Posted: Saturday July 1, 2006 7:35PM; Updated: Tuesday July 4, 2006 11:14AM
In Zdeno Chara, Boston signed the marquee member of the 2006 free-agent class, and the NHL's tallest player at 6-foot-9.
You can forgive fans of the Boston Bruins if they look a bit bewildered. After suffering through years of mismanagement on Causeway Street, they're probably not sure how to react when something positive happens to their team.
It's fair to say that something positive happened Saturday, just hours after the start of the free-agent shopping season. The Bruins, guided by the hand of interim GM Jeff Gorton, signed the marquee member of the 2006 class, defender Zdeno Chara. Moments later they added center Marc Savard, the NHL's ninth-leading scorer in 2005-06.
That, friends, is a big splash. Fans of the Bruins should feel free to jump up and down, buy the first round and wear the black-and-gold again with pride.
Of course it's a little early to start planning the parade, but the new-look Bruins are well on their way to recovering from last season's dismal performance.
The team is set in goal for the next 10 years, with Hannu Toivonen as the lead man and Tim Thomas providing veteran insurance. Last Saturday, Gorton also picked up a player some consider the best goalie prospect outside of the NHL, when he dealt former Calder winner Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for Tuuka Rask. With Chara, the rebuilt defense could rank among the top five in the league. Veterans Brad Stuart and Paul Mara both excel at the transition game, and youngsters Milan Jurcina, Mark Stuart and Andrew Alberts bring exceptional size, smarts and more than a little jam.
The offense, led by Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes and Marco Sturm, is young, creative and swift. But as good as they are, they were the only legitimate options last season. The addition of Savard to help line 1B will force the opposition to address two lines instead of one, easing the burden on both.
In Savard, Boston acquires a complex character. He's about as soft as they come defensively, but his offensive game is so compelling that it -- almost -- can be overlooked.
He's unlikely to repeat his 97-point performance -- unless he brings Ilya Kovalchuk with him -- but he should be good for 75-80. That would be respectable given that he'll be competing with Bergeron's line for the prime minutes he enjoyed with the Thrashers.
The happiest to see Savard arrive should be Glen Murray, the former 40-goal man who slumped badly after his old running buddy Joe Thornton was shipped to San Jose. There's a good chance he could return to form with Savard's slick playmaking to feed him. It's also tempting to picture Savard teaming up with 18-year-old speedster Phil Kessel. Talk persists that the fifth overall pick in this year's draft will leave college to sign with the Bruins this season. Team those two with a savvy defensive presence like P.J. Axelsson and you've got the potential for a dynamic unit.
With some very promising youngsters in the B's pipeline, including forwards Petr Kalus, Martins Karsums and David Krejci and defenders Yuri Alexandrov and Matt Lashoff, Bruins fans understood that better days were ahead. But given the magnitude of Saturday's bold signings of Chara and Savard, the timetable has been accelerated. In Boston, it appears the future is now.