So you know how Joe Haggerty says that he wants people to say when they see him, “There goes Joe Haggerty, the best sportswriter there ever was.”? Yeah, about that. Now, I don’t mean to just try and take shots at a guy in order to post up this site, because that’s one of the worst aspects of the internet in general, not just sportswriting. But an idea that doesn’t make sense is one that should criticized, so I present you this.
As far as whether Shawn Thornton’s leadership was a huge difference for the Bruins in their awesome 3rd period comeback, please. It wasn’t. The difference was Dougie Hamilton making sure that his shot (after a beautiful pass from Nose Face) got through, unlike every other Bruins defenseman Saturday afternoon. The difference was the great shift from the 2nd line that led to Reilly Smith’s goal, but, probably more importantly, Patrice Bergeron getting one of the luckiest bounces I’ve ever seen on the tying goal. The Bruins didn’t get the bounces, so they were down 3-1. Then they did, and they won the game. Shawn Thornton’s presence and leadership may have made a small difference, but let’s not overrate it.
But it isn’t really that bad that fans and media overrate leadership. After all, that’s gonna happen — some just like narratives a little bit too much, whatever. But Haggs’ piece speaks to a larger, more important misunderstanding on behalf of Bruins fans, and it has to do with the team’s depth.
If we’re talking depth as in how good a team’s 2nd line is compared to the 1st, or how good a team’s 3rd line is in general, then yeah, the Bruins are deep as V. Stiviano wants us to somehow believe that Donald Sterling’s heart is. But when B’s fans talk of depth, we all know what they’re talking about: The Merlot Line. That’s where the emphasis is, with a little focus on the 3rd line and the bottom 4 defensemen. But when you say “depth” around these parts, you’re supposed to talk about how great the Bruins 4th line is compared to every other team in the league.
Breaking news: It’s BS. Here are Shawn Thornton’s possession stats. In the regular season, he started in the offensive zone over 65% of the time, and had a corsi of 47.7%. That’s terrible. Here are Gregory Campbell’s, who is supposedly a very good 4th line center. He started just under 49% of the time in the offensive zone, but had a really bad 45.6% corsi. Notice how much his possession stats have declined form the past 2 years, when it was actually fair to say that he was really good for a 4th liner.
Daniel Paille is actually very good for a 4th liner… but ain’t there anymore. He’s been moved to the 3rd line — smartly — in order to put his speed with Soderberg and his defense with Eriksson. But that leaves Jordan Caron or Justin Florek as the 4th line left wing, and I don’t think I need to post a link to their stats. They just aren’t good.
Here’s what you need to know: If the Bruins’ depth really was that good, why did Gregory Campbell play a grand total of 9:29 yesterday, and why did Jordan Caron and Shawn Thornton play 4:52 and 3:42, respectively?
The Bruins have 2 first lines and a great 3rd line. So play them heavy minutes, as Claude rightfully did yesterday. The smart play would be benching Thornton for either Matt Fraser, Florek, or Caron, and maybe benching Gregory Campbell for Ryan Spooner or Chris Kelly if and when he returns. But I don’t see Claude doing that, because he might buy into that stuff about Thornton’s leadership. So we’ll have to settle for Plan B, which is barely playing Thornton and Caron, and then giving Campbell more time both with defensive zone faceoffs when they want 2 centers on the ice, as well as a lot of PK minutes.
The 4th line simply isn’t good, and no amount of ambiguous leadership that Joe Haggerty claims they have will change that.