jofa helmet late in his career) looked like they were on fire as he would bob and weave through the neutral and offensive zones, often putting on a display of stickhandling prowess at impossible angles and contortions, ending with pucks in the back of the net or sublime back-door feeds for gift-wrapped tap-ins for his lucky linemates. The Mike Krushelnyski-Pederson-Middleton line racked up 111 goals in 1983-84…a number that seems awe-inspiring some 35 years later.

Although Middleton’s scoring numbers paled in comparison to Gretzky’s (The Great One scored 100 more points than Middleton’s 105 in 83-84 just for perspective), or Mario Lemieux or Bossy to name a few, he was a veritable King Midas for the B’s, creating magic from the mundane and turning pucks into goals. But don’t take my word for it- Channel 38 once paid tribute to him with a highlight reel video now on YouTube to America’s “You Can Do Magic” and I had it recorded on VHS and must’ve watched it 1000 times…

Ignored by the Hockey Hall of Fame, 30 years after he retired, taking his number out of circulation is a welcome move for those who watched him (and maybe a good percentage of fans who didn’t, but who appreciate history). Sure- there are some who may be opposed to the honor (it is the 11th so number retired by the B’s) but that’s just a curmudgeonly nature of New Englanders at work- deep down, even the grumblers get it. After all- we’ve seen Peter Douris, Jozef Stumpel, Randy Robitaille, Ken Belanger, Marco Sturm and most recently, Kaspars Daugavins (in 2012-13), wear the digits in the intervening years. None hold the distinction and cachet Middleton did, and in the end- it’s just a number. It’s time to admit that he wore it well…better than anyone in the Black and Gold. As his 402 goals as a Bruin can attest, he could finish plays off just as easily as he set the table, and was the heir to Espo as the next pure scoring forward to put on the spoked B.

If the Bruins can take the time to honor for a player who grew up and matured in Boston as a model of consistency and was the face of the franchise at least up front for the better part of a decade, then why not?

It’s about time.

 

In his own words: Milt Schmidt addendum

In the birthday tribute post to Mr. Milton C. Schmidt, I referenced an article I wrote on him where I had the opportunity to speak at length with him about his NHL career and the game of hockey.

I went through my archives and found the draft I submitted to my editors at New England Hockey Journal 15 years ago, so here it is- unedited and in it’s original format. Enjoy!- KL

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