September 5, 2012

Legends by letter: The best Bruins from N to S

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. In case you missed it:

Part I - The best Bruins from A to G   |  Part II - The best Bruins from H to M

N

Best ever: Cam Neely

Like many on this list, Neely (pictured right) is a universally known legend throughout Boston and the entire hockey world. A Hockey Hall of Fame inductee in 2005, No. 8 was a fearsome sniper whose style of play all but singlehandedly created the “power forward” moniker that’s been bestowed upon many others over the last two-plus decades. A three-time, 50-goal scorer (included a 50-tally season in 49 games in 1993-94), a five-time All-Star and twice the league’s leader in game-winners, Neely racked up 590 points in 525 games for Boston from 1987-96 and, much like the great Bobby Orr, had his career cut far too short due to injuries. To put Neely’s scoring prowess into statistical perspective, he averaged a little more than .65 goals per game as a Bruin. Do the math out over an 82-game season, and a healthy Neely would’ve averaged 53 goals a year.

Runners-up: Chris Nilan, Andrei Nazarov

Rather than go with a few guys who had short-lived, moderate offensive success in Boston, we’ll honor a few memorable enforcers.

Nilan, despised during his days in Montreal (where he twice led the league in penalty minutes), must’ve come awfully close to spending more time in the sin bin than on the ice during his brief sting with the B’s. In 80 games from 1990-92, the Bay State native racked up an oh-m-god-you’ve-gotta-be-kidding-me total of 463 penalty minutes. Anyone who stepped on the ice probably didn’t just fear Nilan might punch them in the face. They likely assumed it was coming.

Nazarov, acquired in a deal with the Ducks in 2001, also spent parts of two seasons in the Hub of Hockey. With 200 penalty minutes in a mere 63 games, he led the team in 2001-02. The following year, which saw him dealt to Phoenix for a fifth-round pick in January, the 6-foot-5 Russian again finished as the B’s leader with 165 PIM, despite playing in just 47 games for the club.

In net: Jack Norris

Norris was the unanimous choice to take this spot. That sounds kind of awesome at first, until you realize Norris is the only netminder with a last name beginning with “N” in team history. Nevertheless, as a rookie out of Saskatchewan, Norris appeared in 23 games for the B’s in 1964-65 and won a career-high 10 games, going 10-11-2 with a 3.70 goals-against average. Surprisingly, he was a lot better than Boston’s starter, Eddie Johnston, who went 11-32-4. Norris was part of the oft-mentioned deal with Chicago that saw the B’s acquired Ken Hodge, Phil Esposito and Fred Stanfield. He won a grand total of three games with the ‘Hawks.

O

Best ever: Bobby Orr

OK, OK. So maybe some of you think I unjustifiably snubbed Bobby Orr (pictured right) on a recent list of the ultimate Bruins, but make no mistake about it, Orr is the best player to ever sport the Spoked-B and was an absolute no-brainer for this spot. It feels like I’ve written a ton about the guy’s accompishments of late, so we’ll keep it short. In 631 games, the two-time Cup winner and star of the most famous sports photograph in world history racked up an astonishing 888 points from the back-end. He’s the club’s all-time leader with a mesmerizing plus-589. He won more awards than anyone could ever fathom (including eight Norris Trophies) and, in all seriousness, his No. 4 should be retired league-wide. Orr was the greatest Bruin there ever was and ever will be.

Runners-up: Adam Oates, Terry O’Reilly

Set to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this fall, Oates is arguably the greatest setup-man in the 88-year history of the Bruins. Primarily lined up with Neely, the two formed a wicked combo that was as close to unstoppable as it gets. Oates led the league with 97 helpers in 1992-93, adding 45 goals in an otherworldly, 142-point season. He crushed the point-per-game mark in his career as a Bruin, totaling 499 points in 368 contests.

O’Reilly, the B’s captain from 1983-85, was a blue-collared beast who terrorized opponents with his overwhelming abundance of toughness and worked like hell to be a top offensive contributor. In 891 NHL games over the course of 14 seasons (all in Boston), “Taz” had 606 points and racked up 2,095 penalty minutes – the most in team history.

