SUN Hockey Pool

Beantown bad boy

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

Mike O'Connell arrived at Rexall Place yesterday with his backside still smoking from the heat he's been taking in Beantown for trading Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks.

You'd never know it talking to the Boston Bruins GM, though, and that's saying something, considering all the fallout from the blockbuster in which Thornton was sent packing to the Silicon Valley for Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau Wednesday.

With Boston saving $1.6 million of Thornton's $6.66-million salary this season, the trade has been framed as a salary dump by tightwad owner Jeremy Jacobs, with O'Connell dutifully playing his stooge.

Known in hockey circles simply as O.C., O'Connell has been painted as a fool who got fleeced by San Jose GM Doug Wilson, for being relieved of a player of Thornton's stature without shopping his three-time all-star around the NHL to ensure the best return.

HE'S UNFAZED

Unfazed is O.C., who showed up for a tilt with the Edmonton Oilers not inclined to be apologetic, knowing that if his bold move doesn't turn the Bruins around, he and coach Mike Sullivan could be the next ones out the door.

One question for those who think O'Connell a buffoon - as talented as Boston Joe was, what did the Bruins ever win during Thornton's seven seasons draped in black and gold silks? Nothing. That's what.

"The best way to put it is that, as general manager, if you feel there's something out there to help your hockey club and you don't do it because you're afraid of what the fallout might be, you're in the wrong job," O'Connell said.

"Some of these deals general managers face, they take necessary courage to do them. Some are going to work, some aren't going to work. If they work more often than they don't, you keep your job."

GOING NOWHERE FAST

The Bruins were 8-13-5 and going nowhere fast when O'Connell decided to pull the trigger. In the seasons since the Bruins made Thornton the first overall pick in 1997, they'd never reached the Eastern Conference final.

Going into the lockout, they'd lost in the conference quarter-final three straight years, despite two 100-point seasons, and four times since Thornton's rookie campaign. In 1998-99, they lost in the conference semifinal before failing to even reach the post-season for two straight years.

That's not to say Thornton should wear Boston's inability to get over the hump by himself - agent J.P. Barry has suggested that's what led to the trade - but marquee guys carry the brunt of responsibility. Can't hang it on Brad Isbister.

"We treat all our players with the necessary respect," O'Connell said. "I treat people like I expect to be treated.

"There was no finger-pointing from our end. I'm not going to. It doesn't help anything. We like the three players we got. We think they're going to help our team."

O'Connell, not wanting to trade with Eastern Conference rivals, looked west when he decided to shake things up. He talked to just five teams, including the Sharks, who were interested in swapping Stuart for Sergei Samsonov but jumped at the chance to land Thornton.

"Not long," says O'Connell, asked how long it took to get things done once he put Thornton on the table. "These things come together. You think about it. You make some calls. You see if there is an interest."

Are the Bruins better off without Thornton?

O.C. thinks it'll work out that way, or we wouldn't have made the deal.

If he's wrong, he'll have to answer for it. That's part of the job, too. Time will tell.

"I'm just thinking about the wins," says O'Connell, asked how he sells the trade of the popular Thornton to Boston fans. "Really, that's all it's about.

"The Bruins have made many big trades that weren't popular. Letting Bobby Orr go was probably the biggest thing we did. We traded Phil Esposito.

''We traded Adam Oates. That's the nature of the business.

"You're put in a position to make tough decisions and you have to make them.

''If you don't make them, you're not doing your job."


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