For the past three or four years, the Boston Bruins have been teaching the Toronto Maple Leafs a lesson.
It’s been painful for Leaf Nation to watch, capped by Game 7 of the opening round of this spring’s playoffs.
The Leafs have done a good job of learning from the rival they most closely resemble, except for the otherworldly presence of Zdeno Chara. Both teams play with speed and skill. Both teams hit. Both fight when they need to.
Both coaches — Claude Julien in Boston, Randy Carlyle in Toronto — believe offence comes from defence.
Neither team has a prototypical No. 1 centre. In Boston, both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci fit the mould of No. 2s. But teams have made up for a lack of size down the middle with a solid top six — the Leafs perhaps eyeing jealously the size and toughness of Milan Lucic, while the Bruins have never truly replaced the scoring touch of a maturing Phil Kessel.
The Bruins haven’t exactly been blessed with top picks. Tyler Seguin at No. 2 in 2010 (compensation for trading Kessel, a No. 5) was their highest selection since taking Joe Thornton No. 1 in 1997. A playoff team more often than not, they’ve been dogged by dodgy mid- to-late first-round picks (Matt Lashoff, Lars Jonsson, Martin Samuelsson, Shaone Morrisonn, Hannu Toivonen, Zach Hamill) but fared well with second- and third-rounders (Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, Brad Marchand).
In net, if Boston’s Tuukka Rask is rated ahead of James Reimer, it’s only by a small margin.
The franchise-changing moment that put the Bruins on the path to winning the 2011 Stanley Cup, though, was the signing of Chara as a free agent. The behemoth defenceman, a Norris Trophy winner, is proof that big money can be spent wisely on free agents. The Leafs have done plenty of free-agent spending themselves, rarely wisely.