In net: Oh, boy. We got no one. Moving on…

P

Best ever: Brad Park

Park – or as it’s pronounced in Boston, Paaahk – arrived in Boston thanks to a trade that saw the Bruins ship longtime star Phil Esposito to the Rangers in 1975. It came at the perfect time, as Orr was in the midst of his final season with the club. A high-scoring defenseman, Park (pictured right) was simply superb for the Bruins – especially in his first three seasons when he had 197 points in just 198 games. He famously scored in overtime of Game 7 against the Sabres in the 1983 Adams Division Finals at Boston Garden, which was just one of his many highlight moments during a career with the Bruins that saw him finish with 417 points in 501 games.

Runners-up: Barry Pederson, Johnny Peirson

Now famous for being the player dealt to acquire Neely, many forget how gifted Pederson was during his stint with the Bruins. Pederson eclipsed the 100-point mark twice, scoring a combined 129 goals in his first three full seasons in the NHL. After an injury-shortened year in 1984-85, he rebounded by scoring 76 points in 79 games in 1985-86. Shipped to the Canucks that summer, Pederson finished his Bruins’ career with 417 points – hey, just like Park! -- in 379 games.

Peirson broke into the league during the 1946-47 season and spent his entire career with the Bruins.  A four-time, 20-goal scorer, the 5-foot-11 winger made two All-Star Games, finished in the top ten in points in the entire NHL three times and even mixed in a year of retirement (taking a year off in 1954-55) before officially calling it quits in 1958. He finished with 326 points in 545 career games.

In net: Pete Peeters

Winner of the Vezina Trophy in 1982-83, Peeters was the primary backstop for the B’s from 1982-85. He earned the honor of being named the NHL’s best netminder thanks to a league-leading 40 wins, 2.36 goals-against average and eight shutouts. Though he couldn’t replicate his dazzling Boston debut, Peeters still finished with an impressive 91-57-16 mark during his time with the club.

Q

Best ever: Bill Quackenbush

I know what you’re thinking now. I’ve made countless jokes about the scarcity of choices throughout this list, and Bill Quackenbush (pictured right) is bound to be another undeserving honoree. Well, you’re wrong. The Toronto native came over from Detroit in 1949 and finished up a career worthy of a Hall of Fame induction in 1976. Quackenbush, a 5-foot-11 rearguard, appeared in five consecutive All-Star Games for the B’s, won the lady Byng in 1949 and finished with 155 points in 461 contests for the Black and Gold. In those 461 games, Quackenbush was assessed a grand total of 46 penalty minutes. Talk about gentlemanly play!

Runners-up: Stephane Quintal, Max Quackenbush

Remembered more in the grand scheme of things for his time with the Canadiens, Quintal was a solid presence on Boston’s back-end for parts of four seasons. In 1991-92, while enjoying the most offensive success of his career thus far (14 points in 49 games), he was packaged with Craig Janney and sent to St. Louis for Oates.

This may come as a shock, but Bill and Max Quackenbush are actually related (I know, I know, such a common last name). The two brothers were only united for the 1950-51 season, when Max was acquired “on loan” from the AHL’s Indianapolis Capitals. In 47 tilts, the blueliner had 10 points.

In net: We might as well quit. No one’s fit for duty.

R

Best ever: Jean Ratelle

Not only did the Bruins get a solid replacement for Orr on the back-end with Park in the deal that sent “Espo” to New York, they found a pretty damn good replacement up front for the man who was the centerpiece of the deal, Esposito. Ratelle, a Ranger from 1960-75, was 35 when acquired by Boston. You’d never have guessed it as the high-flying forward was simply superb during his six years in town. After notching 90 points in 67 contests in 1975-76, Ratelle would go on to finish with 450 points in 419 games for the Bruins. A terrific playoff performer, the Quebec-born center helped Boston reach the Cup finals twice, racking up 56 points in his first 52 postseason games with the club.

Runners-up: Brian Rolston, Mark Recchi

Acquired in the deal that sent Ray Bourque to Colorado, Rolston would probably rank above Ratelle had Mike O’Connell not foolishly let him walk after the lockout. A versatile, fleet-footed pivot, Rolston led the league with nine shorties during a 31-goal campaign in 2001-02, and averaged 23 goals a year over his next two seasons. In his first three years after leaving Boston, Rolston scored a total of 96 goals for the Minnesota Wild. After stints in New Jersey and on Long Island, he returned to the Bruins via trade this past season and found the fountain of youth, notching 15 points in 21 regular-season games and adding another three in seven playoff contests.

