In Boston, Thornton more McHale than Bird

Updated: December 8, 2005, 1:04 PM ET
By John Buccigross | Special to ESPN.com

I was watching one of those NFL Films shows on ESPN last week, and one of the segments had host Steve Sabol interviewing New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The QB is a compelling interview -- Brady is smart, engaged and candid. He has one of those pulsating personalities that exude enthusiasm and purpose.

Brady said former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway was one of those players who inspire others around him with their love of the game. They take the lead with their talent, their effort and the "bounce" in their step that carries from practices to games.

The city of Boston has a history of grinders. During the Revolutionary War, those fighting and dying for the cause were pugnacious, rag-tag mockers. George Washington, raised in proper Virginia, was initially put off by this lot he was leading against the British. In time, he learned to appreciate their … idiosyncrasies.

SHOT OF THE WEEK
Every week, we will present an NHL photo and I'll provide a caption. E-mail me your suggestions (include your name and hometown/state) and next week we will use the best ones and provide a new photo.

LAST WEEK:
"It's never difficult to spot Darren Pang's illegitimate children."

Your submissions:
Filming for "Friday The 13th, Part 42: Spawn of Spawn of Jason" began at the Staples Center on Saturday.
-- Scott Friedman, Ocean City, N.J.

"We don't need no education ... "
--Dan Jones, Budd Lake, N.J.

"Dad says we HAVE to wear these things because Sean Avery can't hit the broad side of a barn with his shot."
--Stephen Winget, Philadelphia

In other Hollywood news, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn renewed their Kings season-ticket package again.
--John Kurtz, RRT

"But Daddy, we don't want to dress as Rogie Vachon for Halloween again!"
-- Aaron R., St. Louis

Even though the Kings pulled BOTH goaltenders, the Blues still couldn't score.
--Michael Chamberlain, Tomball, Texas

THIS WEEK:

"Marc Crawford reacts to the Florida Panthers and the NHL's decision to boost ticket sales by having naked referee night."

Boston sports fans are also an aggressive, loud bunch. They follow their team and they cheer loudly. Over the past 100 years, Boston has seen Eddie Shore, Ted Williams, Bill Russell, Carl Yastrzemski, John Havlicek, Bobby Orr, Dave Cowens, Phil Esposito, Larry Bird, Ray Bourque, Roger Clemens, Cam Neely, Pedro Martinez, Tom Brady, Jason Varitek and Curt Schilling perform and lead their teams to many wins, and occasionally, a championship.

These players had enormous amounts of self motivation, an inordinate amount of love and affection for what they did that was blatantly evident by how they played, and were afraid of losing like teenagers are afraid of zits.

Joe Thornton, for all of his point production and mid-North American likeability, never displayed those athletic values in his eight seasons in Boston, the final few as captain.

Not like Messier, Yzerman, Forsberg, or even Eric Lindros, for crying out loud. The casual fan loved his name, number, size and smile. The hard core bristled at his undisciplined retaliatory stick work, partiality for the perimeter and an unwillingness to shoot. In Boston, Thornton was more Kevin McHale than Larry Bird. More Manny than Big Papi. He was good, productive and talented. But like McHale, it wasn't do or die. And like Manny Ramirez, Thornton didn't understand people and what made different personalities tick. He just did what he did.

But that's OK. Thornton, like Ramirez, is valuable because he consistently provides high offensive output. Neither is a stellar defensive player nor is in love with the important nuances of the game like base running and faceoffs. But the offense they provide is an important part of the team. To plug someone like Ramirez or Thornton into your lineup is part of the championship process, especially over long seasons like baseball and hockey.

No, the Joe Thornton dilemma has way more to do with the Boston Bruins and their failure to recognize the power of personality and the characteristics each player brings. Hockey is the most human of games. Every emotion is touched in a hockey game. Excitement, love, rage, anger, exaltation. It's all there. The mix of the team is essential, and it starts at the top.

Great hockey teams start there with that intense leader, who so intensely loved the competition that it would light a fire in others.

I once wrote here that I didn't really get Mark Messier until I interviewed him for the first time. Then, I felt his gift, his power of persuasion and bubbling love of life. Joe Thornton will never have that.

