The Bruins sent shock waves through the NHL this off-season when
they made the unprecedented move of refusing to accept a salary
arbitrator's decision. General manager Harry Sinden and his
bosses took a look at the $2.8 million awarded to skillful but
soft right wing Dmitri Khristich for 1999-2000 and balked at
paying the sum, thus making Khristich a free agent. Some NHL
team executives see this as a harbinger of leaguewide fiscal
restraint. Some members of the players' union, noting that other
clubs did not immediately try to sign Khristich, privately
allege that teams are in collusion.
As potentially significant as their stand is, the Bruins let
Khristich walk for a simple reason: They don't need him. Yes,
Khristich led Boston with 29 goals last year, but even without
him the Bruins should have a more exciting and well-rounded
offense than they've had in years. That's because they have a
cluster of young forwards who are ready to blossom en masse and
lead Boston to the Stanley Cup finals.
Joe Thornton, the blond, 6'4", 215-pound center, has outgrown
much of the gawkiness that earned him the nickname Big Bird when
he came to Boston in 1997 as the league's No. 1 draft pick.
Thornton, 20, is coming off a strong postseason in which he had
nine points in 11 games. His development into a franchise player
will be aided by his playing behind 6'3", 205-pound Jason
Allison, 24, a sweet passer who's good for a point a game.
Complementing that up-the-middle strength will be emerging right
wing Anson Carter (page 70) and spark plug left wing Sergei
Samsonov, who, though not yet 21, has averaged 24 goals in his
first two seasons.
Coach Pat Burns will, as always, whip his team into top
condition, and you can expect to see the Bruins win a lot of
games in the third period. If that prospect isn't enough to
entice fans, how's this? Ray Bourque will be back. Last year, in
his 20th season, the 38-year-old defenseman played close to 30
minutes a game and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy. But his
outstanding play may go for naught if the team doesn't come to
terms with holdout goaltender Byron Dafoe.
Whether fans go to see Boston to get what could be a last look
at Bourque or to enjoy forwards who maintain high intensity for
60 minutes, you can bet they won't be thinking about the team's
off-the-ice power play against Khristich. On the ice the Bruins
won't be missing a thing. --Kostya Kennedy
Byron Dafoe had 10 shutouts last season to become just the third
goaltender since 1976-77 with a double-digit total. The other
two: Martin Brodeur (1996-97, '97-98) and Dominik Hasek ('97-98).
CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY
OFFENSE 13 Look for breakout seasons from Carter and Thornton
DEFENSE 5 Bourque leads a young, talented group
GOALTENDING 4 Dafoe proved he's one of the league's best
SPECIAL TEAMS 4 Top penalty killing unit lost Taylor as free
COACHING 6 Burns excels at getting players to buy into his