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BOSTON (CBS) — Maybe a little karma worked in favor of Mike O’Connell on Monday night.
One year after his former team, the Bruins, won the Stanley Cup, his current employer hoisted the trophy, as the Los Angeles Kings won their first-ever Cup.
O’Connell, who was Bruins general manager from 2000-06, has been with the Kings for six seasons. His current title is pro development and special assignments, after he carried the title of director of pro development for two years.
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It happens all the time in pro sports that one GM passes the baton to the next and some combination of both men’s work pays off with the ultimate reward. We saw that strikingly with Brian Burke’s Anaheim Ducks in 2007. The 2011 Stanley Cup-champion Bruins, although mostly a Peter Chiarelli production, still carried some fingerprints of O’Connell’s regime.
Under O’Connell, the Bruins drafted David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. O’Connell acquired the Edmonton draft pick that turned into Milan Lucic. While it’s hard to challenge that player-for-player the Joe Thornton trade was a loss, dealing the star center cleared the cap space the Bruins used to sign Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard – two moves that jump-started the Bruins’ return to relevance.
Without a doubt, O’Connell’s biggest contribution to the Bruins was to import, and then return the services of, a certain goaltender whom 29 other teams didn’t recognize as a future NHL All-Star. Tim Thomas returned to the Bruins because of a promise from O’Connell. And although that promise was twisted a bit by a demotion to the minors initially, and then a trip through the waiver wire, Thomas eventually got the opportunity and then rewarded the Bruins with some of the best goaltending play the NHL has ever seen.
Things fell apart for O’Connell with the Bruins mostly because of a flawed team-building philosophy during the pre-lockout summer of 2004. Basically, the Bruins didn’t build a team and let most of their free agents walk. O’Connell thought ownership had his back, and found out the hard way he was on his own when he was axed in March 2006. His signing of Thomas and popular forward P.J. Axelsson, who was a key part of Boston’s transition from laughingstock to contender in the early Claude Julien years, were his last acts of business.
Before the lockout, it was hard to argue with a lot of what O’Connell did. The Bruins won the Northeast Division in 2002 and 2004. The Bruins lost to Montreal in the first round of the playoffs both of those seasons, but few wouldn’t have listed the Bruins as Cup contenders had they been able to retain the likes of Mike Knuble, Michael Nylander and Brian Rolston to combine with Thornton, Bergeron and Andrew Raycroft, and hit the ice for a 2004-05 season.
There were plenty of foibles during O’Connell’s stint as GM. Every manager makes mistakes along the way. Not even Chiarelli is perfect. Nonetheless, O’Connell did his best to build a championship team while in Boston. Once he departed, he left a few parts that were instrumental in building the Bruins into Cup champs.
If Bruins backers are still disappointed their team didn’t retain the Cup this season, they should at least look upon the Kings’ feat fondly for O’Connell’s sake.