The Bruins officially disappeared into Bizarro World in late
September when center Jason Allison, who was ensnared in a
contract impasse, volunteered to cease squabbling with Boston
general manager Mike O'Connell and negotiate directly with team
president Harry Sinden. That would be the same Harry Sinden who,
as the Bruins' general manager for 28 seasons before
relinquishing those duties last November, had built a reputation
as one of the game's toughest negotiators, one who gave no
quarter (literally) to players he was trying to sign. It was no
surprise that Allison and the Bruins hadn't reached an agreement
as SI went to press.

Even before Allison took his case upstairs, things were pretty
strange around the Fleet Center. By signing left wing Martin
Lapointe (four years, $20 million), defenseman Sean O'Donnell
(three years, $7.5 million), center Rob Zamuner (three years,
$7.5 million) and winger Scott Pellerin (two years, $3 million),
the usually tightfisted Bruins committed far more money to free
agents than they had in any previous off-season. "If a player can
help us, we try to sign him," says O'Connell of the unprecedented
spending. "That's always been true."

An equally surprising development was the sight of goalies Byron
Dafoe and John Grahame looking fit and turning away shots. Both
were sidelined for more than three months last season with
injuries as Boston missed the playoffs by a single point. Dafoe
went 22-14-7, but the Bruins were 14-16-9 without him. So, when
Dafoe said after a preseason start, "I felt really good. I didn't
have any aches and pains," it led to another unusual image:
Boston coach Robbie Ftorek, a cantankerous sort, grinning widely.

With explosive forwards Bill Guerin, Sergei Samsonov and Joe
Thornton on hand, the Bruins are playoff material. While Boston
appears too shallow to sustain a Stanley Cup push, such a run
isn't impossible. As anyone in the organization can tell you,
stranger things have happened.

--K.K.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Martin Lapointe, Bruins

Fast Fact

Right wing Bill Guerin, who was acquired by the Bruins last
November, played in 85 regular-season games in 2000-01, one
short of the single-season record held by Jimmy Carson and Bob
Kudelski.

Insider

CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

FORWARDS 18 If Allison isn't back, offense lacks punch
down middle
DEFENSE 21 Can McLaren come back from his knee injury?
GOALTENDING 21 A top 10 ranking if injury-prone Dafoe stays
healthy
SPECIAL TEAMS 18 6'7" Gill must use his size to make the PK
effective
MANAGEMENT 24 G.M. O'Connell overspent for some free agents

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)