MIDDLETON, Mass. -- As expected, it’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the Boston Bruins.
With the exception of general manager Peter Chiarelli’s decision in June not to re-sign veteran forward Shawn Thornton, along with veteran free agent Jarome Iginla deciding to sign with the Colorado Avalanche, most everything remains the same in Boston.
Thornton, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, signed with the Florida Panthers for two years worth $2.4 million.
With training camp nearly a month away, many of Thornton’s former Bruins teammates and close friends are trying to figure out what it will be like without his presence in the locker room and on the ice.
“It’ll be different, for sure,” said Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who was participating in Thornton’s annual charity golf tournament, “Putts & Punches for Parkinson’s” at Ferncroft Country Club. “He’s a pretty vocal guy in the locker room and on the ice. He’s a great guy off the ice, too, in the community and everything else like that. It’ll be different, but our team is growing and we’ve matured so much that I think people can step up and take his role.”
Rask, along with Bruins forwards Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell, never miss Thornton’s charity event. It’s another indication how close Boston’s energy line (aka Merlot Line) became since the trio began playing together four years ago.
"We’re going to miss him. The entire organization will miss him, and I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing to part with a guy that’s made a contribution for so many years, not to mention the stuff that he does in the community is second-to-none,” Campbell said. “I’ve become really good friends with Shawn and I’m lucky to have him as a friend going forward, and I was lucky to have him as a linemate for four years. We did our job and did what a lot of people didn’t expect us to do for a few years. I have a lot of respect for Thorty and the job that he does and the person that he is.”
Added Paille: “It’s definitely going to be a different atmosphere. Not only playing with him, but being able to hang out with him over the years, it’s something that’s going to be an adjustment at first but we’re going to move on eventually. He has a presence in the room that we will all miss.”
When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the team’s championship victory over the Vancouver Canucks was largely based on coach Claude Julien’s ability to roll four lines consistently. The Bruins’ bottom two lines were critical that spring, including the trio of Paille, Campbell and Thornton. Julien occasionally tweaked his lineup, but most of the time the coach kept his energy line intact. Its physicality, strength and ability to generate offense proved crucial for Boston’s success.
As the Bruins’ roster is currently constituted, there will be six players -- Ryan Spooner, Justin Florek, Matt Fraser, Bobby Robins, Alexander Khokhlachev and David Pastrnak -- for two forward positions. That means both Paille and Campbell could have different roles moving forward.
“It’ll be an adjustment, of course,” Campbell said. “It’s not too often you get to play with the same guy. There were some changes throughout the four years, but the one constant was usually me and Thorty, [because Paille] would be up and down every now and then. But Thorty and I were pretty inseparable there for a bit. He was a good guy to play with right from the start. The first couple of skates I had with Boston way back in September 2010, we had some chemistry together. I’m sure it’ll be a little bit of an adjustment. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m excited for that challenge. I know we did our best the last four years and I know we contributed quite a bit and that’s something to be proud of.”
“It’s definitely going to be a big change for us, for both of us this year,” he said. “We’re really not sure where we’re going to be playing or playing with, for that matter. But I think we’re all going to enjoy the moment and kind of embrace it, and if we happen to play with different players, I think we’re just going to enjoy it."
Many times in the past when Julien needed to make a change, the coach could always count on Paille to play different roles. He never complained. No matter what happens this season, he’ll be prepared, too.
Paille and Campbell also know the so-called fourth-line mentality is changing. Teams know that in order to be successful, depth is important, and many talented players are being spread out to create more balance. Paille wanted to make it clear on Monday that even without Thornton in the lineup, Boston has plenty of grit.
“The game is changing where there is a lot of skill on fourth lines,” Paille said. “You see guys that used to be top-two line guys and now they’re on the fourth line.
“So, in my role and being a fourth-liner typically, you have to be that much better. Last year, you look at the playoffs and we had this reputation of being a solid fourth line and you had another team we were playing against, wanting to prove that they were better. Unfortunately, they got the better of us that round, but we learned from that.”
Thornton has Nov. 4 circled on his calendar. It will be the first time he returns to Boston as a member of the Panthers. He’s had plenty of time this summer to think about that moment, and he admits he has.
"You can’t get away from it here, obviously,” he said. “I get asked it a lot. It’ll be weird. I never played a game in the Garden until I had the Bruins jersey on, so every game I’ve played in there has been with the spoked-B. So, yeah, it’ll be different. It’ll be weird. Maybe I’ll pull a groin or something.”
Thornton spent most of July with his wife in Florida looking for a place to live for the next two hockey seasons.
“It’s exciting. It is," he said. "I’m probably past the point of being down a little bit about not coming back. “I can’t wait to get down there and get settled and start the next chapter.”
He’ll keep Boston as his permanent home and he’ll always be part of the Bruins family, he said.
“We’ll always be friends,” Thornton said. “This happens in the game. There’s a lot of guys I played with throughout the years that I don’t play with anymore that I’m still really tight with. When you play with guys like Tuukka, [Milan Lucic], [Patrice Bergeron], you play with them for seven years you’re going to create that friendship, some tighter than others. But Tuukka didn’t buy me out of my half of the boat, so I think we’re still friends and we’ll still hang out.”