Thursday, July 27, 2006

NHL Bruins: Decisions Decisions

In 1977 (or maybe it was ’78), five or six years after the Bruins last won the Stanley Cup, my eighth grade teacher at Boltz Junior High School, Gary Hayter, stood in front of his seated pupils, poised to flip a penny.

Heads or tails? Now if you pick heads and it’s tails, did you make a good decision? Yes.

That’s when I understood the difference between decisions and outcomes, a lesson I relay to you now, as it applies to the 2006 Boston Bruins. With that in mind, here’s an analysis of some of the B’s decisions over the past few weeks.

In May, the Bruins hired Peter Chiarelli to replace GM Mike O’Connell, which seemed like a bad decision from where I sit—not because of Chiarelli’s credentials but because of his circumstances. Working for two teams at the same time, even if the NHL was keeping close tabs on the situation, was a conflict of interest. Good outcome? I hope so.

In June, still under the employ of the Ottawa Senators but making a call on his own dime, Chiarelli tapped his old Harvard teammate and former Bruins’ defenseman Don Sweeney to be the Black and Gold’s director of player development. Good decision there. Sweeney should have a good idea of the talent pool because after playing 15 seasons for the Bs and a one-year stint in Dallas, he has stayed close to Boston and the Bruins.

Later in June, the Bruins traded defenseman Nick Boynton to the Coyotes for another blueliner, Paul Mara. I can't speak for Mara’s play except to say that his plus-minus had been dreadful, a career minus-82 in his eight seasons with the Lighting and Coyotes (not the greatest teams, however). Boynton seemed to be the B's vocal on-ice leader, and he's a wear-his-heart-on-his-sleeve type of player. He got off to a bad start (hold-out), took a dumb penalty every once in a while, and had significant injuries. But he was a solid defenseman in his tenure with the Bruins (career plus-30). Hopefully Mara’s power play prowess will make fans forget his presumed defensive liabilities to derive a good outcome after a bad decision.

A good decision: Keeping Assistant GM Jeff Gorton around. The fellow who would have done just fine as the new Bruins’ GM brokered the Zdeno Chara deal (five years for 37.5 million dollars). That deal, along with signing Marc Savard, seemed like a good decision. But were they?

Fans are fickle because good decisions aren’t good decisions unless the outcome is a long playoff run. For the love of Gary Hayter, that sounds crazy! But it’s true for most longtime Bruins fans because they too often neglect to make a distinction between decisions and outcomes. Remember Sergei Gonchar? Bruins’ management broke tradition by trading Shaone Morrison and two draft picks for Gonchar, a big-name and big-dollar player, just before the 2004 trading deadline. Most Bruins’ fans—and players—were thrilled by the news. Finally Jeremy Jacobs and Harry Sinden had seen the light!

Hate to say it (nah, not really), but I thought it was a bad move because Gonchar’s scoring got more attention than his suspect defensive play. Bad outcome, too. The Canadiens dumped the Bruins in the first round.

And except for me, Mr. Hayter (and maybe you), it’s all about the outcome.
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