This is Part II of a two-part series on what would happen if the Los Angeles Kings never traded for Ron Grahame in 1978. Part I, which details how the Kings would do in this new timeline, can be found here.
FROM BOSTON’S PERSPECTIVE
1978-79: The Bruins had serious expectations going into the 78-79 campaign. They had just come off of a Stanley Cup Final, and were looking to hoist the trophy. They had moved on very well from the Phil Esposito/Bobby Orr era, and though they didn’t quite have a superstar scorer in their midst, they had an incredible array of strong talents to choose from. Terry O’Reilly, once a mid-line player, had broken out with a 90-point season, and all in all, ten players from the previous season cracked the 50-point mark. To top it all off, Don Cherry’s team had a trio of goalies to choose from as starter: Gerry Cheevers, Gilles Gilbert, or Ron Grahame, who played 40 games in his first NHL season after a dominant stint in the WHA.
While the Bruins were a sure-fire Cup contender the previous year, things seemed to go worse for them in 78-79, if only slightly. Boston would only have nine players crack the 40-point mark this time around, and would have had a tenth were it not for injuries to Brad Park, limiting the defenceman to 40 games. The good news for the B’s was that of those nine 40-point guys, eight of them scored 20 or more goals, giving the team multiple scoring threats. Expected to be the starting goalie once more, Ron Grahame would regress, putting up a .862 SV%, only good enough for third on the team. For much of the year, Cherry would cycle between Grahame, Cheevers, and Gilbert, with the former two taking up the bulk of the schedule (66 games between them), but none of them could really set themselves apart as a starter.
Despite some slight regression, the Bruins were still dangerous. They would finish 3rd in the NHL, and 1st in the Adams Division, with 103 points, giving them a bye to the Quarter-Finals. They would be matched up against the Pittsburgh Penguins, who edged the Buffalo Sabres in three games in the preliminary round; the Penguins had few real stars to their name, but they do have much steadier goaltending in the form of Denis Herron, who played 56 games in the regular season with a solid .892 save percentage. The Bruins’ depth is just too much for the Penguins to handle, though, and not even a better goaltender can save the Pens from a four-game sweep.
The Semi-Final is a re-match of last year’s Cup Final, as the Bruins face off once more with the Montreal Canadiens. Boston’s depth may have been one of their major strengths, but Montreal’s was even more pronounced. They had nine players crack the 50-point mark, as well as one more player that barely missed out on 40 points in Bob Gainey. And while the Bruins had no clear standouts that year, the Habs still had Guy Lafleur in his prime. The story of this series turned out to be home-ice advantage, as neither side could win on the road for the first six games. Game Seven at the Montreal Forum would go to over-time, where Yvon Lambert’s goal would give the Canadiens a hard-fought series victory.
Big changes were about to take place, both for the Bruins, and the National Hockey League. From a local standpoint, Boston would fire Don Cherry, owing to a poor relationship between him and General Manager Harry Sinden. Sinden, however, would have much bigger fish to fry soon; four new teams were about to enter the National Hockey League, as the World Hockey Association, the NHL’s rival league for the last seven years, had dissolved. The Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques, and New England (now Hartford) Whalers would migrate over to the NHL, and that meant Sinden had to decide who to get rid of from the current team.
On June 13th, the NHL Expansion Draft was held for the four WHA teams. Boston would lose defender Mike Forbes to Edmonton, Al Sim and Bill Bennet to Hartford, and goalie Dave Parro to Quebec. While normally, the NHL Amateur Draft was to be held later in the month, it, too, had changed, primarily due to questions over the eligibility of teenage players. The re-named NHL Entry Draft would be held on August 22nd, with players as young as 18 being eligible; Boston would have the 15th Overall Pick, selecting blue-liner Brad McCrimmon from the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
1979-80: The National Hockey League has changed massively from the past season. Four new teams, each bringing exciting young talent to the table, had joined the league, and the divisions would be shuffled accordingly. Boston would retain their place in the Adams Division, but were now placed with Minnesota, Toronto, Buffalo, and WHA emigrants Quebec. The Nordiques had won the Avco World Trophy back in 1976, and a few of the stars that helped them win that title were still around, most notably Real Cloutier, who had finished the last WHA season as the leading point-scorer.
While the league had so drastically changed, the Bruins did not. Even with a new head coach in Fred Creighton, the team still relied on hard work, and contributions from everybody in their line-up. Boston might not have had as many 20-goal scorers as last year, but both Rick Middleton and Peter McNab would score exactly 40, with Middleton’s number representing a career high. Another thing the Bruins relied on was the three-goalie rotation, with Gilbert, Cheevers, and Grahame all taking 25 or more games total. All three looked better than the previous year, with Gilbert’s .891 SV% leading the way.
But for all of the talent that the Bruins had, there was much controversy to be had, both off and on the ice. The first infamous moment would come in December in a game vs. the New York Rangers, when several Boston players would enter the crowd to fight a fan that had struck Stan Jonathan with a rolled-up program. Most notable in their roles in the brawl included Terry O’Reilly, who would be suspended for eight games, and Mike Milbury, who would take a shoe off a fan and beat him with it. The second major bit of controversy was the relationship between Creighton and GM Harry Sinden; much like Cherry before him, Creighton did not get along with the General Manager, and would be fired with a few game to go in the regular season.
Despite their roster, the Bruins now looked very beatable going into the Stanley Cup playoffs. They were 2nd in the Adams, and 4th in the league, with 91 points, setting up another battle with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens smelled blood, and took two of the first three games. In previous years, this would have ended it, but with the first round now following a five-game format, the series wasn’t over, and Boston would get it together to win the next two and eliminate the Penguins. Pittsburgh may not have won the series, but they at least tired out Boston, and that would come in handy for the New York Islanders, who would hammer the Bruins in a five-game sweep.
