September 3, 2012

Legends by letter: The best Bruins from H to M

By Jesse Connolly

Our four-part series continues today with the ranking of the best Bruins of all-time, broken down by the first letter of their last names.

If you missed it, check out Part I, featuring the best B's from A to G.

H

Best ever: Ken Hodge

Acquired in the deal that brought Phil Esposito to Boston, Hodge (pictured right) was a sensational scorer throughout his nine seasons with the Bruins. A three-time NHL All-Star and two-time Cup champ, the native of Birmingham, England topped the 20-goal mark in all but one season with the B’s and twice eclipsed the 100-point mark. He finished among the league’s top five scorers on three occasions. In total, he notched 674 points in 652 games as a Bruin, placing him seventh on the club’s all-time scoring list.

Runners-up: Bronco Horvath, Steve Heinze

After struggling to nail down a spot in the NHL for years, Horvath arrived in Boston in 1957 and began the most successful stint of his pro career. Centering John Bucyk and Vic Stasiuk on the “Uke Line,” Horvath racked up 215 points in just 227 games during his four seasons with the B’s. In 1959-60, he tied with Chicago’s Bobby Hull for the league lead with 39 goals.

Heinze, a native of Lawrence, Mass., broke in with Boston during the 1991-92 season after three years at BC and a stint with the U.S. National Team. Never flashy, Heinze was a solid secondary scoring presence for nine years with the Bruins, topping the 15-goal mark on six occasions. He finished with 239 points in 515 tilts for the B’s.

Honorable mentions: Flash Hollett, Jimmy Herbert

Hollett was a high-scoring defenseman for the B’s for nearly a decade after being acquired for the sum of $16,000 from the Leafs. His best season came in 1942-43, when he had 19 goals and added 25 assists in 50 games.

Born on Halloween in 1897, Herbert was a member of the very first Bruins’ squad in 1924-25. In three-plus season with the team, he was – by leaps and bounds – one of their most talented players, scoring a whopping 66 goals in just 112 games.

In net: Jim Henry

Henry wasn’t great during his four years in Boston, going 93-98-45, but the guy was an absolute workhorse. In his first three years with the club, Henry played in all 70 games, much like his other counterparts throughout the NHL. The B’s didn’t even need a backup netminder, as Henry was the only goalie in net for the team from 1951-54.

 I

Best ever: Al Iafrate

It’s a sad state of affairs when the cream of the crop for a letter is a guy who was ultimately a major disappointment. A zany, high-scoring defenseman with a cannon of a shot, Iafrate (pictured right) was acquired from Washington in exchange for Joe Juneau and lit it up down the stretch in 1993-94 with 13 points in just 12 games. After a strong showing in the playoffs (3-1-4 totals in 13 games), however, his knee woes wound up knocking him out of the next two seasons, thus ending his tenure in the Hub of Hockey. He was traded to San Jose in June of 1996.

Runner-up: Brad Isbister

Isbister was also in town for just a single season, suiting up for Mike Sullivan’s post-lockout squad in 2005-06. He had 6-17-23 totals in 58 games and was, for the most part, completely forgettable.

In net: No one

There’s an “I” in goalie, and one in netminder, too, but no backstop’s last name ever began with this letter in the 88-year existence of the Bruins.

J

Best ever: Craig Janney

Janney’s (pictured right) skill-set was not that of your typical Bruin. In 262 games, the superb setup man was assessed a mere 45 penalty minutes. But with the numbers the Hartford, Conn., native put up, no logical B’s fan could’ve been bothered by the center’s lacking penchant for pugilism. Janney was an offense force for the Black and Gold during his four-plus seasons with the club, topping the point-per-game mark with 283 points in 262 contests. Furthermore, he was even better come playoff time. As a rookie he notched 16 points in 23 games during Boston’s run to the finals in ’88 and was even better in ’90 when they again clashed with Edmonton, racking up 22 points in 18 tilts.

Runners-up: Stan Jonathan, Joe Juneau

Unlike Janney, Jonathan was synonymous with his mean streak. A Bruin from 1976-82, Jonathan could score, deliver knockout punches and come through in the clutch. He had two seasons of 20-plus goals, topped 100 penalty minutes three times (including a whopping 208 in 1979-80) and was pretty damn good in his first few trips to the playoffs, including the 1977 Cup run when he scored four goals and added two assists in 14 playoff contests as a 21-year-old rookie.

