VANCOUVER – Gary Bettman has been commissioner of the NHL since 1993, which just happens to be the last year a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. Coincidence? We think absolutely.
For those of you who buy into such silly conspiracy theories – if the NHL had anything to say about who wins the Stanley Cup do you think it would have arranged to have Carolina play Edmonton back in 2006? – Bettman and his cabal of schemers have indeed done some very good conspiring over the past couple of years.
After arranging to have the Cup awarded three straight years to cities where people generally don’t give a fig about hockey, the league is on quite a run of late. The win by the Boston Bruins this season marks the second straight season the Cup has gone to a once-proud Original Six franchise that was ending a long drought. Three of the past four, the Cup has gone to a charter member and every year since Anaheim in 2007, it has been won by teams that play in cities where the NHL is relevant and meaningful.
So who gets it next? Among Original Six teams you can forget about Toronto and New York for a long, long time. Detroit might have another long playoff run left in it and Montreal is putting together some impressive pieces, but still looks a ways away. You’d have to think a team as talented as the Chicago Blackhawks has enough to shake off the post-Cup hangover and get beyond the first round.
So where does that take us? Right back to the Bruins, who could very well be making some long fruitful playoff runs for a good number of years. Could we see the Bruins as the first back-to-back champion since the Red Wings in 1997 and ’98? It will take an enormous confluence of factors, the way it always does, but, man, you have to like their chances.
As always, it starts at the top. The Bruins are extremely well coached by Claude Julien. Both the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens treated him shabbily, but you’d have to think a GM as smart as the Harvard educated Peter Chiarelli would know better than to repeat that mistake.
And what of Chiarelli? The moves he has made from the time he took over as GM through this year’s trade deadline have been, for the most part, brilliant. He signed Zdeno Chara as a free agent, traded for an aging Mark Recchi, got younger and shed a problem by dealing Phil Kessel and hired Julien after he realized what a blunder he had made when one of his first moves as GM was to hire Dave Lewis away from the Red Wings.
The Bruins don’t have much cap space going into next season, but they don’t need much. Chiarelli’s main task will be getting supervillian/clutch scorer Brad Marchand under contract, but the best thing about it is Marchand doesn’t have arbitration rights. He’ll have to replace Recchi, who announced his retirement on the ice after Game 7 and on defense the GM has to make a decision on Tomas Kaberle.
In goal, he has Tim Thomas for another two years at what is looking like a very reasonable $5 million a season. Thomas will be 39 years old when that contract is up, but you have to remember that because he began his NHL career so late, and played in so many leagues where the schedule was much lighter, he’s actually a young 37. And the way he played this season and in the playoffs gave no indication his game is about to enter a precipitous decline anytime soon.
Thomas talked about “faking it all the way to the Stanley Cup” when he was dealing with his nerves and said after he accepted the Conn Smythe Trophy that he still has things to prove.
“I know the game and I know the way it is,” Thomas said. “Winning the Stanley Cup is huge, but I think in this game you always have to continue to prove yourself.”
The Bruins should be thrilled to hear those words from Thomas. One thing they can count on is he will never get too big for his britches. Even with all the success, Thomas knows how lucky he is and how close he was to playing out his career in oblivion. That edge likely won’t come off anytime soon.
For his part, Chiarelli was enjoying the moment, but at one point he had to look out on the ice and get a little excited for the future. Red Wings GM Ken Holland has the philosophy that if your team is good enough to be in the mix for the conference final every year, it means you’re doing your job properly. Beyond that, there are far too many variables to guarantee Cup victories. The Bruins should be in that mix for a while.
“We built this team to win,” Chiarelli said. “We’ve got some good players still under contract and these guys are a great bunch of guys. Anything is possible.”
THN’s 3 stars of Game 7
1. Patrice Bergeron
2. Tim Thomas
3. Brad Marchand
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