21 Boston Bruins What happens when a team loses two important free agents? Wait and see

October 13, 2002

Bostonians are patient, a quality general manager Mike O'Connell
holds in spades. With an eye toward the expiration of the
league's collective bargaining agreement in September 2004,
O'Connell has adopted a wait-and-see policy. Concerned that a new
CBA could include a salary cap or luxury tax, he won't sign free
agents to deals that run past '03-04. That's why the club's two
most significant free agents--winger Bill Guerin (41 goals, 25
assists) and goaltender Byron Dafoe (35-26-3, 2.21 goals-against
average)--weren't re-signed in the summer, leaving holes the size
of the Big Dig in the Bruins' lineup. "Term is very important,"
O'Connell says. "After 2004 we have no idea what kind of system
will be in place. If we sign, say, five players past that season,
it might handcuff us. We don't know what the landscape is going
to look like. We have to be prepared."

That attitude, combined with Boston's shocking first-round loss
to Montreal--the Bruins were the top seed in the Eastern
Conference--made Dafoe and Guerin expendable. Dafoe will be
replaced by either Steve Shields, acquired from the Mighty Ducks
for a draft pick, or John Grahame, last season's backup, neither
of whom is a proven starter. The 30-year-old Shields appears to
have the inside track. At 6'3" and 215 pounds he has unusually
good lateral mobility, and he aggressively challenges shooters.
"Not to take anything from Byron, but when a team expects to go a
long way in the playoffs and it doesn't, somebody takes the
heat," Shields says. "Obviously, Byron did in this case."

Replacing Guerin will be just as difficult. Although the top line
of Sergei Samsonov, Joe Thornton and Glen Murray (a combined 86
goals and 112 assists) is among the league's most explosive,
scoring depth is a concern. To solve that, the Bruins will try to
coax offense from their blueliners, none of whom had more than
four goals last season. In addition to puck-moving 23-year-old
Nick Boynton, Boston will work free-agent signee Bryan Berard and
Jonathan Girard, 22, into the rotation. Says Boynton, "I don't
want to sacrifice anything in my end, but I'd like to help
offensively."

That help will be needed if Boston is to avoid two years of
waiting in vain. --D.G.H.

COLOR PHOTO: STEVE BABINEAU/SPORTS ACTION (BRUINS) [Regional Cover Inset] CAN THE BRUINS BOUNCE BACK? JOE THORNTON COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Glen Murray

FAST FACT

Brian Rolston's nine shorthanded goals last season were the most
since Mario Lemieux set the single-season record (13) in 1988-89.

INSIDER

CATEGORY SI RANKING SKINNY

OFFENSE 21 Replacing Guerin's 41 goals a key; can
Lapointe up production?
DEFENSE 22 Limited mobility and puckhandling skills
GOALTENDING 30 Neither Shields nor Grahame have No. 1
ability
SPECIAL TEAMS 20 PP iffy, but PK remains strong with
Rolston, Axelsson
MANAGEMENT 26 G.M. O'Connell's refusal to sign G Dafoe
may haunt team

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)