Last season the Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time in 30 years, ending the longest streak of postseason appearances in North American pro sports and triggering a series of strange developments on Causeway Street. Boston's streak had become a monument to mediocrity, a ruse designed to tempt season-ticket holders into renewing their subscriptions while the team forsook a real rebuilding effort. Eventually, however, Bostonians caught on. In the last few years attendance dropped and frustration rose. The fans wanted the Bruins to get younger, hipper and more explosive. Then, in 1996-97, Boston finished at the bottom of the Northeast Division (26-47-9), bringing an end to Steve Kasper's dismal two-year stint as coach and securing the top pick in the draft.
You watch, said cynical Bruins fans, frugal team president Harry Sinden will hire some former Bruins retread as coach and, in his never-ending quest to save a nickel, trade the No. 1 choice for two toothless goons who couldn't find the net with computerized directions. But Sinden wiped the cobwebs off owner Jeremy Jacobs's checkbook and brought in Pat Burns, the former Canadiens and Maple Leafs coach who immediately injected new energy and attitude into the moribund franchise. In Burns's eight seasons as an NHL coach, his teams always have made the playoffs, but he has never had a club as green as this one.
Then on draft day the Bruins used the top pick to select 18-year-old center Joe Thornton, whose size (6'4", 200 pounds) and scoring touch have led some observers to compare him with Eric Lindros. When Thornton struggled in training camp and then broke his wrist in an exhibition game—he'll miss the first few weeks of the season—suddenly he was being compared with another former top pick, defenseman Gord Kluzak. The Bruins drafted Kluzak in 1982, and he had an injury-plagued eight-year career.
Boston fans are still excited about another 18-year-old, left wing Sergei Samsonov. Samsonov, the Bruins' second pick in the first round (No. 8), brings speed and scoring ability, if not size (5'8", 184 pounds). Goaltender Jim Carey, who arrived in a deal last March, will spend his first full season in the nets for the Bruins, and as always, the defense will be anchored by 15-time All-Star Ray Bourque. Some things never change.