Once one of the defining teams of the NHL, the Bruins were on the verge of having everything collapse. Their last post-season series marked a turning point in the league, as the team that defeated them, the Islanders, would go on to win the Stanley Cup for the first time. The Islanders were packed to the gills with star players, from Bossy to Trottier to Potvin, and seemed to be the team that would likely define the decade. Yes, the Bruins were still a good team, but an inability to keep up, as well as uncertainty behind the bench, could be their doom.
Boston would have the 18th Overall Pick in the 1980 Entry Draft, selecting Barry Pederson from the WHL’s Victoria Cougars.
1980-81: The Bruins had seen a new powerhouse rise to the top, right before their eyes. Harry Sinden knew that things would have to change soon if Boston was to keep up with the likes of the Islanders, and one of the primary concerns for the GM was to find a stable goalie tandem. Gerry Cheevers was out of the running, having moved behind the bench to take over the Bruins’ vacant coaching spot. Gilbert wouldn’t return, either; he was traded to Detroit for former Los Angeles star Rogie Vachon. Ron Grahame would stay for the time being, but his job was in jeopardy, as the Bruins had acquired “Miracle On Ice” hero Jim Craig from the Calgary Flames in exchange for a couple of picks.
As expected, the aging Vachon was the starter, and while Grahame was initially the back-up, he would, indeed, be supplanted by Craig. Grahame played poorly in 6 games for Boston, eventually being sold to the Quebec Nordiques for cash in December. The transition in goaltending talent only served to harm the team, with both Vachon and Craig barely cracking the .860 mark in save percentage. Boston’s depth of skaters also began to dwindle, with only seven skaters breaking the 40-point mark. The standout among the seven was Rick Middleton, who would crack the 100-point barrier for the first time in his career.
The decline of the Bruins was being noticed in the standings, as Boston fell to 11th place in the NHL with 77 points. The Bruins’ finish would pit them against the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that had handled the changing game much easier. They were still one of the toughest teams going, but Philly still had a bunch of stars left over from the “Broad Street Bullies” days, as well as exciting young players like Brian Propp and Behn Wilson. But where the Flyers had the most obvious advantage was in their goaltending; the duo of Pete Peeters and Rick St. Croix had helped the team to the best SV% in the NHL that year. The gulf in goalies would be the deciding factor in the series, as the Flyers would sweep the series in convincing fashion, never scoring less than five goals in a single game.
The sweep sent shockwaves around the city. Here were the once-“Big Bad Bruins”, being absolutely obliterated by a team that they were once equal with. Despite the horrendous disappointment, Sinden was not going to fire Gerry Cheevers, having already axed two bench bosses within the past two seasons. The Bruins would end up with the 11th Pick in the 1981 Entry Draft, using their selection on Lethbridge Broncos blue-liner Randy Moller.
1981-82: The poor finish of the previous season was leaving both Harry Sinden and Gerry Cheevers exposed to the anger of Bruins fans. Sure, Boston might still have been okay, but okay wasn’t going to be good enough. If it wasn’t sufficient that the B’s were beginning to slip in the standings, it was even more of a punch to the gut that the Divisions were being re-aligned; though Boston would stay in the Adams Division, they now had to contend with Montreal, Buffalo, Hartford, and Quebec. Though Hartford didn’t look to be a huge threat, the addition of the Canadiens looked to lock Boston out of first place for the next few years.
As the 81-82 season got going, it was clear that the Bruins could not rely on good goaltending to get points. Marco Baron and Rogie Vachon were back, and both were still poor, as the team’s .861 SV% ranked them 4th-last in the NHL. But where the goaltending faltered, some young players stepped up; Barry Pederson, in his first full season, would very nearly wrest the team point lead away from Rick Middleton, with Barry’s 92 points only two behind that of his older teammate. Pederson’s instant rise made him a candidate for the Calder Trophy, but Winnipeg’s Dale Hawerchuk was just too good to catch.
It wasn’t a great year for the Bruins, but their 85 points were enough to finish 3rd in the Adams Division. As the league re-aligned, so, too, did the playoff structure; with new rules in place, the B’s would now be facing off against the 2nd-place team in their Division, the Buffalo Sabres. For Buffalo, gone were the days of the French Connection, and also gone was Danny Gare, who had been traded to Detroit during the regular season. The Sabres still had some strong defending (3rd-least goals allowed that year), as well as the goaltending to back it up. Feeling that neither Baron nor Vachon were good enough to stand up to Buffalo, Gerry Cheevers started 20-year-old Mike Moffat in goal for this series, and against all odds, the gambit worked. Moffat managed to outduel Don Edwards throughout the tie, one which the Bruins would eventually win in four games.
The Bruins had made some much-needed progress, and caught a huge break in other results, as the Quebec Nordiques had stunned the Canadiens in their own first-round series. Despite their 4th-place result in the Adams that year, though, Quebec was still extremely dangerous, in large part thanks to the Stastny brothers Peter, Anton, and Marian, who all defected from Czechoslovakia in the past two seasons. As good as Barry Pederson was in this series, he was no match for Peter Stastny, who would lead his team to a five-game series victory.