The Bruins' "plan" was to have him grow into that role, but they should have seen during his first training camp in 1997 that Jumbo Joe was never cut out for that. Bourque's career was winding down and it was at that point that they needed to begin the search. One of their answers was to give Martin Lapointe $5 million a year.

A lot of player personnel decisions in sports are luck. The Red Sox never thought David Ortiz would turn into a mammoth offensive and clubhouse force. That was luck. But they did know Schilling and his love of the spotlight. Messier loved the spotlight. That's why he thrived in New York.

RIGHT SAID FRED
"Paul Kariya is the biggest diver in the league, and [Darcy] Hordichuk is the worst player in the NHL. He's an embarrassment. He can't even skate, he can't shoot and he can't pass. Just look at the stats."
-- Los Angeles Kings' Sean Avery

The Bruins needed to have a plan that fused with the talent of Joe Thornton. They needed to build around him from a talent sense, not a captain sense. They needed to find their Derek Jeters. Coming out of the lockout, it was even easier to plan.

The Bruins were trumpeting their vast salary space and telling everyone how smart they were. Their plan was a quick fix. To their credit, they went hard after Mike Modano and appeared to have had him. He would have been the perfect complement to Thornton. The Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999 in part because Modano played with a broken bone in his wrist and still had 23 points in 23 playoff games. He would take the star-power load off of Thornton and ease the burden. Modano has been a very good playoff performer and Joe Thornton has not.

The Bruins didn't get Modano, but still filled their cap space. The Bruins were hoping another year of maturity and a couple of Team Canada international competitions would lift Thornton to a higher place. But it didn't happen. The Bruins slammed him in arbitration and then signed him to a three-year deal with a no-trade clause in only one year of the deal. That was the end of Joe Thornton in Boston.

In the final minute of Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Devils, Thornton lost a faceoff to John Madden, which resulted in New Jersey's game-winning goal. Joe was off to San Jose the next day. A great point producer traded for two good players and an average one. And to think, the Bruins probably could have done a sign-and-trade for Dany Heatley and a prospect -- I think the Thrashers would have had some interest in Joe Thornton in late August.

So what will become of Joe Thornton and the Bruins? Well, Thornton will go to San Jose and do what he always has done -- amass points and make his linemates rich. Thornton may not make his entire team better, but he definitely makes his linemates, like Jonathan Cheechoo, better, and that's a valuable commodity in a team game.

By not having the pressure of being an Original Six captain, Thornton will go to Northern California and chill. And get 100 points. He'll help the Sharks make the playoffs. He has a second big-time center in Patrick Marleau and a team that will make another move because they have cap space. Unlike the Bruins, the Sharks stood pat, kept their cap space after failing to get the precise player they needed, and as a result, were able to make a trade for Thornton.

Joe Thornton
Rick Stewart/Getty Images Now out of the Boston spotlight, Joe Thornton might thrive in San Jose.

As for the Bruins, they will probably miss the playoffs. (The Rangers, Flyers, Devils, Senators, Sabres, Canadiens, Lightning and Thrashers should finish with more points. The Hurricanes, Islanders and Maple Leafs might.) Their defense has improved, adding some mobility, but they will go through stretches where they don't score because No. 19 is in the Pacific time zone.

The plan?

For the love of god, clean house, and I mean clean house. Hire Ray Bourque as team president and give him full autonomy. He knows what it takes to win, he knows the kinds of players that are the right mix and he knows who to hire to get the job done. Good organizations start at the top and who better than Bourque to set the tone?

In the meantime, the team should begin to look at players who will be restricted or unrestricted free agents over the next two years. Players like Brad Richards and Chris Drury. These are the kinds of players that should have been, or could have been, built around Thornton.

Make no mistake about it, Thornton is a unique star and the chances of the Bruins winning were better with him than without him. The front office tried, but they never quite found the right piece to put with their Manny-like talent. So it will eventually be up to a new administration to start over, to find a star and build adroitly around him. Jarome Iginla doesn't need help in the leadership role, Vincent Lecavalier did. Not everyone can carry the weight of the world. It's not an indictment, it's a fact.

I can't think of a better person than Bourque to start the reconstruction of an Original Six franchise that hasn't won a Stanley Cup in 32 years.

