Haggerty: Thornton's season should be letter-worthy

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Haggerty: Thornton's season should be letter-worthy

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

Leadership in hockey can be a funny thing.

Any successful team is built on the bedrock foundation of tireless work, controlled anger and the willingness to stand up for wronged teammates. The Bruins had all these traits last winter.

Zdeno Chara became only the second European to hold an NHL captaincy on a Stanley Cup winning team last June and boasts all three qualities in high order.

Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi were Charas trusted assistant captains from Game 1 at the O2 Arena in Prague all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Canucks.

The Black and Gold leadership was as good as it gets. Those three players helped navigate the Bruins through a challenging regular season and chose the correct times to call together players only meetings at key points in the season.

It was Recchi, Bergeron and Chara who convened a meeting in Pittsburgh in January after the Bruins had imploded in the third period against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. It was the same three individuals who managed to prevent any potential front-office tension from spilling over into the dressing room during times of trouble, and kept the team focused once the CharaMax Pacioretty zoo was created in Montreal.

The leadership truly couldnt have been any better for a hockey team full of big personalities and considerable talent, and they were fully supported by a strong cast of veteran characters like Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Chris Kelly and Shane Hnidy.

But times change and hockey teams evolve, and the balance within the leadership group was significantly altered when three-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi decided to call it a career at age 43.

Recchis calming, paternal effect on young players was uncanny, and his unyielding toughness while playing through kidney stones in the 2008-09 playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes was the stuff of legend.

Theres no way to replicate that in the Bruins room.

Signing a marginal vet like Chris Clark to a camp tryout isnt going to get it done either. But life will go on for the Cup champions in their attempts to repeat, and the team needs to go about the business of naming another assistant captain.

Claude Julien and the Bruins have a couple of choices: Go back to their previous policy of rotating the second A around the team and giving it to three or four players for a period of time through the season, or simply name one high profile leader of hockey men as the assistant captain.

Julien made it clear during the State of the Bruins that it would be a decision made by the group inside the walls of their dressing room without feedback from the outside.

If its a permanent assistant captain chosen to replace Recchi, then there can really be only one choice: Shawn Thornton.

The Bruins' tough guy is universally respected within the Bs dressing room, is now one of the longest tenured players on the roster, and is the only player whos decided to make Boston his permanent home. The hard work, emotion and courage so intrinsically linked to hockey greatness serve as the framework to his game, and Thornton already boasts everything but the letter on his sweater.

It was the Bs enforcer, after all, who helped create one of the turning points in the season when he scored a pair of goals and single-handedly helped the Bruins beat down the Atlanta Thrashers as the vultures circled around Julien during a team slump last December. It was Thornton who went after Matt Cooke two years ago to clean the slate with the Pittsburgh hatchet man, and right the ultimate wrong.

Thornton is always the honest voice within the dressing room, telling teammates what they might not want to hear and demanding accountability from everyone up and down the lineup.

It was Thornton who always offers to help a new players transition to the Bruins' way of doing things. It was Thornton who opened his home in Charlestown to Byron Bitz several seasons ago when the rookie didnt have a permanent place to live, and has similarly taken young players from Tyler Seguin to Tuukka Rask under his wing.

There may even be some truth to the whispers that it was Thornton who finally approached Brad Marchand during his wild, shirtless week of celebration in Boston following the Cup victory and advised the Bs rat to cool down and head back to Halifax for a while.

While its true there arent many enforcers wearing the C or A on their sweaters around the NHL these days, Thornton has become the heart and soul of the Bruins as much as any other player on Bostons highly successful hockey club.

No. 22 is coming off his best season as a pro and knows exactly what it takes to win as the only two-time Stanley Cup champ on the Bs roster headed into camp. The positives of giving Thornton the A on his sweater far outweigh any potential negatives that could be out there.

While Ference or perhaps even a younger player like Milan Lucic might be a reasonable selections as an assistant captain in Recchis stead, theres really only one name that could lend the kind of leadership Boston will need in their attempts to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

The Bruins should vote Thornton in 2012 if they again want to be on a winning ticket this time around.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready to check out GLOW on Netflix.

*This video of a Vancouver Canucks draft pick tearing up while watching the video of his brother celebrating him getting picked is all that is right with the NHL Draft.  

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Adrian Dater has Avs first-round pick Cale Makar talking about his hockey background, and why it doesn’t matter.

*The Calgary Flames are excited about their prospects and the pieces they were able to acquire last weekend.

*The Washington Capitals have re-signed Brett Connolly for a couple of years at short money and he appears to have found a home in DC.

*The Chicago Blackhawks are still in talks with Marian Hossa about how to resolve his contract and the allergic skin condition that might have prematurely ended his hockey career.

