|Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, left, is congratulated by teammates P.J. Axelsson, Blake Wheeler and Zdeno Chara (33). (AP Photo) |
It's not often that you find people willing to openly and unabashedly praise a player who has departed an organization.
It's all part of the business. Players move on. Like the past few days here at the TD Garden. One out. One in. And another one out.
But that "another one" was somebody special in Per Johan Axelsson. The Hub of Hockey knew him as P.J. and he was the longest standing (current) Boston Bruins player with 797 NHL games played.
Yep, P.J. Axelsson bridged the Ray Bourque era to the Zdeno Chara
era and he did his job and represented the Boston Bruins in a classy, classy way.
“First and foremost, he had very good leadership skills,” said B’s general manager Peter Chiarelli this morning. “He’s never been an elite player, but he’s a player that plays careful attention to the details of the game and he’s garnered a lot of respect as a result.
“He’s a tremendous defensive player, very smart, and he played hurt a lot.
“So he gave us some tremendous service,” he said.
Axelsson earned a 103-184-287 line over eleven seasons with Boston and added 4-3-7 totals in 54 playoff games with the Bruins.
But it wasn’t about the numbers with Axelsson.
“Obviously, he meant a lot [to the Bruins],” said B’s head coach Claude Julien, reached via cell phone on Monday. “Anyone who was part of our hockey club and was inside the dressing room understood what Axie meant to our hockey club.
“He was a great leader. He is was a great team person and…he served us well in all areas.”
And serving the Bruins well meant playing outside of his comfort zone – and getting criticized because of it.
“He was one of those guys who could play on our top line when we needed some help there and could kill penalties – he was excellent at that,” said Julien in explanation of Axelsson’s versatility. “He was a great role player.
“You knew you were going to get that from him – an honest effort every night – but there was also accountability…not only could we count on him on the ice, but also off the ice and in the dressing room.”
Such is life in the salary cap era. And as the Bruins have seen with the departures of Stephane Yelle (free agent), Aaron Ward (trade) and Axelsson (free agent) amongst others, these days it is hard for clubs to retain veteran players and the look of many clubs can change dramatically from year to year.
“At times you have to make decisions whereby [it’s decided] that maybe it’s time for younger players to fill these roles,” said Chiarelli. “It’s too bad because Axie is a very good person, but that was really one of the reasons why we really couldn’t bring him back.
“It’s almost a war of attrition and that’s what happens in a cap system.”
“It’s unfortunate because I think everyone in our organization respected and appreciated him a lot,” said the head coach. “But unfortunately the salary cap that is now in our game is making our decisions tougher and tougher.
“Unfortunately, guys like that are getting pushed out.
“Certainly we’ll have to work really hard to find someone to replace him,” said Julien.
The respect and appreciation for Axelsson reached from the locker room, to the TD Garden and beyond.Patrice Bergeron
noted that Axelsson was the last player remaining on the roster who was in the locker room when he arrived as an 18-year old.
“Since I’ve been with the Bruins, Axie was there,” said the B’s assistant captain. “He was always the good guy who was always smiling and always there for his teammates; standing up for his teammates on and off the ice.
“He’s going to be missed, for sure.”
Bergeron, like Axelsson, continues the tradition of Bruins players being present and accountable to the New England community. And Patrice noted that Axelsson was a big part of the reason that many of the younger B’s, particularly ones who encountered a bit of a language barrier, found it easy to transition into the Boston locker room.
“He had been through it his first couple of years – the language barrier,” explained Bergeron. “And I think he wanted to help the young kids with that difficulty. So, he’s been awesome to me and I wish him all the best.
“I am very sad to see that he will not be with us this year, but I guess that’s the business? At the same time, Axie deserves all the credit he’s [received.] He’s a great player but also a great teammate.”
Furthermore, Axelsson was a true professional.
“He played a great role in trying to turn this team around,” explained Julien. “And it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t get to continue that.
“For what he’s given out organization, we wish him the best.”
“I’m glad he found a spot that gave him security and allowed him to bring up his family [the way he wanted],” said Chiarelli. “I’ve [said] it a few times. He’s a very good solider and a very good defensive player and a solid person.”
“I think Axie knew what it meant to be a Bruin and he tried to let everyone else know about it,” added Bergeron. “He would teach the young guys and, you know, he was not the kind of guy who talked the most, but when he did stand up and speak the guys were listening.
“Axie was a big influence on me and he’s going to be missed.”
Yes he is. Thanks P.J.
Author: John Bishop | BostonBruins.com