Being a general manager in the National Hockey League has to be tough. The GM must be accountable for an extraordinary amount of decisions, and if things go amiss, the blame lands squarely on the GM. The GM is allowed a freebie or two, in that, if the team does poorly, he can shift the blame to the head coach, but, sonner or later, it all comes back to the GM. The Bruins front office has found itself in a state of flux since the 2003-04 season, but that is finally starting to settle down, thanks to what is now the third year under GM Peter Chiarelli. But does stability equal success? Sure, the Bruins made the playoffs last season, but has Chiarelli set the the team up for a continuous era of winning? What’s up with that blog on the Bruins website that he promised to update several times a week, yet only posted to six times? Most of these questions answered after the jump. (Seriously, what the fuck was up with that blog?)
On the cusp of the 2008-09 season, and with two seasons under the glowering gaze of Chiarelli’s goatee, there is finally some stability within an organization that has seen its fair share of front office turmoil over the past decade. The roster has not changed all that much since the end of last season, Coach Claude Julien is still behind the bench, and a healthy Patrice Bergeron and Manny Fernandez will provide an instant boost to the team. (Well, at least Bergeron will provide a boost. Let’s hope for the best with Fernandez). Marco Sturm, Chuck Kobasew, and Dennis Wideman were all given contract extensions, and Glen Murray was bought out. Chiarelli tried to address the Bruins anemic offensive output by singing free agent Michael Ryder for a cap hit of $3.875 million a season. Ryder has notched 30-goal seasons in the past, but is coming off a 14 goal campaign and his paycheck seems to hinge on how well he performed under Julien in previous years.
The major criticism I often hear levied against Chiarelli is that he is afraid to pull the trigger on big, bold moves. I tend to disagree; I think Chiarelli is building a team that can be a solid contender for years to come and knows when to apply the brakes on chasing marquee players. The Bruins aren’t in a position to make a Cup run this season, so why mortgage the future for a year or two of Marian Hossa? Also, the team appears to have good chemistry so why spend a lot of money to fix something that isn’t quite broken? When reading all the news and rumors that surround the Bruins, it seems that Chiarelli is always in the mix on the trade front, but he has remained very consistent in terms of who he is willing to part with and for what. I do believe that Chiarelli is building the team from the bottom up, a plan which I agree with. The Bruins have drafted well in recent years (Six players taken in the past five years are established Bruins, and a few more are on their way towards joining them), and it takes a few years to really see what pans out. The core of the team remains young, with veterans manning key positions, both on and off the ice. If the goaltending can get straightened out, the Bruins could be poised to make a Cup run in two years. Instead of panicking and trying to shoehorn high priced free agents into the long-term plans, Chiarelli has chosen to stay the course and build the Bruins into a contender from within.
Not all of Chiarelli’s roster moves have been gems, and sometimes they either have no impact or are just lateral moves. Brandon Bochenski was aquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for fringe NHL’er Kris Versteeg. Bochenski, a Chiarelli project from his days in Ottawa, did little for the Bruins offense and was with the team for less than a year, as his defensive inadequacies kept him in Claude Julien’s doghouse before being moved to the Anahiem Ducks for spare defensemen Shane Hnidy. Forward Peter Schaefer was acquired from Chiarelli’s old club, the Ottawa Senators, for Mike O’Connell signee, Shean Donovan. Now, Donovan was as useless as useless can be, but in the trade Ottawa got significant cap relief while the Bruins took on a mediocre two-way forward at a 2.1 million a year cap hit. Despite his performance in the playoffs (4 points, +2), it still wasn’t far off from his dismal regular season production (26 points, +4 in 63 games), and Schaefer is near universally looked upon as a bust among Bruins faithful, residing at or near the top of expendable parts. Granted, part of the reason Chiarelli may not chase free agents is due to the cap problems that currently exist in Boston, problems that Chiarelli must at least shoulder partial responsibility for. At the moment, without eventual call-ups Tuukka Rask and Blake Wheeler on the roster, the Bruins have 1.2 million in open cap space. The trade rumors have begun again as Chiarelli has stated that he is still looking for a puck-moving defensemen and looking to create cap flexibility, which could potentially mean the departure of apparently anyone on the Bruins roster, including leading point-producer Marc Savard. If Chiarelli’s stated goals of stability and chemistry are close to becoming reality, why the blockbuster trade rumors and need for extra cap flexibility? Aren’t we happy with the team we barely changed over the off-season?
Regardless, I feel that Bruins fans need to be patient, and enjoy watching the young talent flourish in Boston, because the alternative is another management upheaval and many more years of rebuilding.