BOSTON – If there are any ghosts left over from the “Joe Thornton era,” they should now be finally banished.
The much-maligned master playmaker’s days with the Bruins ended Nov. 30, 2005 with this trade to San Jose, but no one has worn his No. 19 since that day.
It’d be a reach to say 19 has been considered cursed or not worth the grief, especially when you consider a celebrated figure like “Pie” McKenzie once donned it, but No. 91 Marc Savard once said he turned down the offer to wear it (he loves the number 9). And the Bruins haven’t issued it over the course of 4 ½ seasons since the deal with the Sharks.
Now the vacated sweater, once also filled by the likes of Gregg Sheppard and Jerry Toppazzini, is finally going to be in circulation again. A lifelong Steve Yzerman admirer and fellow appreciator of the No. 9, like Savard, Bruins No. 2 overall draft pick Tyler Seguin has been bold enough to take the No. 19.
Honestly, this should’ve been done a lot sooner. In fact, the Bruins should have insisted Marco Sturm or Wayne Primeau, acquired in exchange for Thornton, wear the number as soon as Thornton was out the door. If you’re turning the page, you’re turning the page. There’s no time for sentimentality and it’s better to nip any talk of a hex or a jinx in the bud before it can make the rounds. Once they didn’t force one of their new acquisitions to don the number, they could have issued it to any rookie or journeyman free agent they wanted. They didn’t.
It’s great that Seguin has been decided to help the Bruins franchise finally move forward. Coincidentally, Thornton (who wore No. 6 when he first hit the NHL) was also selected high in the draft (first overall) by the Bruins after a lengthy debate between him and a similarly skilled prospect, Patrick Marleau, that roared on until draft day. Like Thornton, the Bruins are hoping Seguin can develop into a superstar that they can build on for at least the next decade.
While Thornton didn’t factor into Seguin’s thinking about his NHL digits, he knows the comparisons are going to continue for as long as it takes him to completely banish his No. 19 predecessor from the memories of Bruins fans and media.
“That’s okay. Obviously I still have to make the NHL club. But I think if you want to compare me to guys like that, obviously, I’d be thrilled. I guess that’s how it is,” he said at a TD Garden press conference today.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said he had no hesitation about letting Seguin take 19 as it relates to Thornton once the 18-year-old humbly said he knows that the cozy uniform number doesn’t guarantee him an NHL job. Seguin repeated that mantra several times at the Garden, making it clear he knows he has to earn his spot when he lands here in the fall.
Seguin won’t receive any special treatment, as he is scheduled to report to Wilmington next week for development camp and then come back in September for rookie camp, just like all the other prospects not selected with so much fanfare. Once he makes the team, he’ll probably live with a billet-type family the same way Phil Kessel did when he made the Bruins’ roster. That should allow him to focus on hockey and growing up and should be a hindrance. After all, Sidney Crosby just recently finally moved out of Mario Lemieux’s house.
Chiarelli joked that if he asked Johnny Bucyk about letting Seguin wear No. 9, “Chief would whoop me.” There’s no way anyone should ever wear the number long ago retired for Bucyk, just like there’s no way anything related to Thornton will ever be so honored. Whether Seguin’s career path winds up being similar to Bucyk or Thornton or someone completely different, we’ll find out in the years ahead — with him wearing a number that should have been put back in circulation a long time ago.