Juneau was never able to equal the unbelievable success he had right off the bat with the B’s throughout the rest of his NHL career, but that can’t diminish just how good he was during his first few years in the league. An ECAC Hockey star at RPI, Juneau broke in with the Bruins during the 1991-92 season and notched 19 points in just 14 games. He followed that up with a career-best, 102-point season, playing alongside superstars Adam Oates and Cam Neely. His success continued into the following year, but Juneau was dealt away for the aforementioned Iafrate late in the 1993-94 campaign, despite having 72 points in 63 tilts.

In net: Eddie Johnston

This one was a no-brainer, and not just because the other competitors (Percy Jackson, Joe Junkin) appeared in a grand total of six NHL games. A Montreal native, Johnston was never considered part of the league’s upper-echelon of goaltenders, but he was certainly consistent and had his fair share of great moments. None stand out more than when he led the charge in goal for the Bruins during their ’72 Cup run. He led all postseason netminders with six victories and a spectacular 1.86 goals-against average. Johnston survived Boston’s leaner years in the early ‘60s and went 122-54-26 during his final six seasons with the B’s.

K

Best ever: David Krejci

Krejci (pictured right) is the first current player to take a top honor on this list (and may wind up being the only one, come to think of it). The soft-spoken Czech pivot has his battles with consistency, but there’s no denying the impact he’s had on the Bruins’ resurgence over the last five years. Krejci has 276 points in 377 NHL games thus far. He led the NHL with a plus-37 mark in 2008-09, finished tenth in assists in 2010-11 with 49 helpers and, most importantly of all (with the exception of 2012), has played like a man possessed come playoff time. His best postseason performance, of course, came in 2011 when he led all players with 12 goals and 23 points, leading the charge offensively for the Stanley Cup champion Bruins.

Runners-up: Steve Kasper, Phil Kessel

If it weren’t for his car crash of a coaching stint, Kasper would be remembered more fondly by B’s fans. Imagine P.J. Axelsson’s defensive acumen being injected into a player capable of scoring 20 goals. That was Kasper, who won the Selke Trophy for the 1981-82 season, scored 22 shorthanded goals in his NHL career and finished with 355 points in 564 games as a Bruin.

Jeered every time his skates hit the TD Garden ice now, Kessel sure gave Bruins’ fans many a thrill during his three years with the club. After overcoming cancer as an NHL rookie, No. 81 rebounded his second year, scoring 19 goals for first-year coach Claude Julien’s squad. After a dynamite playoff series against the Habs (in which he overcame being benched), Kessel had his breakout year the following season, notching 36 goals in 2008-09. He followed that up with 6-5-11 totals in 11 playoff games. Then, of course, came the infamous deal in which Kessel was flipped to Toronto for three picks that would materialize into Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton.

Honorable mentions: Dimitri Khristich, Mike Knuble

Khristich’s name may begin with a “K,” but the Russian winger had the reputation for being lazy with a capital “L” during his time in Boston. Nevertheless, the guy was pretty damn potent offensively in two years with the Bruins. He scored 29 goals each year, finished with 137 points in 161 contests, and added 11 points in 18 playoff tilts. If only he'd applied himself a little bit more.

It just feels like it’d be wrong to not throw Knuble a bone here. Unheralded upon his arrival from the Rangers, Boston is where everything clicked for the 6-foot-3 winger. He had 51 goals in his last two years with the B’s and probably would’ve scored a lot more for Boston had Mike O’Connell and Co. not botched their post-lockout plans so shamefully.

In net: Doug Keans

Keans’ name is never one that comes up when talking about the B’s best netminders, but he sure was one helluva good backup for five years. Behind the likes of Pete Peeters, Pat Riggin and finally Reggie Lemelin, Keans sported an impressive record of 83-46-13 for the Bruins.