The loss to Quebec was a massive wake-up call. Yes, Boston took down the Sabres, but losing in the next round reminded the Bruins that no opponent in their Division was to be looked down upon, lest it lead to another thrashing like the one the Nordiques had handed them. Harry Sinden got the message loud and clear, making a trade to bring in Pete Peeters from Philadelphia on Draft Day. He also made a trade with Minnesota to get promising winger Brad Palmer and the rights to prospect Dave Donnelly, but this one came with a price; thanks to a compensation deal made with the then-Rockies in 1981, Boston had the right to switch 1st-Round Picks with Colorado. Though the Bruins would exercise that right, the trade with the North Stars came with the promise that Sinden would not select Brian Bellows, the expected 1st Overall selection. Instead, Boston would use the top pick on Gord Kluzak, a defenceman from the WHL’s Billings Bighorns.
1982-83: With the acquisition of Pete Peeters, Harry Sinden had made his move. After a few seasons of below-average (and sometimes dismal) goaltending, the Bruins had a man in Peeters that was expected to be a massive boost between the pipes. Of course, this now meant that expectations were only growing on both the players and the management team to succeed. With a new goalie in town, a plethora of young talent, and a potential blue-line stud in Gord Kluzak, Boston had experts predicting them to make some noise in the Adams; anything less might mean that Sinden and Cheevers were out the door.
To the relief of Boston fans, Peeters was every bit the goalie he was expected to be. Playing 63 games for the Bruins, the former Flyer would register a fantastic .903 SV%, ranking him 3rd in the NHL. His heroics for the Bruins would not only net him the Vezina Trophy, but very nearly earned him the Hart Trophy as well. Up front, meanwhile, Barry Pederson had well and truly taken Rick Middleton’s place as the heart of the attack, with his 107 points putting him ahead of Middleton’s total of 96. Pederson wasn’t the only young talent of note, as both Mike Krushelnyski and Tom Fergus would crack the 60-point barrier, the former doing so in his first full season in the league.
The Bruins, at least for the time being, were back. They would claim the Adams Division title with 101 points, just barely beating out the Montreal Canadiens. Boston would have a chance to show that they were for real with a re-match against the Quebec Nordiques, who had seven forwards with at least 60 points that year. The series proved to be a litmus test for Peeters, who played brilliantly; his .925 SV% told the story as Boston would win the series in four games. While Pete wasn’t quite as brilliant against Buffalo in the next round, his team bailed him out in a huge way. Rick Middleton would break out for 19 points against Buffalo, and Pederson would add 16 of his own, as the Bruins took the Adams Division Final in seven games.
The Bruins were now half-way to the Stanley Cup, but standing in their way was an old foe, one who had taught them a lesson a few short years ago. The Islanders were no longer a team-in-waiting, but the three-time defending Cup champions. The core that had led them to that first Cup in 1980 was virtually unchanged, with Bossy and Trottier leading the attack, Denis Potvin still their blue-line star, and Billy Smith still the man that was called upon when the team needed a playoff hero. As impressive as Boston had looked throughout the post-season, none of their efforts would matter against the Islanders, who would claim the series in six games. The Bruins’ return to the Cup Final would have to wait, and if the Isles were still going to be this good, Boston might be waiting a while yet.
For Harry Sinden and Gerry Cheevers, more progress had been made. They now had a top goalie they could rely upon, and they had enough young stars to build upon when the likes of Middleton, Peter McNab, and Mike O’Connell inevitably fell off. Of course, Boston would have to look for a long-term replacement for Brad Park, who was set to leave as a free agent; the Bruins would use the 1983 Draft to find that replacement, using the 18th Overall Pick on Ottawa 67’s D-man Bruce Cassidy. Cassidy would be expected to carry his form from the OHL into the National Hockey League, as he had led the junior league with 111 points in 70 games in 82-83.
1983-84: The expectations were growing on the Boston Bruins. They now had a top-tier goalie to add to their collection of talent, and more prospects were on the way, as players like Gord Kluzak and Bruce Cassidy looked for spots on the Bruins’ blue line. The one hurdle that Boston would have to overcome was the New York Islanders, who had just won their fourth-straight Stanley Cup. But even if the Isles were on such a roll, no dynasty could last forever, and four consecutive years of September-to-June hockey was bound to take a toll on the bodies of the Islander players. Eventually, they were going to break down; it was just up to Boston to be the ones to strike before anyone else could.
Of course, just getting to the Conference Final again would require success both in both the regular season and the playoffs, and it required some of last year’s stars to repeat their performances this time around. While Barry Pederson (116 points) and Rick Middleton (105) pulled their weight, Pete Peeters could not. Peeters wasn’t in the same form as his Vezina-winning season, as his save percentage plummeted to .876, just five points above the league average. It got to the point where Doug Keans, who was claimed on waivers the previous year, began to get regular playing time, and impressed enough to create a goalie controversy going into the playoffs.
This year’s Bruins just didn’t look like the same club that had fought their way to the third round just a short year ago. With 93 points, Boston were edged out by Quebec for 3rd in the Adams Division, which meant that the two sides would square off in the opening round of the 1984 post-season. While the Nordiques still had the Stastny brothers to rely on, the supporting cast had only gotten stronger, with Michel Goulet’s 122 points actually leading the team. With the Stastnys, Goulet, Dale Hunter, and Wilf Paiement all on duty, the Nordiques were just too much for Boston to handle; Quebec would make short work of the Bruins, winning the series in a three-game sweep.
All of the progress of the previous three years looked to be in jeopardy. Yes, the Bruins still looked like a good team, but again, good wasn’t enough. The Sabres were still hanging around, the Nordiques had caught up, and the Canadiens now looked to retain what they believed to be their rightful place atop the Adams. Boston wanted to be a Cup contender, not an also-ran, and the more they fell behind, the louder the calls would get for Gerry Cheevers to be sacked. And if Cheevers was shown the door, it wouldn’t be long before Harry Sinden, too, was on his way out, damn whatever success he may have had in the past.
