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Monday, July 02, 2007

NHL Free Agency And Bruins Suckbaggery: Two Stories Jesse's NOT All Over    

Major, major changes afoot in the NHL. Free-agency news typically pours in here and here as it happens. Let's get things started by recapping the recent flurry of activity with a round of "one of these things is not like the other things"...

* Buffalo's dynamic duo of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury signed with the Flyers and Rangers, respectively.

* The Rangers also yoinked Scott Gomez away from the Devils.

* Ryan Smyth ended hopes of a return to Edmonton by signing with Colorado.

* Michael Nylander, displaced by the ultra-active Rangers, is returning to Washington. (Great signing.)

* Brian Rafalski got a five-year deal in Detroit. Hmmm.

* Mathieu Schneider joined the Ducks, giving them four front-line defensemen should Scott Niedermayer decide not to retire after all.

* Paul Kariya signed with... St. Louis?!? Them? Guess he doesn't really need a Cup after all.

* Robert Lang's headed to Chicago, though he's kinda washed up. Which explains Chicago's interest.

* The Bruins, not to be outdone, signed... occasional fourth-liner Shawn Thornton to a multi-year deal! Break out the champagne! That'll show 'em!

Man, those Bruins are always one step ahead of the league. They see everyone else in hockey addressing their first and second lines, so the Bruins' response, naturally, is to pounce on all that unsigned fourth-line talent. Isaac Newton never got the chance to run an NHL franchise, but if he had, he'd have done it just like this.

OK, so that's kind of a cheap shot. Thornton is better than his limited ice time in Anaheim indicates, making this a pretty shrewd deal. Peter Chiarelli knows the trenches pretty well, having nabbed some nice players who'd been overlooked (Brandon Bochenski comes to mind) for next to nothing. There's something to be said for that.

I should also give Chiarelli credit for acquiring Manny Fernandez from Minnesota, who had wildly overpaid him. (Ha.) I think I'm OK with this deal. The Bruins' goalie situation is finally in order; they are certainly better off with Fernandez as the starter and Tim Thomas as the capable backup. They may have given up hot prospect Petr Kalus, which I'm not thrilled about, but they really needed a better goalie. And they can't just sit around and wait for Tuukka Rask. [Note: Tuukka Rask is a goalie, not the Finnish word for Christmas.] So I can't say the Bruins are standing around, twiddling their thumbs.

However, the B's missed their chance to improve themselves. They need a top-six forward and a defenseman just to make the playoffs, and more if they want to be serious. But after 24 hours, basically all the guys who fit that description are off the market. The only top-drawer players left that I can see (correct me if I'm wrong) are old farts like Brendan Shanahan and Bill Guerin. At the very least, they needed to target some mid-level guys like Jason Blake or Cory Sarich, and even they're gone. There are very, very few acquisitions left to make that will impact the franchise as opposed to the roster, if that makes sense.

Not that they should turn down the likes of Shanahan if he's interested. Someone needs to score goals, and I'm not seeing any reliable sources on the roster. Patrice Bergeron never really exploded since being handed the reins. Glen Murray's never been the same since Joe Thornton left. Marco Sturm and Marc Savard definitely aren't going to do it. Phil Kessel's still too young to expect greatness, though he looks like a sure thing to score 20-25 if given proper ice time. But those are all question marks. There's nobody on the roster you can depend on.

Until they bring in someone who can score, get used to prolonged team slumps, P.J. Axelsson on the power play, and vacations in early April. In other words, there's way more work to be done, and I'll be damned if I know how to pull it off.

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