The biggest news in Boston is that Cam Neely will be practicing
with the team for the next ten days, and there is some
possibility that he will attempt a comeback.
This startling news is being reported in the Boston media Tuesday
night. Neely is supposed to begin practice on Wednesday. Cam
retired, tearfully, three years ago because of the deterioration
of his hip, and there was concern at the time that he would not
be able to avoid hip replacement surgery, even if he quit hockey.
In the intervening time, his recovery has apparently been far
more successful than was hoped, and he began doing some
skating in the fall. Now he plans to test his hip in a more
challenging environment, to see if there is any chance of a
Bruin fans should not get overexcited, because remember, Al
Iafrate practiced with the team for six months and still never
got to the point where he could play in a game. On the other
hand, Cam is no Al Iafrate. To attempt this, Cam must miss the
game fiercely, and it is admirable that Boston Bruin management
would let him pursue this dream. One can only wish him the best,
and give him one piece of advice: stay away from Claude Lemieux.
Before that story broke, the cheers in Boston were for the
signing of defenseman Kyle McLaren to a new contract. Kyle inked
a three-year deal reportedly in the five million-dollar range,
including incentives. No, not five million per year; five
million total. Hey, this isn't baseball.
Kyle wanted two million a year, well under the Ray Bourque
ceiling (the unspoken and not always followed premise that
Raymond will be the highest paid player on the team. But Kyle
didn't get it, and the young man found out in the process that
the second contract isn't as much fun as the first. Kyle has
said that he doesn't like the negotiating game one bit, but that
he will dedicate himself to the coach and his teammates now that
he is signed.
The Bruins are idle until Friday's game with the Rangers, giving
Kyle a sort of mini-mini-camp to get revved up. Kyle signed at
just the right point in the schedule. After missing a month of
the season, even a few days will help, rather than being thrown
into a three-games-in-four-days meat grinder his first week back.
People say "Welcome to the NHL" when rookie players are exposed
to the top-level pro game and are taken aback by the hitting, the
speed, or the intensity. In Boston, players in effect hear
"Welcome to life as a Bruin" when they complete their first
contract and try to negotiate another.
Harry Sinden and Mike O'Connell are right not to just open up the
money bag and overpay players. Unfortunately, it invariably
seems that the process of re-signing the player involves picking
apart his performance and belittling his importance to the team,
to the point where the player often feels badly used and
unappreciated. Not every player can attack the game with the
same enthusiasm, ever again, after going through this process.
The team ultimately loses out, even if the General Manager is
able to lean back and say "See, he really wasn't worth two
million a year."
Hopefully, Kyle McLaren is the kind of guy who can take this as a
challenge to prove that he is worth the two million he wanted.
And in Harry's defense, there are enough times in sports that the
player who gets a big payout no longer feels that challenge and
his performance slumps. It is just too bad that neither Harry
nor Mike are articulate enough to put the whole thing in language
and incentives that will motivate rather than discourage the
McLaren is one heck of a defenseman, but his return probably will
not have a massive impact on the Bruins, who have been doing
fairly well defensively. Kyle has been more of a defensive force
than an offensive threat, but that may be more a result of his
role to date than his capabilities. The Bruins other
defensemen, like Darren Van Impe and Grant Ledyard, have filled
in admirably. With Don Sweeney back at full steam from his
shoulder injury last year, the Bruins could have one of the
strongest and deepest defensive corps in the league this year -
enough so that they could afford to send 1st round draft pick
Jonathan Girard back to Junior.
On the other hand, the Bruins haven't lost a game since they
signed Anson Carter to a new contract. Hey, it sounds good,
though Carter probably wasn't the deciding factor in those games.
But his return has to boost the team's confidence, and get them
thinking about how they can take up where they left off last
year. Prior to Carter and McLaren's return, every injury
certainly had fans thinking "If only we had Anson, we could
weather this," or "If Kyle were here, he'd step up," if one of
the defensemen took a ding.
In the case of Anson's first game back, against Toronto, is was
only two days after P. J. Axelsson was felled by a nasty Matthew
Barnaby elbow (which earned the Sabre a three-game suspension).
