One of the most intense rivalries in all of sports exists between the 2011 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins and the 24-time Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. Dating back to the 1924-1925 season, the two organizations have faced each other in 711 regular season games with Montreal holding the edge with a 343-259-103 record. The teams have met in 33 playoff series. Montreal, again, holds the upper hand by winning 24 of those series.
The heated rivalry was turned up more than a few notches on March 8, 2011 in Montreal when Bruins captain Zdeno Chara checked Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty into the stanchion along the boards. Pacioretty sustained a severe concussion and a fractured neck vertebra. Montreal police launched an investigation into the hit. The investigation is presently ongoing.
The clubs met in the 2011 Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Boston was the victor of a thrilling, hard hitting seven-game series.
It is almost inconceivable for fans of both storied franchises to think they will ever see one of their favorite players switch allegiances, but that is exactly what happened on July 1, 2011, the first day of the National Hockey League's free-agent signing period, better known as "Free Agent Frenzy."
Montreal's Benoit Pouliot, an unrestricted free agent, said good bye to his bleu, blanc et rouge brethren and said hello to the black and gold keepers of the Cup. Pouliot signed a one year, $1.1 million contract with Boston.
Pouliot was the fourth player selected in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He is the type of player Boston likes to have in its lineup. Listed at 6' 3", 200 lbs, the left-shooting winger is a big body with a long reach. Pouliot likes to play a hard-hitting physical game and will drop the gloves when an opponent tries to take liberties with him or his teammates.
The 24-year-old native of Alfred, Ontario, Canada will be suiting up for his third NHL team. In 183 NHL games, Pouliot has amassed 37 goals and 35 assists for 72 total points.
The thinking here is Pouliot will not be the high-scoring forward every team covets but he will bring his high-energy physical game to a team that is looking for a young player who will fill the role of setup man and protector of young guns Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand.
Like his new teammates, Pouliot knows what it takes to win a championship. He was a member of Canada's national junior team that won gold at the 2006 World Junior Championships.
Pouliot will not need to wait long before he sees his former Canadiens teammates. The two clubs will meet Thursday October 27, 2011 in Boston. Benoit Pouliot's presence in the the Bruins lineup is sure to help increase the intensity of the rivalry.
Ironically, the now former Canadien will take the roster spot of another former Hab as Bruins winger Michael Ryder exercised his right as an unrestricted free agent and signed a two-year contract with the Dallas Stars.
Ryder spent three seasons with the Bruins. He scored a total of 63 goals, 64 assists for 127 points in 235 regular season games. He contributed 17 goals and 18 assists for a total of 35 points in 49 playoff games.
During the 2010-2011 regular season, Ryder was a disappointment, scoring just 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points. He fell into disfavor with the fans until the playoffs rolled around when he became a solid contributor to this season's Stanley Cup victory but it was too little, too late. Ryder had become known as a player who would cruise through the regular season then turn it on for the playoffs and in professional sports that is not acceptable.
In Dallas, Ryder will be reunited with former Montreal teammate Mike Ribeiro. A reunion that might return Ryder to his 30-goal per season form.
Ryder will see his former Bruin teammates once next season in a New Year's Eve match in Dallas.
Overall, Boston losing Michael Ryder and gaining Benoit Pouliot is a win for the Bruins. Ryder is 30 years old and entering his eighth NHL season. He is coming off a Stanley Cup winning season but there is no guarantee he will carry over his playoff success to the 2011-2012 regular season. His recent history shows that will not be the case.
Pouliot is 24 years old and is about to begin his sixth NHL season. He has the skill and size to be a better player than Ryder. One thing is certain: each player needed a change in scenery and this may be the change they will need in order to jump start their careers.