The Bruins would get the 14th Overall Pick in the 1984 Entry Draft. Wanting to add to their core of young defencemen, Boston would draft Terry Carkner, who had just finished his first season with the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
1984-85: On one hand, the Bruins had fallen back thanks to their loss to the Quebec Nordiques the previous year, now looking to be in the middle of the Adams Division pack instead of leading the way. Their star goalie from 82-83 had fallen back to Earth, and injuries were beginning to creep up, as Bruce Cassidy, Gord Kluzak (knee problems for both), and Barry Pederson (benign tumour) would deal with medical issues. On the other hand, the road was beginning to open up should Boston get through the Division; the Islanders had finally been solved by Edmonton, and the Oilers’ victory could serve as a road map to taking down the Wales Conference giants.
Harry Sinden was feeling the pressure, and struck early to make a deal, acquiring Charlie Simmer from Los Angeles in exchange for a 1985 1st-Round Pick in late October. Though Simmer was a point-a-game player, and led the team in goals with 33, his contributions were not enough to make up for other key absences. In particular, Pederson would miss much of the season after surgery to permanently remove his tumour in December, playing only 22 games. It didn’t help that Boston’s goaltending was continuing to decline; Pete Peeters’ .869 SV% in 51 games was actually below league average, and on many occasions, the team in front of him had to clean up his mess. The erosion of the team would lead to Cheevers being sacked in February, with GM Sinden taking over behind the bench once more.
Boston was now firmly in 4th place in the Adams Division, completing the 84-85 campaign with only 77 points. The 1st-place Canadiens were now looking like heavy favourites to wipe out the Bruins in three straight, as Sinden struggled to find a fit for his club in goal. Despite all the predictions of a comfortable Montreal victory, however, one player seemed to disagree: Ken Linseman. Acquired from Edmonton in the off-season, Linseman would step up in a big way, recording 10 points in the series to lead all players. His efforts weren’t enough to win the series single-handedly for the B’s, but he did ensure that they went down in a respectable five games.
Of course, “respectable” wasn’t enough. Boston and their fans wanted more, especially after they had mortgaged their future to get Simmer. Stars of the past were starting to get older, as all of Terry O’Reilly, Butch Goring, and Mike Milbury would halt their careers following the season. And to make matters worse, some of the young prospects were breaking down as well; Cassidy only played one game that year, while Kluzak missed the season entirely. It wouldn’t be long before talks of replacing Sinden began to creep up, especially if the Bruins were to fall behind Hartford for the last Adams playoff spot.
1985-86: For the Boston Bruins, this was, in every sense of the word, a “show me” season. The Big Bad Bruins were virtually no more, with only one player, new captain Rick Middleton, remaining from the last time the team competed in a Stanley Cup Final. (Another, Mike Milbury, had just retired, but would come out of retirement to play in the latter part of the season.) This was an entirely new Boston team, with a new coach in Butch Goring, who had been on that bench just a few short months ago. This team now had to prove they could stack up with not just the best in the Adams Division, but the best in the NHL, otherwise fans would be calling for a few heads.
But for all the young players put in a tough situation, nobody felt more pressure than Harry Sinden. Having sacked so many coaches, it wasn’t going to be long before the knives were out for him, and he acted like it. He traded Tom Fergus to the Maple Leafs for Bill Derlago, who would last only 39 games with the B’s before being dealt to Vancouver. He traded Pete Peeters to Washington for Pat Riggin, a move that proved to be a slight downgrade in goal. And in a last desperate attempt to get his team over the hump, he traded Mike O’Connell and Dave Donnelly to Detroit in exchange for Reed Larson and Dwight Foster; while Larson was somewhat impressive on the blue line (7 points in 13 games for Boston), Foster was less so, playing 13 pointless games for the Bruins down the stretch.
Once upon a time, when writing down all the playoff teams in the NHL, the Bruins would be written in pen rather than in pencil, so automatic a post-season team were they. After almost 20 years of being in the playoffs, their streak had ended. They were last in the Adams with 78 points, and their exclusion was met with fury in Boston. Butch Goring was gone, having lasted only one season as coach. Harry Sinden, too, was gone, with some sympathy from long-time Bruin fans; after all, he had won the Stanley Cup in 1970 with the Bruins, then led them to three more Cup Finals as a GM. Nonetheless, he was fired, with Tom Johnson serving as his replacement on an interim basis.
Johnson’s first order of business was to make a trade with Vancouver, sending Barry Pederson to the Canucks in exchange for Cam Neely and a 1987 1st-Round Pick. Pederson was unlikely to sign with the Bruins, as he hadn’t seemed to recover fully following the removal of his shoulder tumour; Neely, meanwhile, seemed to be stuck in the Vancouver depth chart behind Tony Tanti and Stan Smyl, with little hope of moving ahead of either of them. Johnson would go on to the 1986 Entry Draft, using the team’s 5th Overall Pick on Canadian National Development Team defender Shawn Anderson.
1986-87: Last year’s team may have been new in a way, but this year’s Bruins squad was a “start-from-scratch” club from top to bottom. Tom Johnson was now in the GM role, while Terry O’Reilly was brought back to be the new head coach in place of Butch Goring. Gone was the team’s star of yesteryear, Barry Pederson, with winger Cam Neely now in his place. The core of the B’s might have either been in their prime or just past it, but they were hopefully good enough to merit a playoff spot, just so long as they could return to form. One massive absence from the team this year would be Gord Kluzak, as the former #1 Pick would undergo knee surgery in September, ruling him out for the season.
