End Of An Era? Bruins Release Coffey

Paul Coffey, playing far below the level that made him one of the top defensemen in NHL history, was waived Tuesday by the Boston Bruins and will know by Thursday whether any other team wants him.

If no one claims the four-time Stanley Cup winner by noon Thursday, the Bruins could send him to their American Hockey League team in Providence or buy out the remainder of the two-year, $4 million contract he signed last summer.

Coffey has lost the touch that made him the second highest scoring defenseman in NHL history, having been overtaken this season by former Bruins star Ray Bourque, and the ninth leading scorer overall.

Of course, he hasn't had players like Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier to feed the puck to as he did when all three were part of the Edmonton championship teams in 1984, 1985 and 1987.

Monday night's 5-4 Bruins loss in Atlanta in which he played 20 minutes, 54 seconds was Coffey's 1,409th game of his career and 18th this season, his 21st in the NHL.

But he's missed nine games with a shoulder injury, a hip flexor and a concussion and has no goals and four assists.

The Bruins announced their decision to waive Coffey, 39, on Tuesday, as they prepared to play Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, where Coffey won his last Stanley Cup in 1991.

"We just thought it was time to move on," Boston general manager Mike O'Connell told WBZ radio. "Paul had a terrific career but he was not playing up to par."

After trading Bourque to Colorado last March, the Bruins went after another big-name veteran defenseman and signed Coffey on July 13 as a free agent after he played 69 games with Carolina last season.

This season got off to a bad start when he bruised his left shoulder in the second period of a season-opening 4-4 tie with Ottawa on Oct. 5 and missed the next three games. He still needs four goals to join Bourque as the only defensemen to score 400.

Coffey had been counted on to bring stability to the defense. But it has been racked by injuries to Kyle McLaren, Darren Van Impe and Peter Popovic, all still sidelined, and the Bruins were second in most goals allowed after Monday night's loss.

Coffey won the last of his three Norris trophies as the league's top defenseman in 1995 and scored 11 goals and 29 assists last season with the Hurricanes, his eighth team and fifth in five seasons. The 69 games and 40 points were his mot in four seasons.

O'Connell told WBZ that cutting Coffey was a difficult decision. But he said the team wants to move in a different direction on defense with younger players.

In 1,409 games, Coffey has 396 goals, 1,135 assists and 1,531 points. Bourque has played more games, 1,558 going into Tuesday night's game at New Jersey, and had 406 goals, 1,134 assists and 1,540 points.

Coffey spent his first seven seasons in Edmonton, the next four with Pittsburgh, then split the 1991-92 campaign between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles and the next one between Los Angeles and Detroit.

He spent three full seasons with the Red Wings, ending in 1995-96, then played for Hartford, Philadelphia, Chicago and Carolina before going to Boston.

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