September 10, 2012

Legends by letter: The best Bruins from T to Z

By Jesse Connolly

Here's the conclusion of the Black and Gold Blog's four-part series, ranking the all-time best Bruins 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
Part III - The best Bruins from N to S

T

Best ever: Joe Thornton

You can rag on Jumbo Joe’s playoff futility all you want, but the B’s former captain and franchise cornerstone won this one in a landslide. With three seasons of 70-plus points and a dynamite 2002-03 campaign that saw him post 36-65-101 totals, Thornton (pictured right) -- at the time -- was the B’s current star and future legend. Then the lockout came, the great group the B’s had prior to it was broken up and an unmotivated Thornton – who managed to rack up 33 points in 23 games to start the 2005-06 campaign – was kicked out of town in one of the most mind-numbingly awful trades in the history of civilization, no matter how much it sparked a successful rebuild. The funny thing is, prior to the 2004 postseason, Thornton was pretty solid in the playoffs for Boston, notching 18 points in 22 games from 1999 to 2003.

Runners-up: Jerry Toppazzini, Shawn Thornton

A Bruin for a clear majority of his 783-game NHL career, Toppazzini really came into his own when he returned to Boston during the 1955-56 campaign. He went on to top the 10-goal mark in each of the next seven seasons, which included a career-best, 25-goal campaign in 1957-58. A two-time All-Star with the B’s, Toppazzini was a beast in the 1958 playoffs, scoring nine goals and adding three assists in 12 games.

Rick Tocchet was great during his time with Boston, scoring 32 goals and adding 22 assists in 67 games. He’s scored six more goals as a Bruin than Shawn Thornton has in 371 games. But who’s the better Bruin? It’s no question in my mind. Thornton is so symbolic of the B’s style of hockey and has been an unsung hero in the team’s return to glory. The Bruins’ resident pugilist has annually been among the league’s leader in fighting majors (and boasts a pretty damn good record when he does drop the gloves). It’s a thankless job, so here’s to giving No. 22 a well-deserved stick salute.

In net: Tie between Tim Thomas and Tiny Thompson

How ironic is it that what some would say are the two best goalies in franchise history are battling it out to be the best B’s goalie to have a “T” last name? So, in that case, we can only say it’s a tie between Thomas and Thompson, who – had we done this list differently and not kept goalies separate – would’ve each supplanted Joe Thornton if this alphabetical analysis was conducted differently. Comparing the two with so many eras between them is virtually impossible, as the league was five times smaller back in Thompson’s days.

Thomas, now known for being a cuckoo bird hiding in Colorado somewhere, won the – come on, as if I need to tell you this – Vezina Trophy in 2009 and again in 2011, backstopped the B’s to glory that spring with a performance for the ages during the playoffs and – off-ice antics be damned – should always be remembered as the No.1 reason a 39-year championship drought finally ended. Thomas ranks fourth on the B’s all-time list with 196 wins and third with 31 shutouts.

Thompson, born more than 70 years before Thomas, led the league in victories on five occasions, won it all in 1929 with three shutouts and a mere three goals against in five playoff games (good for a 0.60 goals-against average), won four Vezinas and entered the Hall of Fame in 1959. Thompson ranks first on the club’s all-time list with 252 victories and 74 shutouts.

U

Best ever, Runners-up, in net: In an unfathomable, unexpected and simply unacceptable turn of events, no one’s ever had a last name begin with “U” in the nearly nine decade history of the Boston Bruins. Unbelievable.

V

Best ever: Carol Vadnais

What do you know? Another ’72 Cup champ. I’ll be damned. Vadnais (pictured right), acquired from the Oakland (not sure when they switched from California or dropped the “Golden” but who really cares?) Seals during the 1971-72 campaign, was an underrated offensive powerhouse for the B’s. He had a then-career-best 59 points (16 goals) in 1973-74 then smashed that with a 74-point season in 1974-75. The following year, with seven points in 12 games to his credit, Vadnais was dealt to New York in that damn Espo deal we just can’t seem to stop talking about. Vadnais finished with 181 points and a plus-69 rating in 263 games for the Black and Gold.

Runners-up: Darren Van Impe, Kris Vernarsky

A key cog in Pat Burns’ defensive corps upon his arrival, Van Impe had the misfortune of playing for a few awfully underwhelming Bruins’ teams, but the guy was fairly solid – despite having a plus-minus in Boston (minus-29 in 220 games) that looks like crap on paper. Van Impe’s best feat with the B’s came during the 1998 playoffs. He scored twice in a 4-3, overtime win over the Capitals in Game 2 down in Washington, including the game-winner in the extra session.

Vernarsky, a Detroit native and the 51st overall pick in 2000 (by Toronto), scored a goal in a win over the Habs in his third NHL game and was well on his way to being a star after putting up solid numbers in the AHL for Providence. Unfortunately, the 6-foot-3 forward went pointless in his final 14 NHL games (all for Boston), wound up in the UHL, IHL and ECHL and just totally flamed out. He retired (I think?) in 2011 after one season with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers.

