New contract disputes could result in another grim season in Beantown
For years, the Bruins have been the poster organization for fiscal responsibility. Last season, for instance, Boston exercised its right to walk away from the $2.8 million salary that had been awarded to forward Dmitri Khristich in arbitration, and three weeks into the season traded him to the Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, starting goaltender Byron Dafoe, a restricted free agent, missed the first month of 1999-2000 because he and the Bruins could not come to terms on a contract. He wound up signing practically the same deal (three years, $9.3 million) in October that Boston had offered him a month earlier.
The undermanned Bruins struggled when the season began, and Dafoe never got untracked after he returned to action. As the year went on, injuries cut a swath through the Boston lineup, and the high hopes the Bruins once had were crushed. They finished last in the Northeast Division and missed the playoffs.
Now it looks as if Boston is headed the same way this season. After having signed unrestricted free-agent defenseman Paul Coffey, 39, to a generous two-year, $4-5 million contract last month, the Bruins remained at loggerheads last week with three key restricted free-agent forwards—Joe Thornton, 21, Anson Carter, 26, and Sergei Samsonov, 21—with no resolution in sight.
"I worry about them not being at training camp, but I don't have a solution," general manager Harry Sinden says of his impasse with the trio, who had a combined 152 points last year. "Whether it was real or not, the rest of the team imagined that [last year's contract disputes] had an effect on their play."
Sinden says Boston has changed its negotiating strategy and no longer will make the low-ball offers for which it has taken a beating from the public over the past decade. "Whatever the market says the player should get, that's what we offer," says Sinden, "but that doesn't leave me with any blinking room, unless we want to pay that player more than he deserves."
There's not much chance of that happening. Thornton and Samsonov, the first and eighth players drafted in 1997, respectively, received bonus-laden contracts from the Bruins because, if Boston hadn't signed them within two years, they could have reentered the draft. Now, however, because they don't qualify for arbitration until they complete five years of NHL service (both have three years), the leverage has shifted from Thornton and Samsonov to the team.
Carter could have gone to arbitration but decided not to, in part because of the way Boston handled the Khristich situation last season. Says Carter's agent Pat Brisson, "The Bruins messed up their chemistry last year. It's almost as if training camp and October and November don't count for them."
All Eyes Will Be On the Twins
They were the darlings of the 1999 entry draft, a pair of carrottopped twins who were selected by the Canucks after Vancouver had engineered dramatic draft-day deals. Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the No. 2 and 3 picks in that draft, respectively, will emerge from the darkness of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, where the sun shines only a few hours a day in the winter, to the NHL spotlight when training camps open next month. The pressures on them will be enormous because they are being counted on to help reverse the fortune of the Canucks, who have missed the postseason the last four years.