*Will the Tampa Bay sports go through a dry spell when it comes to Hall of Fame athletes now that former Lighting forward Dave Andreychuk has been called to the Hockey Hall?

*It looks like young Pierre Luc Dubois will be put in a position to contribute with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

*Alex Prewitt has a preview of the NHL free agency period and the stress levels that many players go through in it.

*For something completely different: This video of Drake and Will Ferrell hoop handshakes was pretty solid, and funny.

 

Haggerty: Jacobs may not be beloved, but he's Hall of Fame-worthy

Haggerty: Jacobs may not be beloved, but he's Hall of Fame-worthy

If it was based solely on his 42 years as owner of the Boston Bruins, it might be debatable as to whether Jeremy Jacobs would have been selected to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The Bruins have won one championship and been to a handful of Stanley Cup Finals during Jacobs' long stewardship, of course. They also enjoyed the longest running playoff streak (29 years) in NHL history, though it began before he purchased the franchise. Altogether, the B's have won one Cup, four conference championships, two Presidents' trophies, 15 division championships, and 35 Stanley Cup playoff berths during the Jacobs Era.

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But Jacobs didn't make the Hall of Fame solely on his accomplishments with the Bruins organization. He's being inducted in the "builder” category, which is defined as "coaching, managerial or executive ability, or ability in another significant off-ice role, sportsmanship, character and contributions to his or her organization or organizations and to the game of hockey in general.”  In addition to overseeing the Bruins over the last four-plus decades, he has been a power broker at the league level for just as long.

"I am flattered to be included in with this great group of 2017 inductees, and I am humbled to be included with the legends of hockey that went before me,” said Jacobs. "Owning the Boston Bruins for 42 years has been one of the most rewarding honors of my life. I am indebted to our team's leaders and players, but most of all, to our fans, for giving me a broad and deeply appreciative perspective of the game."

The 2011 Stanley Cup victory was the overriding on-ice moment in his stewardship of the team, and the Jacobs family has had a major, altruistic impact in Boston. No one should overlook the Boston Bruins Foundation, which has touched so many lives with the $28 million that's been awarded to those in need since its inception in 1993.

Unfortunately, Jacobs will always have a reputation with a large portion of the Bruins fan base that his ownership wasn't willing to spend enough for truly competitive teams. At times he was viewed as an absentee owner living in Buffalo, overseeing the team from afar while Harry Sinden ran the operation. Those fans hold that grudge even today, despite the Bruins consistently spending to the salary cap ceiling while fielding competitive teams. They view Monday's Hall of Fame announcement as something akin to Montgomery Burns being inducted into the Springfield Hall of Fame.

Cam Neely disagrees.

"As a player, I knew of Mr. Jacobs' passion for the Bruins,” said Neely, who has served as Bruins president for nearly a decade after a Hall of Fame playing career highlighted by his years in Boston. "Over the past decade while in the front office, I have seen firsthand his dedication to winning, by consistently providing the Bruins the resources that we need to compete for Stanley Cup Championships and also his unmatched commitment to growing the game of hockey."

That commitment to hockey is a key factor in Jacobs' Hall of Fame selection.

Jacobs was unanimously voted in as chairman of the NHL Board of Governors in 2007, and he's been a major driving force in each of the last couple of oft-contentious CBA negotiations. While Jacobs clearly had a hand in the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season due to a labor dispute, and in the lockout-shortened season of 2013, those CBA negotiations ultimately led to the imposition of a salary cap and a pathway for small-market NHL teams to survive as the cost of doing hockey business continues to go up.

Without Jacobs as an often hawkish, hard-line owner, there's a chance that a team like the Western Conference champion Nashville Predators might not have been able to survive in the NHL, and it's highly doubtful they'd be able to be as competitive as they are now if teams like Toronto, New York and Chicago could outspend everybody else. So there's no denying the seismic impact that Jacobs made at the league-wide level with his leadership and commitment to growing the game, and that the NHL is better off for the battles waged in collective bargaining while he's been in a position of power.

If you polled every single Bruins fan on the street, it's unlikely he'd be a populist choice for the Hall of Fame. The lean budgetary years durinhg the playing days of Neely, Ray Bourque and others will always be part of the Spoked B history. Some will hold those grudges forever, which is part of makes us who we are as a fan base.

But faithful, rabid fans continue to stream into TD Garden, continue to spend money to support their favorite hockey team, and continue to provide the kind of support that's led to a 338-game home sellout streak. It's a sign Jacobs and Bruins ownership continue to do things very right, even if we shouldn't be scheduling any popularity contests anytime soon.