BOSTON (AP) – When he awoke on the morning after what might be the biggest trade of his career, even Boston Bruins general manager Mike O’Connell couldn’t quite believe it.

“I said to my family, Boy, I had the weirdest dream last night: I traded Joe Thornton,”‘ O’Connell said Thursday during the team’s game-day skatearound. “We’re trying to right the ship here in Boston. … I had to do something.”

The last-place Bruins traded Thornton to the last-place San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night, getting Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau in return for their 26-year-old captain, the No. 1 overall pick of the 1997 draft. All of the players were with their new teams on Thursday, and Sturm had a goal and an assist in the first 8:47 of Boston’s game against the Ottawa Senators.

“We have to become a team in the true sense of the word – quickly,” said coach Mike Sullivan, whose team had lost nine of 10 before the deal.

Primeau received polite applause from the mostly empty building when he was introduced before Thursday night’s game. But Sturm made the most immediate impact, scoring 77 seconds into his Boston career and then assisting on Patrice Bergeron’s goal with 11:13 left in the first period.

“If we win, if we’re successful, it’s a good trade,” O’Connell said before the game. “If we’re not, it’s not a good trade.”

And if they’re not, he acknowledged, it could be his last trade.

O’Connell and Sullivan -the Bruins’ fifth head coach in five seasons – have been fighting for their jobs after the team, which boasted of being a Stanley Cup contender before the season, plummeted to the bottom of the Northeast Division standings.

“Obviously (the Bruins) believe in their coach and their general manager, and I’m next in line, so I’ve got to move on,” Thornton said in a conference call. “I came back here to win, and we haven’t been winning. Whose fault is that? I’m not sure, but I’m out of here, so it must be mine.”

But Thornton’s fellow teammates came to his defense.

“I really hope that he’s not being a fall guy,” goalie Andrew Raycroft said. “For him to be traded, it looks like that, but I don’t think anyone thinks that (the losing was Thornton’s fault), definitely not anyone in here.

“He was working as hard as anyone else. We were all trying to get out of this thing. We’re all frustrated.”

O’Connell was the architect of the pre- and post-lockout strategy that was based on a faulty prediction of what the collective bargaining agreement would allow and what the market for free agents would be. The Bruins purged their roster of long-term contracts, then scrambled to fill out their roster.

“Maybe our strategy was flawed,” he said. “Not signing players put us in a difficult situation. We had to react pretty quickly to the market.”

Asked who bears the responsibility for the plan, O’Connell said, “I bear all responsibility.”

Thornton signed a three-year, $20 million contract in August. He was tied for 11th in the NHL in scoring entering Wednesday’s games with nine goals and 24 assists.

O’Connell’s attempt to cut his losses didn’t begin with Thornton, but as he talked to other teams he realized that only Boston’s best player would bring the pieces the Bruins needed to turn things around.

“It wasn’t like our focus was on trading Joe Thornton. Our focus was to better the hockey club,” O’Connell said. “It’s hard. You don’t just say, Let’s trade your captain.’ But another couple of games go by and the same things happened. I had to pull the trigger.”

Bruins players were still stunned when they reported to the Garden for their gameday skate Thursday morning.

“It was pretty quiet. Not a lot was said, but everyone knew something big had happened,” forward Brad Boyes said. “It’s going to be a big test for us to see if we can come together after losing our top guy.”

AP-ES-12-01-05 2054EST

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