The Mother of All Mailbags

Hockey Dad Extraordinaire,
At the quarter season mark, which NHL team is:
1.) The most improved?
2.) The biggest disappointment?
3.) The most overrated?
4.) A shoe-in for the Cup Finals?

Ron Synan
Orlando, Fla.

1.) New York Rangers/Carolina Hurricanes (tie)
2.) Boston Bruins/San Jose Sharks (tie)
3.) I don't think anyone is overrated.
4.) Ottawa Senators/Calgary Flames. With clutch and grab coming back, no team is better prepared than Calgary.


Hockey Night

John,

Just curious, what are your three favorite NHL logos and your three least favorite?

Mark McLaughlin
Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Favorite logos, not complete uniforms:

-- Boston Bruins (good family logo for the Buccigross family.)
-- Chicago Blackhawks
-- Montreal Canadiens

Least favorite logos:

-- Carolina Hurricanes (should we name sports teams after natural disasters?)
-- Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (it's time to change that name)
-- Columbus Blue Jackets (too much going on there)


John,
I don't know who's complaining about your baby name suggestions, because I love them. Speaking of which, my wife and I just found out we're expecting our first. It's still too early to know what sex the baby will be, but if you've got time, I'd love to hear your ideas for a name.

Thanks,
Marc Hoffort
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Girl: Hannah Selma Hoffort
Boy: Henry Marcus Hoffort (there are not enough Henry's anymore)

Hockey Fact: The NHL record for most team wins in a season is 62 by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings. As I write this, Ottawa is 20-4, which means they need to finish 43-15 to break the Wings' record.


John,

With the NHL finally returning, hopes high with a pretty good team on paper and the recent success of the Pats and Sox, Jumbo Joe had the city of Boston in the palm of his hand. Instead, he continued to be an awful leader, who coasted through games without passion (granted he was putting up some numbers) and now he is gone. See ya, Joe -- thanks for a few bright spots. Give me Tom Brady and Jason Varitek any day.

Jason
Danvers, Mass.


JB,

I am so irate right now I can hardly type. I have been a Bruins fan since I turned 8 years old. I have followed them through year after year of getting spanked by the Canadians in the Playoffs.

I have been the biggest Joe Thornton fan I know. When he scored 101 points in the middle of hockey's most anemic scoring era I cheered like a son-of-gun. Joe Thornton was my favorite player by a billion miles. I have subscribed to the NHL package for the last three seasons just to watch every Bruins game. I got DVR this year just so I could tape all his games. As of one hour ago I cancelled my subscription. My days as a hockey fan are over.

Bill Shore
San Diego, Calif.


John

As a Sharks season-ticket holder for 13 years, I can say the Sharks lost this trade hands down. I think the overall reaction to this trade is a classic example of East Coast bias. Thank God for Center Ice -- I'm now a Bruins fan.

Mike Biester


John,

Barry Melrose is close, but not quite correct about the Canadian slang for underwear. We do not call it "goch," but "gonch." Or "ginch." Most people just call it underwear, though.

Jody Banman
Vancouver


John,

Barry Melrose says they call underwear "goch" in Canada. This is almost correct. We call them "gotchies." "You are playing hockey today son, go put on your long gotchies."

Vive Le Canada!
Blair Halchuk,
Burlington, Ontario

Sooooo, we have a gonch and a gotchie. Is there any wonder Canada is throwing out their government? Wait, one more. Read below.


John,

Regarding the Canadian nickname for underwear, there seem to be some regional variations on the term Gotch. For instance, in Alberta, where I live, the term is actually "Gonch" (or "Ginch"). For instance, our term for a wedgie was always "gonch-pull." But as soon as you cross the border into Saskatchewan, the pronunciation mysteriously turns into "Gotch" or "Gitch." My Ontario roommate and I argued about this constantly. The issue was never resolved and we went our separate ways.

Steve Saunders
Calgary, Alberta


John,

I have a real problem with so many of today's U.S.-based team announcers. Most of them are blatant "homers." I long for the days when the late Dan Kelly (Blues) and the late Gene Hart (Flyers) called games.

Major Anthony Styer, USMC
Suffolk, Va.

Remember, most NHL announcers are paid by the teams. In years past, the radio stations paid the players. This enables teams to filter what is said over the air. Most of the groups do a good job getting as close to the 100 percent objective as possible. But some teams do tell their announcers to ease up if they feel they are getting too critical.