While Neely was expected to shine in a bigger role with Boston, few could have anticipated that he would actually lead the team with 36 goals and 72 points. He was everything that Bruins fans had dreamed he could be: a good scorer, with a mean streak that made life hell for opposing defenders and goalies. Of course, Cam wasn’t the only young player to make his mark on this team, as Bill Ranford would play 41 games as the new de facto starter for the team. In that time, Ranford would record a .891 SV%, which was 13 points above league average, and 6th among all eligible goalies in the NHL.
While the Bruins weren’t quite back to being Cup contenders, they were at least back in the post-season, finishing 3rd in the Adams Division with 80 points. Their “reward” for making the playoffs was a date with the defending Cup champions, the Montreal Canadiens. While they were always a strong team, Montreal had found a new starting goalie in young Patrick Roy, who had won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in his rookie year. Teams seemed to have no answer for him, and Boston was no different, as it seemed only Cam Neely had any luck against the second-year netminder, scoring 5 goals in the series. Roy’s play gave the B’s little hope, as they were swept in four games.
It may not have been a true break-out season for the Bruins, but it was at least a sign of progress. They had a legitimate power forward to build upon in Cam Neely, and a new starter in Bill Ranford. One area that needed improvement was their defence; while they had a few good young players on the blue line, they were hampered with continuing injuries to the likes of Kluzak and Bruce Cassidy. Tom Johnson would use the 1987 Entry Draft to add some defensive names, using both of his team’s picks on D-men from the Western Hockey League. The 3rd Overall Pick, acquired from Vancouver in the Neely trade, would be used on Portland Winter Hawks star Glen Wesley, while the team’s own pick at #13 would be used on Dean Chynoweth from the Medicine Hat Tigers.
1987-88: The Boston resurgence had begun. The hope for Bruins fans was that the 1985-86 season was an aberration rather than the new norm; if guys like Neely and Ranford were for real, then the team was likely headed back to being a playoff regular for the foreseeable future. While there was some good young talent to be found on this team, especially on the blue line, the forward group had a ton of players who were getting long in the tooth. It didn’t help matters that prior to the season, Tom Johnson swung a trade with the Quebec Nordiques, sending 22-year-old forward Greg Johnston to Quebec for 27-year-old John Ogrodnick. (Incidentally, the Bruins also traded Terry Carkner in that deal, getting defenceman David Shaw in return.
One other area in which the Bruins got older was in goal. Reggie Lemelin was signed to be the new starting goalie, and would play in 49 games, recording an impressive .889 SV%. He would not be the sure starter by the end of the season, however, as Boston swung a shock trade at the deadline, acquiring contract holdout Andy Moog from Edmonton in exchange for Geoff Courtnall, Bill Ranford, and a 2nd-Rounder in 1988. Moog would play 6 games down the stretch, but even in a short stint, his .906 SV% was remarkable. Up front, Cam Neely was once again a point-a-game player, but this time, his total was heavily slanted towards goals (42 of 69 points).
Thanks to their balanced scoring, punishing defence, and solid goaltending, the Bruins were able to land in 2nd in the Adams, and 4th in the NHL, with 95 points. Boston would have to deal with the Buffalo Sabres in the first round, and did so with some unease, as it took six games and two goalies to finish off a resilient Buffalo team. Next up were the Montreal Canadiens, who were 2nd place in the league that year, much in part due to Patrick Roy, whose .900 SV% was 1st among qualified goalies. After a Habs win in Game One that saw Andy Moog give up five goals, the B’s went with Reggie Lemelin for the next game. Not only would Reggie win Game Two, but he would take the three after that, as Boston finally found a way to solve Roy.
If there was anyone doubting the Bruins at the beginning of the season, they were pretty silent by this point. Of course, the job was only halfway done, as Boston still had to get through the New Jersey Devils in the Wales Conference Final. The Devils had undergone a total transformation ever since Lou Lamoriello was brought in as team president, going from one of the league’s laughingstocks to an emerging contender. Despite only recently becoming a strong team, the Devils were a tough foe, and not just on the ice; following a controversial Game Three, New Jersey coach Jim Schoenefeld would get into a shouting match with referee Don Koharski, triggering one of the most infamous lines in hockey history: “have another donut!” The back-and-forth series needed Game Seven, in which Boston would win 6-2 to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in ten years.
The Bruins had almost made it, but their last test would undoubtedly be the toughest: the Edmonton Oilers. Though Edmonton may have been showing a few cracks in the armour (trading Paul Coffey in the off-season, then trading Andy Moog this year), they were still the team to beat in the NHL, having captured three of the last four Cups. If the series with New Jersey was eventful, this one would get even crazier, as Game Four would be stopped due to abnormal conditions in the Boston Garden; for much of the game, fog would cover the rink surface, then in the second period, the lights would go out, prompting the game’s postponement. The cancellation meant that Edmonton would need FIVE games to sweep the Bruins, claiming the club’s fourth Stanley Cup.
For Boston to go as far as they did, there could be no shame in losing to the defining team of the decade in Edmonton. Just getting to the Stanley Cup Final was an accomplishment in itself. Of course, as was seen during Harry Sinden and Gerry Cheevers’ time running the team, as the Bruins got better, expectations only grew. While players like Rick Middleton were not long away from retirement, the defensive group looked poised to suffocate opposing forwards for years to come, with rookie Glen Wesley already proving to be a future anchor of the B’s. If Andy Moog could live up to his start in Boston, the 1988 Cup Final might not be the last for this group.
The Bruins would have the 18th Overall Pick in the 1988 Entry Draft. With so many young blue-liners under contract, Tom Johnson would decide to grab a forward this time around, picking Rob Cimetta from the OHL’s Toronto Marlboros.