Anson, who arrived that day and was hustled into duty, was able
to fill the gap, and since he had warmed up by playing five games
in the IHL for the Utah Grizzlies, he didn't look out of place at
Meanwhile, a fan favorite, good locker room guy, Boston native,
and damn nice guy, played his final game for the Bruins against
Pittsburgh this weekend. Ted Donato was traded to the Islanders
straight up for Ken Belanger. Ted was one of the most versatile
forwards on the Bruins, playing wing, center, and point on the
power play throughout his career, wherever the team needed him.
Unfortunately, with the coming of Joe Thornton, Tim Taylor, Jason
Allison, and several other players who were stronger as centers,
Donato was more and more often delegated to fourth line duty
under Pat Burns.
Donato asked for a trade in the off-season, but the team was
unable to place him until recently. Here is a case where Bruins
management deserves a pat on the back, because sending Teddy to
the recently revived Isles was as soft a landing as a dealt
player could ask for. The Isles are a young team that could use
some leadership and work ethic, which Donato should be able to
Also, the Isles haven't been a winning team in quite a while,
though they might be on the verge this year. Ted is a winner,
and he can be a very positive locker room presence. To Mike
Milbury, Ted is a known quantity, and Ted should be a stabilizing
influence for the Isles. Milbury put Donato on a line with
Robert Reichel, his leading scorer, and former Bruin spelling
nightmare Mariusz Czerkawski, so Mike must have some confidence
For some reason, Ted Donato never seemed to be the player Pat
Burns was looking for. This is surprising, because most Bruins
fans would have viewed him as a Burns kind of guy. But Ted
hasn't been the same Bruin since he was punished with a hefty
suspension last year by the NHL brass for a high-sticking
incident. Ted was tracking to have a career year prior to the
suspension, but after he came back, there seemed to be some spark
missing. Whatever it was, most all Bruins fans will hope Ted
Donato finds it again, and is a major success on Long Island in
all but three games this season.
The Tough Luck Week Award goes to P. J. Axelsson. P.J. missed a
game as the result of a vicious elbow thrown by Montreal's Dave
Manson, earning Manson a three-game suspension. Then P. J. came
back only to get belted by Matthew Barnaby, as previously
mentioned, who was banned for four games, even though most
fans would probably vote Manson's hit as the nastier of the two,
because Manson "double-pumped" his elbow before striking
Axelsson, according to Pat Burns.
Two concussions so close together are no laughing matter these
days, because of the number of players who have had their careers
threatened or shortened by such head injuries, and the NHL is
absolutely right to step in and enforce the rules to prevent
Even without McLaren and with most of their checking line ailing,
the Bruins are tied for the lowest goals against numbers with
Phoenix. Much of this has been a result of the hard work of Byron
Dafoe, who stopped a ton of shots in preserving a 0-0 tie in an
away game with Pittsburgh. Jaromir Jagr said after the game
that if he had known the game would end 0-0, he would have rather
slept through it, but you can bet he didn't get any rest during
Jagr said last year that the tandem of Ray Bourque and Hal Gill
was the toughest defense pair he played against, and this game,
there was Gill, draped all over the hairmeister. Hal is still
rookie-like in a lot of ways, but with his physical tools, and
the defensive experience and wisdom of Ray Bourque, they are a
tough pair to beat.
As much as we harp on Harry Sinden, and make fun of his penchant
for re-tread players, you just cannot help but admire the
acquisition of veterans Dave Ellett and Grant Ledyard. These two
guys, along with the strong return of Don Sweeney, have turned
the Bruins defense from a sieve to a wall. Every once in a
while, they falter, but that is true around the NHL, that no team
can stay at a perfect high for 80 plus games. But last year, and
so far this year, the Bruins have performed pretty well
The problem, though, is on offense. If the top line of Jason
Allison, Dimitri Khristich, and Sergei Samsonov, is not on target
in a given game, the Bruins struggle to get goals. Usually, a
Steve Heinze or a Rob DiMaio or a Tim Taylor will step up and
perform, but they can't do so every night. Sometimes, like
their 5-2 win over Carolina, the other team cooperates; other
times, like the 2-0 whitewashing at the hands of the same
Hurricanes, they don't.
Looked at the standings lately? Only Dallas and Phoenix have
won-loss records that merit the use of the phrase "winning
percentage" to describe them. Every other team in the league is
at best a game or two above .500, and four of five teams in the
Atlantic Division are tied with 14 points as of Tuesday. And the
Bruins tied with Carolina for most points in the East with 15?
Well, it is early in the season indeed.