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Monday, February 9, 2009

Stupidity Rewards Me

You can go through the history of the NHL and find any number of terrible mind-bending trades that made you wonder what the hell was wrong with half of the general managers involved in making the transaction.

Since I'm here to mouth off and that's my job, one of the worst deals made during my time here on Earth would be the deal that sent Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for a package of players consisting of forwards Wayne Primeau and Marco Sturm and defenseman Brad Stuart.

For the Bruins, they felt it was important to rid themselves of Thornton who, somehow, was villified after the Bruins collapse against the Canadiens in the 2004 Playoffs when the B's squandered a 3-1 series lead and succombing to their hated rivals.

Thornton, then the captain of the Bruins, played in each game despite being injured. Go figure, a captain trying to shrug off an injury to lead his team to victory - tell me, where have I heard of this before?

The Boston fans and media were relentless on Thornton in the off-season. Thornton was held to no points in the series against Montreal and shouldered the blame for the team not getting that fourth win needed to wrap up the series.

When the NHL returned from the Season Herr Bettman Deemed Not Needed, Thornton was still playing with the black cloud of playoff failure hanging over his head and then Bruins general manager Mike O'Connell pulled the trigger on one of the most lopsided and awful trades the NHL has ever seen.

To this day, O'Connell insists that he would make the deal again and was pressed for this opinion since the Sharks are paying the Bruins a visit Tuesday night. Joy of joys.

This man routinely falls for the "Give me two tens for a five" gag.

Quoting from Kevin Paul Dupont's story on boston.com :

Some three-plus years later, O'Connell figures the trade was justified, and it is one that he would make again, given the same circumstances. As for what he got in return, said O'Connell, there will always be those who say he should have received more.

"That's always the case, even if it's your best trade," said the former Bruins general manager, these days overseeing pro development for the Los Angeles Kings. "But it was like any trade: You take in, rely on what everyone in the organization says - scouts, everyone - and let's not forget there was a money issue here, too, moving Joe with his high [$6.6 million] salary. This wasn't the pre-salary-cap NHL. Like all these deals, the money had to work, too."

I smell backpedaling... Well, backpedaling that smells like a befouled barnyard - is that what we have here?

"What frustrated me was, again, there just seemed to be so much more there," said O'Connell. "How he fit in with our team, the city, the overall picture . . . and in the end, like I say, we thought there were leadership issues. So here he is, the captain, making that money . . . all of that went into our decision to move him."

Ahh, OK, so the guy that was the poster boy centerfold for the next generation of Bruins fans no longer fit into the city. Of course he didn't Mike - because you helped light the torches and hand out pitchforks.

When asked if he felt he was being labeled the scapegoat for the organization, Thornton said, ''You could say that.

''Who knows? Hindsight is 20-20. I don't know what to say about that. I came here to win and we haven't been winning. Whose fault is that? I'm not sure. Obviously, I'm out of here so it must be mine."

Sure, time heals all wounds and all that crap, but O'Connell spreading the blame for making the deal is as cowardly as it gets. Thornton won the MVP in 2005-2006, the same season he was traded by the Bruins. Motivation? Absolutely. Shoving it in O'Connell's, Sinden's and Jacob's collective faces? Hell yes he did.

Just for retrospect sake, let's take a look at how the main components of that deal have done since then (stats accurate as of 12:30 p.m. 2/9/09).

Keep in mind that Marco Sturm is the only one of the three still playing for Boston but is out for the rest of the season with an injury. Primeau and Stuart have both since moved on, Stuart winning the Stanley Cup last season with Detroit after coming over from Los Angeles in a deadline deal with the Kings.

Joe Thornton: 272 GP | 83 G | 276 A | 359 PTS | 198 PIM

Brad Stuart: 247 GP | 24 G | 60 A | 84 PTS | 169 PIM

Wayne Primeau: 195 GP | 19 G | 31 A | 50 PTS | 191 PIM

Marco Sturm: 226 GP | 84 G | 72 A | 156 PTS | 126 PIM

Now here's my favorite part of this exercise:

All Three Players: 668 GP | 127 G | 163 A | 290 PTS

Thornton managed to out-point three players by 69 points since the trade. Apparently O'Connell feels that getting 30 cents on the dollar for a trade is what works best since both teams are now doing great now.

Never mind that new general manager Peter Chiarelli has had to do his best to help cater to the needs of new coach Claude Julien as well as trying to live under the rule of the Stickler's Regime that is life with Jeremy Jacobs - it's a minor miracle the Bruins are doing as well as they are - whether it lasts is another question, of course.

I also ask that you not buy into the spitballing comparison that Dupont makes in his story that dumping Thornton was done in favor of getting Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara. This wasn't O'Connell's grand design and neither Savard nor Chara will be winning an MVP award, they've both also had as much post-season success as Thornton has had in their career.

What folks in Boston (sycophantic media and fans alike) are doing, or at least are attempting to do to stay in favor with the front office (if you're a reporter that is), is to shine up the turd that was the Joe Thornton trade.

It's an easy formula: You take some shots at Thornton, spruce things up by saying getting rid of him helped build the team the way it is today and call it a day. Dupont going to talk with Mike O'Connell to get his take is a welcome twist on a, now, very tired story and it's just as rewarding to see O'Connell continuing to try and save face for making one of the worst trades in NHL history.


Andrew W. said...

I'm a die-hard Bruins fan, so....


Thank you for laying this all out. I remember the morning I heard about this trade and I nearly choked on my breakfast. Most of my friends don't follow hockey closely at all, so none of them know what I'm talking about when I call this one of the worst trades in the history of sports. Maybe it's magnified by being a Bruins fan, but it's still downright horrible.

Sure, both teams are doing great now, that's wonderful -- imagine if Thornton still played for the Bruins! They definitely could have pieced together a very similar team with his "high" salary. And, Thornton seems like a genuine team leader, he might have been flexible with his salary if it meant winning.

Ultimately, the biggest shame is the utter disrespect for such a first-class player on and off the ice. How could the Garden boo him like that last night? Typical Boston drunkards. I've been a Bruins fan and Massachusetts native all my life, and I say good for Joe.

Hoss said...

A correction: the only people who weren't screaming with rage after the trade were people in the media. The fans were aghast and disgusted.

Rimbaud said...

As a Sharks fan, it was pretty enjoyable last season seeing what happens when smart ownership tells the fans to suck it when they're trying to run out a top flight player like they were doing with Marleau last season.

Hockey Joe said...

Interesting dichotomy here with Andrew and Hoss' comments.

Andrew, the folks were booing Thornton because (and this is where you come in Hoss) folks in Boston were being force-fed a steady diet of stuff in the papers and especially on the radio about Thornton's "clutchiness" ability and folks kept parading his 0 points vs. Montreal statistic around.

People hear that enough, they seem him blow up big time as a scorer and they get bitter. Those wounds never healed appropriately in Boston and Boston fans tend to get bitter anyhow.

It's safe to say that a lot of the fans that have come back to the fold with their success don't have a long memory either. So when Sully, who heard from Murph who heard from Sully's other brother Sully Jr. that Joe Thornton's an asshole... well, they're going to run with it whether it's true or not.

Rimbaud: The best thing to happen was getting Ron Wilson out of there because another year or two of Marleau being made the whipping boy probably would've gotten him shipped out of there for his own good. The Sharks were always MUCH better off with him there and any deal where they got rid of him... well, who knows if would've been Thornton-like with the Sharks taking up the other side of a bad deal.