THE BRUINS AFTER TEN YEARS: If the Bruins of the late ‘70s had proven anything about the franchise, it was that they had an ability to move on from former stars without losing a step. When Bobby Orr’s knee problems became too much, Boston found a replacement in Brad Park. In the trade to get Park, they parted with Phil Esposito, and got Jean Ratelle for a few years. That ability to transition from former talismans would prove beneficial to the team making the Cup Final twice in a row, in 1977 and 1978. The Bruins may not have captured the Cup itself in the later part of the decade, but they had shown that even with expansion teams and WHA teams joining the league, Boston was still a force to be reckoned with.
In the original timeline, the Bruins may have taken a while to get back up to speed, but by 1988, they were back in the Cup Final, with Ray Bourque as the natural successor to Brad Park, and Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin now the goalie duo instead of Gilles Gilbert and Gerry Cheevers. Without Bourque, Boston’s road to recovery from the past decade is much rockier, as they no longer have that franchise blue-liner to lean on. In their quest to find their Park replacement, the Bruins find several prospects, some of whom make the NHL (Randy Moller, Terry Carkner, Glen Wesley), and some of whom see their potential limited by major injuries (Bruce Cassidy and Gord Kluzak).
On opening night of the 1988-89 season, Boston’s line-up looks like this:
F1. Randy Burridge – Ken Linseman – Cam Neely
F2. John Ogrodnick – Steve Kasper – Bob Joyce
F3. Jay Miller – Bob Sweeney – Keith Crowder
F4. Tommy Lehman – Andy Brickley – Bob Joyce
D1. Glen Wesley – Garry Galley
D2. David Shaw – Michael Thelven
D3. Randy Moller – Don Sweeney
G1. Reggie Lemelin
G2. Andy Moog
If the Bruins in the OTL are defensively-minded, the squad in this timeline might as well just not play any forwards other than Linseman and Neely. Those two represent the only bona fide attacking threats on this team, and even then, Neely’s game utilizes his strength more than his skill. There is some reasonable secondary scoring from the likes of Burridge, Ogrodnick, and Kasper, but there are few others on Terry O’Reilly’s roster that would make opposing defenders bat an eye. Expect Jay Miller and Keith Crowder to get some extra playing time in order to batter opponents into submission, but don’t expect them to put in many goals.
The defensive core is where Boston really makes their mark. Glen Wesley came into the league immediately after being drafted, and has already cemented a role as the team’s primary offensive specialist from the blue line; Garry Galley is more of a two-way presence, while Michael Thelven is injured too frequently to make an impact. The rest of the blue line is hard-nosed and hard to beat, with Randy Moller and Don Sweeney making up the shut-down pairing. Of course, not only does Boston have good defenders, they also have reserves in the likes of Allan Pedersen, Bruce Cassidy, and Gord Kluzak, the last of whom would be a sure-fire starter if not for an extensive injury history.
There are a few new faces in Boston in this timeline, with three making the Bruins’ roster on opening night. John Ogrodnick and David Shaw both came to the team in a trade from Quebec, while Moller is Boston’s 1st-Round Pick in 1981, replacing Normand Leveille. Three others are on the outside looking in; while Cassidy is a constant scratch due to his own knee issues, Shawn Anderson and Dean Chynoweth are still young, and have to wait before they can crack a loaded Boston blue line.
EFFECTS ON THE HOCKEY WORLD
THE KINGS’ FUTURE: By 1988, the Los Angeles Kings look drastically different from the team that existed ten years ago, not just in talent, but in fashion. The black-and-silver King teams of the late ‘80s are just as star-studded as the city itself, with the one and only Wayne Gretzky joining the likes of Ray Bourque and Luc Robitaille. At this point, L.A. looks primed to be a full-fledged big-market team, one that will compete for the Stanley Cup on a year-in, year-out basis; so impactful is their rise that the American sports media begins to pay much more attention to not just the Kings, but hockey in general.
Things get off to an okay start for Los Angeles; putting up 100 points in their first full season, the new-look Kings end up eliminated in the second round of the 1989 playoffs by the all-in Calgary Flames. This only serves to ignite the Kings, and the next year, they return to the post-season with vengeance on their mind. Given a re-match with the Flames in the second round, Los Angeles comes out guns blazing, including a 13-4 win over Calgary in Game Four. From then on, the Kings would never look back, wiping out Calgary, Chicago, and Boston in quick succession to claim their first Stanley Cup.
The Kings have had their first drink from Lord Stanley’s Mug, and they want more. And what Bruce McNall wants, Bruce McNall gets. Los Angeles is right back in the Cup Final the next year, setting up a clash between the two great stars of the game in Gretzky and Lemieux. Gretzky wins this battle, as the Kings take down the Penguins for the ’91 Cup, but unfortunately, there would not be a re-match, as L.A. is knocked out in the second round in 1992. This is a temporary setback, and the Kings are right back in the Cup Final the next year, now facing off against Patrick Roy and his Montreal Canadiens; not even a controversial (but correct) illegal stick call on Marty McSorley is enough to stop the Kings from sweeping the Habs to claim their third Cup in four years.
After their Cup win in 1993, it was undeniable that the Los Angeles Kings were a true dynasty. But as with Edmonton and the New York Islanders before them, it was inevitable that Los Angeles’ reign would have to end at some point. The first cracks showed in the 93-94 season, as owner Bruce McNall would plead guilty to multiple fraud counts; not only did the Kings fail to make the playoffs that year, but star winger Luc Robitaille would be traded to Pittsburgh to clear some costs. The team does manage to return to the post-season in the lockout-shortened 94-95 campaign, only to be swept by the Blackhawks in the second round. But even the setbacks of the past two years were to pale in comparison to what was to come.
