Amidst the hubub of draft weekend, with the anointing of Hockey Saviour Connor McDavid (Canadian spelling for a Canadian boy), the flurry of goalie trades, and the drafting of Chinese-born player Andong Song, the Bruins not-so-quietly traded pending RFA Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for a first round pick and two seconds. It was widely regarded as a clearly necessary move from a team that feared an offersheet for the highly coveted young defenseman, though also something of a fleecing by the Flames, prompting some to joke that Brian Burke had won the Phil Kessel trade after all. Fans were…less than pleased. The Bruins then had what many consider to be a frankly baffling draft, going off the board enough that I, sitting up in the stands of the BB&T Center, said, “Look, I like Jakub Zboril too, but really?”
And then the Bruins did something that hockey fans have grown depressingly familiar with over the last ten years: they began to shit-talk Dougie Hamilton.
Look at him. So young. So ginger. So full of hope.
Reports began to leak that Hamilton was disliked by his fellow teammates. He was described as “an uppity kid” and maybe it’s just my association with the word uppity is negative, but that phrase just sends douchechills down my back. What makes this all the more suspicious and frankly kind of gross is that literally a day before the trade, reports said the Bruins were “intent” on inking a new deal with Hamilton.
Maybe we should have heard the sound of knives sharpening in Boston the moment the Hamilton deal was announced as the Bruins planned to full-on Julius Caesar Hamilton’s character. After all, this isn’t the first time the Bruins have done it — just ask Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel, or, heck, Joe Thornton.
In 2005, Joe Thornton was traded to the Sharks in a deal that is widely cited as a win for the Sharks and…less so for the Bruins. Thornton was already unpopular with fans for “underperforming” during the 2004 playoffs, which, it should be noted, he played with a broken rib. (Wow, Joe Thornton being criticized for his playoff performance, that’s completely unheard of.)
Joe being Joe, he wasn’t exactly quiet about being less than impressed with the direction the team was heading, but he still re-signed following the lockout…and then was traded.
“I was blindsided,” Thornton said in a conference call. “On the one hand it’s disappointing, and on the other it’s good to start over again. When you don’t win, there’s going to be changes.
“Obviously [the Bruins] believe in their coach and their general manager, and I’m next in line, so I’ve got to move on. … I came back here to win, and we haven’t been winning. Whose fault is that? I’m not sure, but I’m out of here, so it must be mine.”
It worked out all right for Thornton; he ended up winning the Art Ross and the Hart Trophy that year. You know, that little award they give the league’s most valuable player. Meanwhile, writers in Boston were penning pieces like this:
Early on, second week of the season, he had a bad back. For two months, he rarely was spotted in front of the net, where the league virtually hung out a ”vacancy” sign this season, encouraging one and all to work the low slot. Thornton just never registered with the front desk. He was content, comfortable to set up shop behind the goal line or stand along the right half-board, looking to pass, clearly steering away from heavy contact — or the places one might expect heavy contact.
Is that what we call Bruins? Hardly.
It was, quite frankly, puzzling to the point of disbelief.
Yeah, I think he did find his way in San Jose…
Any of that sound familiar? It should. It sounds unnervingly similar to what the Bruins management said about their decision to trade Tyler Seguin in the episode of “Behind the B” that supposedly showed their discussions about the kid who happened to have led the team in scoring the year before.
“He’s not a physical player. He relies all on his skill,” director of player personnel Scott Bradley said.
“Does that sound familiar?” added general manager Peter Chiarelli.
Why yes, Peter, it does! And frankly it raises questions like, why did you draft him and keep a kid who wasn’t exactly ever known for his physical play if he didn’t fit the Big Bad Bruins style?
When Phil Kessel was traded away from the Bruins in 2009, he, like Hamilton, was an RFA and was apparently thrilled to go to the Leafs. Reports are he was unhappy in Boston and didn’t get along with the coach. When asked about the trade, Chiarelli said, “One, it’s about a player who did not want to play in Boston. Two, it’s about the threat or the perceived threat of an offer sheet.” Sounds kind of like the reasoning behind trading Dougie Hamilton.
I don’t know the details of the Boston dressing room, so I can’t speak to the veracity of any and all stories of bad behavior from those players, but it’s curious that Milan Lucic, for example, who has not exactly always been on his best behavior in Boston or in, on occasion, Vancouver, seems to get a pass from the team and the media. Whether that’s because his trade is more understandable or because he was more diplomatic about the trade is anyone’s guess.
So why does this happen? Why did this happen to Seguin, Kessel, Hamilton, Thornton, but not to players who were traded away like Lucic or Peverley? How do roster fixtures touted as the next big thing like Seguin or Hamilton go from beloved to scapegoat in one weekend? It increasingly seems that this is just how the Bruins — through three general managers now — deflect blame or distract fans and the media from trades that seem somewhat questionable. Maybe it worked in the past, but as the Bruins are discovering, fans just aren’t buying it anymore.
“Enjoy it while it lasts, bud.” “What?” “You’ll find out.”
It’s a troubling trend from a team that, especially in recent years, seems to have difficulty with talented youth. And it’s difficult to pinpoint where exactly the problem originates. Is it the GMs, or the coaches, or Chara, perhaps? Or is it an organizational problem? I suspect the latter, as these problems have persisted through a number of years. Perhaps some of this is the way the Bruins treat their youth like trouble children from the start.
“We had set a bunch of conditions with him if he were to live on his own,” Chiarelli said of Seguin. “That’s what I mean about being on top of it. He had to submit really his week in advance. And he was actually really good about it. One thing with Tyler was that he tried.”
In the same article, Chiarelli goes on to say about Hamilton:
“Dougie is a little more self-sufficient that way,” Chiarelli said. “I think he goes out and does [things] more than having to be told what to do. That’s the exception to the rule, by the way. Normally you’ve got to really be on top of a player.”
I remember being a little startled at the level of micromanagement that the Bruins displayed when this article first came out, especially when I read, “They had similar concerns and issues with Kessel, who had a rocky time living in the guest house of a local family.” In case you forgot, Phil Kessel was diagnosed with testicular cancer his first year in Boston. Perhaps that might be the source of at least some of his “rocky time”? I don’t know. I’m not in the Bruins organization, I don’t know what their deal is, but they seem to treat their young players like ticking bombs, which I can imagine is both insulting and incredibly irritating for a young teenager entering his adult years. At age eighteen, I was living across the country from my family and managing my own time and finances. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to offer rookie players support in the form of billet families or advice, but treating them like they don’t deserve even basic trust seems like an inauspicious start to any relationship. The Bruins haven’t made a name for themselves when it comes to treating young stars well, and it’ll be interesting to see how that goes for them from here on out.
What must make this even more frustrating for Bruins fans is watching these traded players blossom seemingly the moment they leave the city. As I mentioned earlier, Joe Thornton won the Hart the year he was traded, Phil Kessel went on to become the Leafs’ best player, and Tyler Seguin was making a good argument for the Art Ross and Hart trophies this year before being injured. So maybe that’s the bright side for Dougie Hamilton: it may look grim right now, but if the trend holds true, you’ll win the Norris next year.