John,
I was at MSG last night (Nov. 26) for the 15-round shootout. It was amazing!! I wasn't too sure if I was a fan of it or not but after last night, I'm sold. What a move by Malik!! The Garden atmosphere hasn't been like that in a long, LONG time!! Great stuff.

Mike Rea
Marlboro, N.J.


Hi John,

I was at the Rangers-Caps game on Saturday night and I've never seen anything quite like that in my life. And at 3 a.m., when I got home, both sports-radio stations were still talking about it.

Rajath Vikram
The Bronx

The shootout is here to stay. When the Rangers/Capitals shootout was going on, every TV in the ESPN newsroom was on. It's getting people talking about hockey. It's showing off skill. But I would still add five minutes of overtime to keep shootouts as fresh as possible. Games are going very fast with the tag up offside and quick faceoff.


John,

When you wrote that you wished for Bruce Driver to change his number to No. 8 because of the R.E.M song, I had to tell you that I've been hoping Rob DiMaio would change his number to 5 for years.

Cinco DiMaio.

Greg
St Louis

Send in more of these people. When Steve Heinze wore No. 57, I openly wept.


Bucci,

Is it just me or did Colin Campbell show blatant favoritism to Wayne Gretzky, Shane Doan and the Phoenix Coyotes regarding the events at the end of the Nov. 22 game against The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim?

Rule 56 a clearly states that: "A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime, shall be assessed an instigator minor penalty, a major for fighting, a ten minute misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension. The length of suspension will double for each subsequent offense. In addition, the player's coach shall be fined $10,000 -- a fine that will double for each subsequent incident."

Kim Koerner
Cypress, Calif.

I was watching that game, and there is no doubt that Doan should have been suspended. From Pee-Wee to the NHL, one of the scars of hockey is the late-in-the-game violence that goes on in lopsided or emotional games. It's gotten people paralyzed at the junior/minor hockey level, and it's given players concussions and broken necks at the NHL level. I don't understand the fascination with Shane Doan. He's a slightly above-average NHL player, a 20-goal scorer who is a career minus player. Great guy, courageous and plays hard, but he is that classic case of an overrated Canadian who would not receive that same slack or notoriety if he were European or even American.


Bucci:

Dick Pound is a notorious, buffoon headline hound, but I do have a question. Wasn't there a lot of concern about ephedrine and other stimulants before the last Olympics and the NHL being involved? And isn't there still the specter of stimulants as performance enhancers in the NHL? Just wondering.

Deborah K. Sullivan

I've taken Ephedra when I've felt groggy before I anchored, so I know I certainly would have taken it on back-to-back nights if I played in the NHL. Ephedra is a natural, herbal substance. There is Ephedra in Pseudofed. I'm not a coffee drinker, so Ephedra increased my energy level and focus. But I followed the label's directions, which included getting off it for a few weeks. And I never took it in the summer because it increased your core temperature. That's what fat burners do. I don't recall the Ephedra labels mentioning hot and humid weather, but I thought that was an obvious thing to avoid. Now, I drink those sugar-laced energy drinks, and while they help a little, they ain't Ephedra.

My friend gave me a pill in college during an all-night exam cram session and told me it was a caffeine laced "NoDoze" pill. He told me later it was "speed" or an amphetamine. The results were extraordinary. I can see how they become addicting because the effects were so profound. Like any drug, including beer, they become destructive when they are abused. Thankfully, I don't have an addictive personality and I've never taken one again.

Dick Pound includes amphetamines in his public comments of performance-enhancing drugs, while most of the public takes his comments on performance-enhancing drugs as strictly steroid-speak. A former baseball player told me that now that baseball has banned amphetamines, you will see a major drop off in performance next year in games after long flights and especially late in the season.

As Mr. Mackey says on South Park, "Drugs are bad, mmkay." What professional sports leagues need to do is to put greed aside and play fewer games and let the athletes recharge naturally and safely. Then their union members, or employees, aren't put in a position where they might be tempted to take these potentially dangerous drugs.

John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.

John Buccigross | email

SportsCenter anchor
John Buccigross joined ESPN as an anchor in October 1996. He currently can be seen as an anchor on "SportsCenter." Buccigross frequently contributes to ESPN.com during the season.

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