With Wayne Gretzky approaching free agency, it was clear that the Kings wouldn’t be able to pay him the money he would likely command on the open market. Looking to recoup something for such a star, the Kings swing a trade with the St. Louis Blues, getting several prospects in return. It is the end of an era in Los Angeles, and as Gretzky leaves, so, too, do the fans. By the later part of the decade, with the Kings nowhere near the contenders they once were, the Great Western Forum averages only about 13,000 per game. There is a brief uptick in the arena’s final active season, helped by the fact that L.A. manages to make the Conference Final against the Dallas Stars, only to lose in five games.
As the Forum is given a grand send-off, another icon of the club is just a short time away from leaving himself. Ray Bourque has seen the lowest of lows and highest of highs with the Kings; he was there for the dark years in the Smythe Division, and he was front and centre for their three Stanley Cups. And even in the toughest times, he remained Los Angeles’ true star, even when Gretzky took the headlines. Bourque would call it a career following the 2000-01 campaign, having spent all 22 of his years with the Kings; his #7 would be immediately retired, and “King Ray” would go into the Hall of Fame just three years later. His 1579 points would rank him 8th among all players at the time of his retirement, 1st among all blue-liners, and 1st among all Los Angeles players.
THE BRUINS’ FUTURE: By the 1988-89 season, the future looks bright for the Bruins. While their punishing defence sticks out in a world where goals rule the day, it still works for them, as they have just made it to the Cup Final. Of course, while they may not give up many goals, they don’t score too many, either, and what could be a dominant team in the 88-89 season is simply “good”. They make it to the second round, losing in five games to the Canadiens; seeing this loss is enough for Tom Johnston to begin re-shaping the team for the coming decade.
The 89-90 season spells the beginning of the end for the defensive group known as the “Young Cubs”. Randy Moller is dealt to the New York Rangers for Michel Petit, as Boston looks to reshape their blue line under new coach Mike Milbury. Petit’s arrival makes only a little bit of difference, but the rest of the team has perfected their defending, as they give up the fewest goals in the NHL that year. Milbury’s formula helps get the Bruins all the way to the 1990 Stanley Cup Final, where they face a familiar foe in Wayne Gretzky, now with the Los Angeles Kings. Despite all of the bluster about shutting down the Great One, “Mad Mike’s” defensive system is undone by the Kings, as Boston loses in the Cup Final for the second time in three seasons.
Throughout 1990, the “Young Cubs” are still being dismantled. Bruce Cassidy, having been undone by knee problems, has signed in Italy to give his career a fresh start. Shawn Anderson is also out of town, dealt to Washington for Bill Houlder. And Gord Kluzak, who had undergone TEN knee surgeries by this point, would play only two more games before calling a halt to his career for good. While they are the least active of the “Cubs”, their departure still leaves Boston missing some defensive depth, and a freefall begins. In the 1991 playoffs, the B’s are once again matched up against the Montreal Canadiens in the second round, but this time, they are swept outright. The failure costs Mike Milbury his job, with Rick Bowness brought in to be the new bench boss.
By this point, no coaching change is going to help. The Bruins are still a playoff team, but instead of making any noise in the post-season, they are a doormat for the likes of Buffalo and Montreal, who sweep them in the first round in the ’92 and ’93 playoffs, respectively. Out goes Rick Bowness, and in goes Brian Sutter, to even worse results; the Bruins fail to make the 1994 playoffs at all, finishing 10th in the re-named Eastern Conference. By this point, owner Jeremy Jacobs has seen enough, and cleans house entirely. Gone are both Sutter and GM Tom Johnson, with Lorne Henning taking over behind the bench, and Bryan Murray being hired as the new General Manager.
The 1994-95 season is shortened by a lockout, but nonetheless, it represents a sign of progress for the Bruins, who make the playoffs. Yes, they do lose in five games to the Philadelphia Flyers, but at this point, any post-season appearance is a welcome sight. By the next year, not only does Boston have new hope, but they have a new arena in the FleetCenter, which replaces the aging Boston Garden. Unfortunately, the playoff appearance of the past season proves to be a fluke. By 1997, the Bruins have bottomed out entirely, finishing dead last in the entire league. They end up with the 1st Overall Pick in ’97, selecting Joe Thornton from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
By the turn of the millennium, the Bruins are a mess. No amount of GM or coach changes have solved their problems, with Bryan Murray and Henning long cast out. Even Pat Burns can’t get this team to the playoffs, and by the 2000-01 season, his job looks to be in jeopardy. Indeed, by that point, it has been seven years since Boston made the playoffs in a non-lockout campaign, and with very few stars to rely on, that drought may not even be close to over. Sure, the Bruins have the dynamic duo of Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov, but not much else. If those two are shut down, or even injured, Boston is boned.
THE FATE OF OTHER TEAMS: Of course, the Kings being as good as they are in this new timeline has multiple ripple effects down the road. Multiple Stanley Cup results are changed, most of which see Los Angeles hoisting the Cup, but down the road, there are other changes that take place.
The first big change is the 1990 Stanley Cup Final, which sees the Kings take the ice against the Boston Bruins, instead of Edmonton. Much like the OTL result, the Bruins lose. For Edmonton, not getting past the Kings for two years in a row is a signal that the team’s best days are truly behind them; the re-build starts faster, with all of Jari Kurri, Grant Fuhr, and Mark Messier out of town by the end of the 1990-91 season. The downfall of the team is seen as a result of Gretzky’s departure; with the Great One out of town, Edmonton is no longer considered a relevant franchise in the NHL. The Oilers are still sold to the Edmonton Investors’ Group in 1998, and upon the end of his own playing career, Gretzky contributes a small stake in keeping the club afloat before selling his shares to Daryl Katz in 2004.
