"My gut tells me it may be a shot across the bow. Wake up or else changes will be made." - Bruins goalie Tim Thomas on the trade that sent now former teammate Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota
When a team with high expectations stumbles out of the gate, there are any number of things management can do to try to get things back on track, but they all boil down to a simple choice: do something or do nothing. For Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli, he chose the latter course of action when he traded winger Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota for a player, a prospect and a pick over the weekend.
The move does a few things for the B's, from the obvious (freeing up salary cap room for this and next season, adding to an already-impressive stockpile of draft picks and making room for prospects to play) to the... um... less obvious. But perhaps most importantly, the trade sends a message to the 3-4-0 Bruins, a team clearly better than its record: good is not good enough. As defenseman Dennis Wideman put it, "Obviously when people start getting moved around it's not because you're playing well."
Patrice Bergeron added, "With the way things were going, that’s something that’s going to happen. We just have to deal with this as a team, when somebody like that has to go because of the situation."
And while Kobasew has scored twenty or more goals in three of the four post-lockout seasons (but hasn't yet found the back of the net in 2009-10), he wasn't a foundational piece for Boston - Chiarelli killed a few birds with a relatively inexpensive stone.
All of which brings us to the Capitals, a team that, at times, certainly gives off the impression that it's plenty comfortable. And why wouldn't they be? After all, it's been a remarkably stable group of guys for years now, and they all know that when they're focused and at their best, they can beat anyone. "Don't worry," they say with their actions, "we'll turn it on with ten minutes left in a game or for important games and definitely come playoff time."
The problem, of course, is that "turning it on" is easier said than done. For the 50 wins and so on that the Caps racked up during the regular season last year, they were nearly upset in the first round by the Rangers, in part because of bad habits they'd picked up while coasting into the playoffs.
Now, no one's saying that a team needs razor-sharp focus and playoff-like intensity for every minute of every game of an 82-game season. But, as Bruce Boudreau noted recently, "The only thing in this world that is free are habits. You want to consistently get into good habits," and that means getting a little uncomfortable. Gabby seems to realize that, and has approached it in a couple of ways so far in this young season, including creating positional battles up and down the roster, calling out a couple of veterans, and skating the heck out of his players. After all, as he said back during camp, "We will be focused because it's my job to keep them focused" (an issue that has already reared it's head this season).
As Peter Chiarelli showed this past weekend, however, the coach isn't the only one whose job it is to keep the team focused; you can bet that George McPhee will be watching how the Bruins respond to the trade, knowing full well that a similar trade can be a key refocusing tool.