W

Best ever: Glen Wesley

What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions Wesley’s (pictured right) time with the Bruins? Don’t lie. Admit it. It’s when he missed a wide open net in overtime of a Cup finals game against the Oilers in 1990, flicking a backhander just over the crossbar. The B’s went on to lose the tilt and the series. If you’ve gotten over the incident – hopfully you have, given it’s been 22 freakin’ years – you’ll then readily remember how Wesley was one of the best No. 2 defenseman in the National Hockey League. A smart, sound defender and a strong presence offensively, Wesley had 307 points in 537 games for the B’s before being dealt to Hartford in ‘94 for a trio of first-round picks that turned into Kyle McLaren, Jonathan Aitken and Sergei Samsonov. In the late ‘90s, that seemed like one of the best trades in Bruins history. Now in retrospect? Tough call, given Wesley was still an effective player upon his retirement in 2008 at the age of 39 as a veteran of 1,457 games (20th on the NHL’s all-time list).

Runners-up: Ed Westfall, Cooney Weiland

Did anyone from the 1970 and 1972 teams not make this list? Seriously. How did that group only win two Cups? Anywho, Westfall, like all of his predecessors in this four-part series, was a key piece to the championship puzzle. Westfall really emerged as a solid secondary scoring presence as the B’s began to climb out of the NHL’s cellar in the late ‘60s. In 11 seasons in the Hub of Hockey, Westfall notched 339 points in 733 games. He was a big contributor in the playoffs and always a threat to score a shorty. He had seven during the regular season in 1970-71 and tallied twice while shorthanded during the ’72 Cup run.

Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971, Weiland began his career with a Cup win 1929 and closed out his career on the same note in 1939, with short stints in Ottawa and Detroit sandwiched in between. As a Bruin, he had 236 points in 365 games. With 43 goals and 73 points in 1929-30, he set new NHL records in each category. His 73 points were the league’s single-season best until Herb Cain broke that mark with 82 points for the 1943-44 Bruins.

Honorable mention: Aaron Ward (26 points, countless forearm shivers, infinite candid, comical answers to the media’s questions in 150 games for the Bruins)

In net: Hal Winkler

Edging out Kay Whitmore by 10,000 lunar miles, Winkler (no relation to “Happy Days” star Henry Winkler, as far I know) went 32-22-13 in two years in Boston. He didn’t make the NHL until he was 34 and only spent two seasons in the league, splitting his first between the Rangers and B’s and closing out his time in the league in 1928 before bouncing around various minor-pro leagues. The most interesting thing I can say about Winkler? In the ’27 playoffs he appeared in eight games and had four ties. Ties. In the playoffs! Can you believe that?

X

Best ever, runners-up, in net: Much to our dismay, no player in the history of the National Hockey League has had an “X” last name. Such a shame.

Y

Best ever: Stephane Yelle

I’m going to be honest here. Stephane Yelle? Standup guy, solid leader, but a pretty boring player. However, the guy did his job as Boston’s fourth-line pivot during the 2008-09 season. He notched 18 points in his lone campaign with the Black and Gold and was plus-6. In the playoffs, he had one assist in 11 games and was minus-4. A Cup champ with Colorado as a rookie in 1996 and again in 2001, Yelle (pictured right) split town and signed with Carolina for the 2009-10 season before being dealt to Colorado and retiring with the Avs.

Runners-up: Jason York, C.J. Young

York picked a really crappy time to come to Boston: 2006-07, the dreadful Dave Lewis year. York was pretty blah on the back-end, chipping in eight points and sporting a minus-14 rating in just 49 games. I’m obligated to write positive things here, so we’ll praise the veteran blueliner for his best game as a Bruin, which came on Feb. 20, 2007. York scored his only goal as a member of the Black and Gold and was plus-3 in a 3-0 win over the Leafs.

Young, a native of Wabam, Mass., was a superstar at Harvard. He was a member of the Crimson’s national championship squad in 1988 and scored three shorthanded tallies in 49 seconds (!) during one game that season (he scored five goals in that game). His NHL career, however, was extremely brief. He made his NHL debut in 1992-93, was traded to Boston that same year after 28 games for Brent Ashton (who was also struggling) and fared fairly well with the hometown team. Young had nine points in 15 games for the B’s but finished the season down in Providence, where he had a quiet postseason. The internet refuses to tell me what happened to him afterward, but all I know is Young never played pro hockey – at least in a recognized league – ever again.

In net: Yo-Yo Ma

Alright, so world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma never played in the NHL. However, he will be performing at Dartmouth College on Thursday. And, hey, Dartmouth College does have a hockey program, you know.

Z

Best ever: Rob Zamuner

Signed as a free agent in July 2001, Zamuner (pictured right) was a decent plugger who had moderate success during his three seasons in Boston. He buried 22 goals in his first two years (which were both injury-shortened, limiting him to 121 games). But by 2003-04, his role had diminished under Mike Sullivan. Zamuner suited up for 57 contests and managed just nine points, finishing with 50 points in 178 games as a Bruin.

Runners-up: Joe Zanussi, Rick Zombo

Afer a solid two-year stint with the Winnipeg Jets in the WHA, Zanussi joined the NHL in 1974-75 with the Rangers. He was part of the Park/Ratelle/Esposito trade and arrived in Boston in November 1975. A 5-foot-10 defenseman, Zanussi had eight points in 60 contests that year. In December the following season, he was traded to St. Louis for Rick Smith.

Speaking of defenseman who had unspectacular, short runs with the Bruins, let’s now honor the great Rick Zombo. Zombo closed out his NHL career in 1995-96 with the B’s, chipping in 14 points in 67 games. He did not appear in any playoff games, wound up in the IHL the following year and then called it a career.

In net: You’re kidding me? The list ends like this? With no one? Nothing but an empty net?! That’s right, ladies and gents. Zero goalies in Bruins’ history fit the bill. 

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