As the Oilers’ 1990 title is instead given to the Kings, so too is Pittsburgh’s 1991 title, as they have to deal with a Los Angeles team at the height of their powers. The Gretzky-Lemieux clash is hyped across North America, becoming a defining event in hockey. The two superstars are matched up, but experience triumphs, as L.A. claims the 1991 Cup. There is no re-match, however, as L.A. fails to make the Cup Final the next year. Lemieux still gets his name on the trophy, as the Pens win in a sweep over the surprising St. Louis Blues in ’92. The rest of the Penguins’ history up until today is unchanged; the loss of one Cup changes very little for the team in the long run.
The 1993 Stanley Cup also changes hands, with Montreal losing the Final to the Kings. Though Marty McSorley is still called for the “illegal stick” infraction, it matters little in that game, or in the series as a whole, as the Kings sweep the Habs in four. This switch is notable not just for the fact that it is Montreal’s last Cup in the OTL, but it is also Canada’s last Cup entirely; now, with this new timeline in place, that distinction goes to the Calgary Flames’ 1989 victory. In the modern day in this new timeline, it has been thirty years since a Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup, and more than a few older hockey fans believe that the Gretzky trade cursed the country.
Speaking of that trade…
THE GRETZKY TRADE, AND THOSE INVOLVED: The 1988 deal that sees Wayne Gretzky join the Kings, as mentioned, still happens. The one change regarding the trade is who goes to Edmonton; without Jimmy Carson or Martin Gelinas, the Kings have to part with other pieces. As a result, their last three 1st-Round selections at this point in the new timeline are substituted: Pat Elynuik, Bryan Fogarty, and Jeremy Roenick. While none of them were 100-point players like Carson was at the time, Roenick had that potential, and Fogarty was an extremely talented blue-line prospect.
The following year in the OTL, Jimmy Carson was moved to Detroit in a trade that sent multiple players to the Oilers in return, including the likes of Adam Graves, Joe Murphy, and Petr Klima. This trade, too, still happens, with Carson’s place taken by Elynuik and Fogarty. While Elynuik did not have a 100-point season in Edmonton like Jimmy did, his 51 points in 56 games are still a decent amount. Fogarty, who had well-documented struggles with anxiety throughout his life, would likely have the same troubles Jimmy did in dealing with the pressure of replacing Wayne Gretzky; a move out of Edmonton only makes sense for him.
Elynuik continues to improve in Detroit, as he is now on Steve Yzerman’s wing. In his first two seasons with the Wings, Pat puts up consecutive 30-goal campaigns, with a total of 139 points between those two years. His third season doesn’t go quite as well, as he only puts up 50 points, eclipsed by the likes of Sergei Fedorov and Ray Sheppard. He would not last a fourth season with Detroit, instead being traded to Los Angeles near the 1993 trade deadline in a major deal that sees Paul Coffey go the other way. Back with his old team for a Cup run, Elynuik does manage to earn a ring, even finishing fourth on the team with 18 points in the 1993 playoffs. He would never reach the same heights again, spending time with Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, and Ottawa over the next three years before his NHL career comes to an end.
Fogarty’s story, unfortunately, is much more tragic. Blessed with an abundance of talent, but cursed with psychological issues that plague his life, Bryan is looked at as a special prospect before setting foot in the NHL. Having already turned to alcohol to alleviate his anxiety, Fogarty would spend as much time at a bar or club as he would on the ice, but for a brief period of time, he would show some promise at the NHL level, putting up 31 points in 45 games with the Wings in 90-91. His addiction issues, however, would limit his progress there; he would be traded in 1992, then jump around the hockey world, signing with Tampa Bay, Montreal, Buffalo, Chicago, and Toronto in an attempt to get his career (and life) back on track. It wouldn’t work, and a year after retiring from the game, Fogarty would pass away in 2002.
The last player involved, and by far the most successful, is Jeremy Roenick. A short stint of 20 games in 1988-89 is enough for the Oilers to believe that Roenick could be one of the future stars of the team, even if he wasn’t at Gretzky’s level. As time goes on, Jeremy proves his team right, as he moves up the depth chart to become the #1 centre by 1991. It would be in the 91-92 season that Oiler fans and management see what “J.R.” is truly capable of, as he puts up 53 goals and 103 points in the regular season, then finishes 2nd on the team with 22 points in their shock run to the Campbell Conference Final. That 91-92 campaign would be the first of three in a row in which Roenick would put up over 100 points, the third of which would see him earn votes for the Hart Trophy.
Though “J.R.” would be the symbol of the early-‘90s Oilers, the sell-off of good players throughout those years would claim him too, as Jeremy would be traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996 for Alexei Zhamnov, Craig Mills, and a 1st-Round Draft Pick. He would play several years with Phoenix and Philadelphia, staying above the 50-point plateau until the 2003-04 season (47 points in 62 games with the Flyers). After returns to Los Angeles and Phoenix, and a two-year stint with San Jose, Roenick would call it a career in 2009, having over 1,200 points to his name.
Between Gord Kluzak, Bruce Cassidy, and Cam Neely in this new timeline, you have to wonder what the hell the Bruins’ doctors are doing. That’s three NHL players with varying potential and success having their careers derailed or shut down due to lower-body injuries.
Anyway, next month, I revisit one of the biggest shocks in Olympic history, and the blunder that cemented it: What if Tommy Salo never let in THAT goal against Belarus?