L

Best ever: Ken Linseman

Dubbed “The Rat” by former Flyers teammate Bobby Clarke, Linseman (pictured right) was acquired from Edmonton in 1984 and was a fan favorite throughout his tenure in Boston. Linseman was Brad Marchand before No. 63 was even born. A true pest (746 PIM in 389 games with Boston) and an awfully efficient scorer (372 points), Linseman was an underrated offensive threat and simply drove the opposition batty as a Bruin. Best of all, the guy simply brought it come playoff time, never more so than in 1988 when he had 25 points in 23 games to help the B’s advance to the Cup finals against his old squad, the Oilers.

Runners-up: Leo Labine, Milan Lucic

A steady-as-they-come winger, Labine spent ten seasons in a Bruins uniform from 1951 to 1961. An All-Star in 1955 and again in 1956, Labine never put up dazzling numbers, but he was a reliable secondary scoring presence for an entire decade, finishing with 303 points in 571 games as a Bruin.

Already a legend in this town, Lucic first took Bruins’ fans by storm as a 19-year-old rookie in 2007-08. First renown for his Herculean strength and ability to drive opponents through the glass, No. 17 has blossomed into a top-line winger, averaging 28 goals a year in the last two seasons. The hulking forward has 212 points in 359 games as a Bruin, and 35 points in 62 playoff contests – 12 of which came during Boston’s Cup run in 2011.

In net: Reggie Lemelin

A longtime member of the Flames, Lemelin came to Boston in 1987 as a free agent and proved to be a major difference-maker between the pipes. In the spring of ’88, he led Boston past the Canadiens in the division finals, giving the Bruins their first series victory over Montreal in 45 years. Lemelin led all postseason netminders that spring with a 2.63 goals-against average. In 1989-90, he and Andy Moog combined to win the Jennings Trophy. All in all, Lemelin finished with a 92-62-17 record for Boston.

M

Best ever: Rick Middleton

As you will soon see, the Bruins have had an abundance of star players with “M” last names, but the man known as “Nifty” takes the cake. Middleton (pictured right) was an immensely gifted scorer, stick-handler, skater, you name it. A Bruin for 12 seasons, he reached the Cup finals three times with the club. He topped the 40-goal mark five times, including a career-best 51 tallies in 1981-82. The three-time All-Star retired in 1988 and now ranks fourth on the club’s all-time list with 898 points in 881 games. How his No. 16 isn’t in the rafters is mind-boggling.

Runners-up: John McKenzie, Peter McNab

Boston’s resident pest a decade before Linseman’s arrival, McKenzie was yet another one of the immensely integral parts of the Bruins’ success in the early ‘70s. A two-time Cup winner, of course, the courageous 5-foot-9 forward was a physical force and a fine scorer. He notched 396 points in 453 games for the B’s, appearing in two All-Star Games (1970, 1972).

Picking an official second runner-up and ranking one star over another was tough, but McNab’s stint with the Bruins was simply glorious and doesn’t get enough praise in the grand scheme of things. In seven-plus seasons, he scored over 35 goals on six occasions. He was outstanding in the playoffs with 74 points in 79 games, including 38 goals. Despite playing in just 595 games for the Bruins, he ranks 10th on the team’s all-time points list (587), edged out by Cam Neely by just three points.

Just as worthy: Mike Milbury

The Brighton, Mass., native was as tough as they come and helped anchor the Bruins’ blueline in the post-Orr days for a little more than a decade. Milbury had 238 points in 754 NHL games (all with Boston), and his 1,552 penalty minutes rank second to only Terry O’Reilly in team history.

Honorable mentions: There are too many to list, so we’ll just do quick hits – Don Marcotte (484 points in 868 games from 1966-82), Glen Murray (209 goals in 570 games as a Bruin), Fleming Mackell (312 points in 513 games from 1952-60), Don McKenney (462 points in 592 games from 1955-63), Doug Mohns (347 points in 710 games from 1953-64).

In net: Andy Moog

Man, it feels good to end this part of the series with an absolute slam-dunk choice like Moog. A member of the Bruins for six seasons, Moog played a small role in the run to the finals in 1988 but truly blossomed afterward. The former Oiler truly cemented what should be a Hall-of-Fame worthy résumé in Boston, leading the league with a 2.21 goals-against average in the ’90 playoffs, getting the Bruins back to the conference finals the following two springs and finishing with a superb 136-75-36 record in 261 games for the Black and Gold. 

Stay tuned, as we'll have Part III up on Wednesday with the best B's from N to S.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.