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10 BOSTON Bruins
Stephen Cannella
October 13, 2003
With a locker room out of Friends, the club looks to a new coach for focus and toughness
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October 13, 2003

10 Boston Bruins

With a locker room out of Friends, the club looks to a new coach for focus and toughness

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Lack of team chemistry is the most overused excuse for losing, but not in Boston. As he sifted through the ashes of the Bruins' second-half collapse and first-round-playoff flameout, G.M. Mike O'Connell arrived at this conclusion: "The players may have been too close. You get into an area where everyone likes each other so much they're afraid to [criticize one another]."

None of the team leaders openly challenged players to shape up and break out of a slide in which they won only 17 of their final 55 games. Not coach Robbie Ftorek, who was axed with nine games left in the regular season, not soft-spoken captain Joe Thornton, not even O'Connell, who replaced Ftorek the rest of the way.

In the off-season O'Connell promoted 35-year-old coach Mike Sullivan from the club's AHL affiliate in Providence, where he coached several of the Bruins who were in camp. The youngest man behind the bench in the NHL, Sullivan is known as a meticulous planner, a disciplinarian and an excellent communicator. Says right wing Martin Lapointe, "When he speaks in the dressing room, his message is clear."

The on-ice message will be heavy on the trap and the need to create a rough-and-tumble team identity. So who better to build around than the 24-year-old Thornton, a 6'4", 220-pound monster near the net and a Hart Trophy winner in the making. If Thornton, the league's third-leading scorer last season with 101 points, and right wing Glen Murray, who's had two consecutive 40-goal seasons, are matched with mighty mite left wing Sergei Samsonov, who missed all but eight games last year with a wrist injury, Boston will have one of the NHL's elite lines. The Bruins also need free-agent pickup Felix Potvin to rebound from an off year in goal for the Kings. (His .894 save percentage was the fifth-worst in the league.)

The Bruins should have plenty of motivation: With the possibility of a lockout next season, the front office has only four players signed beyond 2003-04. Almost everyone's playing for a new contract.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]