Alex Zhamnov has enjoyed plenty of success in the game of hockey. He has won Olympic medals and he has scored 20 or more goals nine times during his storied 12-year NHL career. When Zhamnov became an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 1, he went looking for one thing: a chance to win the Stanley Cup. With that thought in mind, Zhamnov accepted a three-year contract to play for the Boston Bruins.
As one of the premier centers in the NHL, Zhamnov had plenty of suitors for his talents. He looked at the situation carefully, and decided that Boston was the place where he wanted to be. He liked the way the organization was going about its business of putting together a solid team to contend for the Stanley Cup.
"I think this organization wants to win the Stanley Cup, and that is one of the reasons why I signed here," said Zhamnov during a visit to TD Banknorth Garden on Monday. "I had a few different proposals from a few different teams, but I made the decision to come to Boston."
Zhamnov, 34, began his NHL career with the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes organization before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in the deal that sent Jeremy Roenick to Phoenix. Zhamnov had spent his entire NHL career in the Western Conference until he was dealt at the trading deadline in February 2004 to the Philadelphia Flyers.
He spent the last 20 games of the regular season with the Flyers recording 18 points. He was then a key player in Philadelphia's playoff run that culminated with a loss in the Conference Finals to eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay. Zhamnov finished second on the Flyers in playoff scoring with 14 points in 18 games.
During his brief time in the Eastern Conference Zhamnov also got a good look at the Bruins.
I think it's a great organization, and this team has a lot of history," said Zhamnov. "The year before the lockout, when I was moved to Philadelphia and I played against Boston, I could tell this was a great team. That's the reason why I came here is because I want to be part of a good team and be part of a team that contends for the Stanley Cup.
"The [Joe] Thornton line is a pretty good line," said Zhamnov. "What I see right now with this organization is that they are trying to build a team with three or four good lines. It's very hard to play against those kinds of teams. I am looking forward to it. I think this organization did a tremendous job after the lockout, and I am so excited to part of this."
His excitement stems in part to the recent signings that General Manager Mike O'Connell has made. The Bruins have been busy signing unrestricted free agents Brian Leetch, Shawn McEachern, Glen Murray and Dave Scatchard. O'Connell also pulled the trigger on a trade with Edmonton to acquire Brad Isbister.
The moves that O'Connell made did not go unnoticed even by Zhamnov, who was traveling in his native Russia.
"It's a little hard to say because I was out of the county, in Russia," said Zhamnov when asked to evaluate the recent acquisitions. "But those moves that they made, I think it's in the right direction."
The direction that Zhamnov is thinking about is toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Thanks to the trade to Philadelphia, Zhamnov experienced the thrill of a long playoff run at the end of the 2003-04 season.
"I've been in Olympic Games, and won Olympic medals, but only once have I had that experience of being in the [Stanley Cup] playoffs that long, like I did with Philly," said Zhamnov. "It's probably the best time of year, to be in the playoffs fighting for the Stanley Cup. That's very important for me, and that's why I'm so excited to be part of this organization because this team always fights for the playoffs and the Stanley Cup, so I look forward to it."
Zhamnov, who will wear number 10, may be looking forward to playing for the Bruins, but he is not concerning himself with possible linemates just yet.
"It's up to the coach who I play with," said Zhamnov when asked about possibly playing with Sergei Samsonov. "My job is to just go and play hockey, so I don't like to think about whom I'm going to play with. It's most important for me to [think about] what I'm going to do on the ice to help this team and help the coaches."
His experience in the NHL and in international hockey should help the team and the coaches right from the start of training camp, especially with the new rule changes.
"I spent last year in the Russian League, so I think they're basically the same rules," said Zhamnov of the rule changes set for this season. "It's a little difficult for everybody at the beginning of the season, but you have to get used to it. With no red line, it's going to kind of open more ice in the neutral zone because you can make one pass for a breakaway. It may be a little more difficult for defense, but for offense it's better."
Zhamnov's presence on the team should be enough to help generate more offense, but he is also a solid two-way player.
"Alex is really a complete player," said Bruins head coach Mike Sullivan, who used to play against Zhamnov in the Western Conference. "He is a guy who has played the number one center position for a lot of years. He is very capable of creating offense, and he is really versatile. You can play him in a lot of different roles, including playing the point on the power play. The fans can expect to see a real competitive player. Zhamnov really competes. He is a former captain, so he brings leadership qualities and character."
The addition of Zhamnov to the lineup certainly excites Sullivan, who will have many options of how to setup his line combinations.
"Alex [Zhamnov] is at a stage in his career where winning is of the utmost importance to him," said Sullivan. "And that bodes well for us because those are the type of guys that we want to have on our team. We are going to be a much more difficult team to play against because of the depth that we now have with a guy like him. To have Joe Thornton and Alex Zhamnov as our top two centermen makes us feel like we have two number one lines. We're really excited to get on the ice with these guys and see what we can put together."
Sullivan will be working with a lineup that will also include the addition of free agents Brian Leetch (a team captain with the NY Rangers), Shawn McEachern (who was also a team captain in both Ottawa and Atlanta), Glen Murray and Dave Scatchard. He will also have Brad Isbister, who the Bruins acquired in a trade with Edmonton, at his disposal.
"We're really excited," said Sullivan about the coaching staff. "I think Mike [O'Connell] has done a terrific job in acquiring the type of players that he has so far. What excites me about it is that not only are these guys real good players, but they're character guys. They all have leadership qualities. They all bring something significant to table above and beyond their ability to play hockey, and I think that's important when building a team."
O'Connell has been busy putting this team together, and Sullivan is looking forward to being able to coach them when training camp opens in mid-September. He said that the free agents Boston has signed all fit into their plan.
"There's no question—in this new environment—when you're dealing with free agents, they're going to look for teams that share similar objectives," said Sullivan. "And I think this was a good fit with Alex [Zhamnov] and the Bruins because of the utmost importance for him to win a Stanley Cup, and that's what we're trying to do."