One of the most beloved Bruins of my lifetime, Recchi was a remarkable player – and not just because of his prior accomplishments – and leader during his time in Boston. The sure-fire Hall of Famer not only mentored youngsters like Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin or alternate captain Patrice Bergeron, he still contributed at a more than respectable rate with 107 points in 180 regular-season games. Recchi was even better come playoff time for the Black and Gold, with no better example than his superb performance in the Stanley Cup finals in 2011, during which he had seven points and helped the Bruins achieve glory.

Honorable mentions: Dave Reid (181 points in 387 games as a Bruin), Vladimir Ruzicka (132 points in 166 games as a Bruin).

In net: Tuukka Rask

Given that he won’t fully put the “Bruins’ goalie of the future” label to bed until this season, Rask sure has accomplished a lot for someone still considered an up-and-comer. He easily edges out Billy Ranford and Andrew Raycroft thanks to a career mark of 47-35-11 and the fact that he led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage as a rookie in 2008-09.

S

Best ever: Tie between Milt Schmidt and Eddie Shore

Trying to narrow this letter down was impossible, as one can’t even begin to explain just how many more-than-worthy names there were. So, we’re going to avoid being too choosy and simply give two of the most revered individuals in team history the top honor. Here’s a mix of some new info and what I had to say about the two of them in a recent “Original Six” feature:

Now 94, Schmidt (pictured right) spent 16 seasons with the Black and Gold from 1936 to 1955, a tenure interrupted by a selfless decision to enlist in the Canadian military (along with teammates Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer) during World War II. He had 575 points in 776 games and led the B’s to Cup wins in 1939 and ’41 – the latter of which saw him lead the NHL with 11 playoff points. Schmidt also won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1950-51.

There’s a reason Shore’s name and the phrase “Old Time Hockey” go hand-in-hand. With a legacy of mythical proportions, and a reputation for being the toughest SOB in the league throughout his 14 seasons with the Bruins, Shore was a raging bull on the ice for the Black and Gold. Teammate Milt Schmidt once said that opponents would bounce off the legendary defenseman “like tenpins.” In 540 career games, Shore notched 279 points and racked up 1,078 penalty minutes.

Runners-up: I can only pick two, as I’ve made so clear, right? Oh, jeez. In that case, considering that we’ve given a whole lot of praise to those that suited up in the ‘70s, I’m going with Don Sweeney and Marc Savard.

Sweeney’s longevity and solid play for 15 seasons in Boston just can’t be overlooked. No. 32 patrolled the B’s blueline for 1,052 games (third most in club history), during which he posted 52-210-262. Never flashy or offensively potent (though he was always god for double-digit and sometimes 25-plus points), Sweeney’s ability to be a steady presence on the B’s back-end for so long, day in and day out, was a feat that just doesn’t get as much praise as it deserves.  

Regardless of what a limited role he might’ve played in the Cup-winning, 2010-11 season, when I think of the Bruins’ resurgence, I put Savard right up there alongside Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara. Blessed with unrivaled vision and the ability to thread the proverbial needle unlike any setup man the B’s have had since Oates, “Savvy” was a skillful, special player who was simply dynamite for Claude Julien’s Bruins. In his first three years, No. 91 was twice among the league’s top ten point-getters and finished in the top three for assists on two occasions. He made the All-Star Game twice as a Bruin and scored two of the most memorable playoff goals in team history: first in 2008 with his overtime tally in Game 3 against the Habs, and again in 2010 when he returned from a concussion and potted the winner in the extra session of Game 1 against the Flyers.

Highest honorable mentions: Derek Sanderson, Dallas Smith, Bobby Schmautz, Fred Stanfield

Hat tips to: Sergei Samsonov, Fred Stanfield, Gregg Sheppard, Charlie Simmer, Marco Sturm, Jozef Stumpel, Al Secord

In net: Terry Sawchuk

Though he only spent two seasons in Boston – and suffered a league-leading 33 losses in 1955-56, his first year – Sawchuk gets the nod over a few other mediocre contenders. During that ’55-56 campaign, he notched nine shutouts in 68 games. He didn’t blank opponents as often the following year, but he was leaps and bounds better with an 18-10-6 record and 2.38 goals-against average. Sawchuk was dealt back to Detroit in July of 1957 for Johnny Bucyk.

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