Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Brains Behind the Bruins

In less than six years the NHL's best General Manager, Boston's Peter Chiarelli, has drafted, signed or acquired all but three of the 23 active players on his roster

When Peter Chiarelli was hired by the Bruins in May of 2006, he inherited a team that seemed to be going nowhere after it traded a dollar (Joe Thornton) for three quarters (Brad Stuart, Marco Sturm, Wayne Primeau) and finished 13th in the East.

Knowing the team had lost it's identity, Chiarelli immediately capitalized on a brutal mistake when the team he had just left, the Ottawa Senators, chose to re-sign Wade Redden over Zdeno Chara. That allowed Chara to hit the open market, and Chiarelli snapped him up with a five year deal that made the towering defenceman the NHL's highest paid rearguard ($7.5 million/year) and the new face of the Bruins.

That same summer Chiarelli also added free-agent Marc Savard, drafted Phil Kessel (5th), Milan Lucic (50th), and Brad Marchand (71st), and traded former Calder trophy winning goalie Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for Tuuka Rask. Even though Boston improved by only 2 points in the standings during Chiarelli's first season (06-07), the foundation for an elite team was quickly being put in place.

The next year (07-08) the Bruins returned to the playoffs, and as an eighth seed forced a game seven before losing in the opening round. They advanced to the second round the following two years (08-09 and 09-10) before becoming the Stanley Cup champions in 2010-11. That culminated a pretty good run.

Or so we thought.

Improbably, they've actually improved upon that form and have been steamrolling the NHL since Halloween. Boston is currently on a 24-4-1 run that has included a pair of 6-0 triumphs, as well as 7, 8, and 9 nothing games in their favour. They lead in goals scored and goals against, have the league's best road record, are the only team not to have allowed a shorthanded goal, and could have as many as 11 players score 15 or more goals.

Chiarelli has assembled hockey's deepest and most complete line-up and his Bruins are the odds-on favourite to become only the second team in the last 20 seasons to successfully defend their championship (Detroit in 96-97 and 97-98).

In addition to the moves outlined earlier, Chiarelli has made a number of shrewd high profile deals (Kessel for draft picks that became Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton; Brad Boyes for Dennis Wideman, who eventually turned into Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell), was rewarded for staying patient with holdover young talent (Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci), and identified and acquired the right veteran pieces to help short-term (Mark Recchi) and long (Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk).

Even the goaltending situation, which not that long ago was a potential area of concern, appears to be working itself out beautifully for Chiarelli. After Tim Thomas provided exceptional value during his first three and a half years in Boston, Chiarelli signed the goalie to a four year $20 million contract extension that kicked in for the 09-10 season and would see Thomas through to his 40th birthday. As that season unfolded Thomas struggled and Rask emerged, and it looked like the Bruins might be stuck with a potentially crippling $5 million cap hit for an aging back-up goalie.

Instead, Thomas bounced back with a Vezina and Conn Smythe-winning performance last year, has posted nearly identical numbers again this year, and now has only one more very cap manageable season left on that extension. Meanwhile Rask has gained plenty of experience, and will be looking to increase his workload and salary at a time that should fit perfectly into Chiarelli's plans.

Which evidently include more Stanley Cup parades in Boston.

*Bergeron, Krejci, and Thomas were the only three players Chiarelli didn't bring to Boston.

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