Haggerty: Chiarelli deserves more credit

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Haggerty: Chiarelli deserves more credit

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Its sometimes easy to forget just bad things were in the Bruins organization before Peter Chiarelli was pulled away from his employ with the Ottawa Senators.

Does anybody remember the Alex Zhamnov, Brad Isbister and David Tanabe era in Boston?

The Black and Gold roster was in shambles filled with AAAA hockey players never good enough to make it at the NHL level, cast-offs that nobody else coveted and overpriced veteran talent looking for a few more stuffed paychecks before heading to the hockey pasture.

The patchwork roster and lack of an organizational strategy was haphazard at best and Bostons proud hockey franchise was lost at season without a compass.

Things had bottomed out when the Bruins traded away their franchise player in Joe Thornton coming out of the NHL lockout with a squad that gave marginal expansion teams a good name.

In five years since those medieval days of the Bruins, Chiarelli came on board in Boston and cleaned the organizational gutters. He re-stocked the NHL and AHL roster with hungry young talent, lured elite players back into the Hub as a desired NHL destination, and basically helped breathe hockey life back into the city of Boston over the last five years.

The Bruins general manager also landed the right coach on the second try with Claude Julien, and has constructed a gradually improving core thats now qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs four straight seasons.

The Boston roster also holds one of the best hockey players under the age of 20 (Tyler Seguin) after lifting first round draft picks from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Phil Kessel, and currently holds two of the top 40 selections in this summers NHL draft as well.

There may be philosophical questions about the methods used to build the team, some of the contracts handed out over the last five years and the conservative style preferred by Chiarelli when it comes to trades and shaking things up. Thats all fair game in the public court of pro sports.

But theres also little question the Bs general manager has 1) done an excellent job of quickly rebuilding a terrible team into a top tier hockey club amid some difficult conditions and 2) helped completely change the hockey culture on Causeway Street far from the black hole of hockey it had become.

Patrice Bergeron was already well on his way when Chiarelli arrived, but Phil Kessel, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask and Adam McQuaid were all drafted andor developed after the Bs new front office implemented a culture of drafting, developing and treasuring young assets.

The trade deadline additions havent been one of the overwhelming strengths of the Bruins over the years, but even there Chiarelli has managed to haul in Mark Recchi, Dennis Seidenberg, Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley over the last three years as deadline difference-makers.

Obviously Kaberle has been a spectacular failure given his conditioning questions and the power plays dismal 7-for-97 performance since the puck-moving defensemens arrival.

Beyond that things didnt look good for Chiarellis deadline deals on this years team when both Peverley and Kelly struggled for goals over the final six weeks of the season in Boston and Kaberle was, well, Kaberle.

But both of those deals were made with an eye toward playoff experience and poise, and both Peverley and Kelly have come alive to electrify Bostons third line in the postseason.

Chiarelli envisioned Kelly as a P.J. Axelsson piece added to the Bs mix once Marc Savard was done for the season with a concussion, and the scrappy forward came through as one of Bostons best players (3 goals, 3 assists in seven games) against the Canadiens in the first round.

Hes an experienced player for one: experience in the regular season, experience in the playoffs. Just a very smart player, said Chiarelli. He fills lanes, he doesnt make sexy plays, he makes good plays and strong plays, hes got a lot of P.J. Axelsson in him.

He senses trouble defensively and he knows what hes doing. He doesnt panic. He gets his nose in there, so he gets his nose in all three zones. You saw how he scored. Ive seen him score nicer goals, but those are the goals we expect from Chris Kelly. He has some speed, hes a very versatile player that can play center, good in face-offs and good on the penalty kill. Hes a good solid two-way payer. Hes a good character kid. Hes been around the block a little bit and he knows what to expect and hell tell guys how he feels.

So with all of Chiarellis accomplishments over the last five years along with advancement to the conference semi-finals in each of the last two seasons, one would expect the general manager to have earned a few backslaps and nodding heads after the Bruins took down the hated Habs in an epic seven game playoff series.

One would expect Chiarelli is in the midst of carving out his own little corner of respect among the Boston landscape along with Sox general manager Theo Epstein, Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Celtics President Danny Ainge.

But that would be far from current reality.

Until Chiarelli and the Bruins can become the fourth of the four Boston sports teams to capture a championship, hell continue to be dogged and nagged with the perception hes not doing enough.

Bruins Nation wants nothing less than a championship after somehow transforming into a replica of the tormented pre-2004 Red Sox fandom while missing out on the Stanley Cup for the last 39 years.

Julien is clearly under fire if the Bruins cant hurdle the bar set for the organization in his pivotal fourth season behind the bench, and thats understandable given the short life expectancy NHL coaches have at individual stops along the way. Thats understandable, and its reasonable that the Bs head coach could still be in jeopardy if the Bs cant get past the Flyers in the second round.

But Chiarelli has heard his name whispered as potentially in employment danger should the Bruins fail to deliver in the playoffs just as hes heard Juliens named bandied about as well.

I cant speak for Claude. I mean Im certainly supportive of Claude. I think hes a terrific coach, said Chiarelli. I read everything and what everyone says, or I try to, just to keep abreast of things.

Thats what I see, so Im comfortable where I am. We want to win, we went out and got pieces to win, and I will try and do things to continue to win. So whatever, wherever the chips fall, they fall. But it hasnt really dawned on me. I read it, but you just get used to reading that stuff.

Chiarelli probably cant believe hes hearing about job security when his team is winning in the playoffs, his hand-picked players are helping the Bruins pull out epic wins and the business of the Bruins is as robust as its ever been.

Certainly Chiarellis job isnt complete until a guy like Patrice Bergeron is holding the Stanley Cup over his head in full celebration mode on the Garden ice.

But its time to start recognizing and appreciating whats been built deliberately and successfully over the last five years by Chiarelli and Co., and give some credit where its more than overdue along with an invitation to stay in Boston as long as he wants.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins make it official, name Cassidy coach

Bruins make it official, name Cassidy coach

It took a few days of discussions and Don Sweeney doing his due diligence as a general manager, but Bruce Cassidy was officially named the 28th head coach of the Bruins on Wednesday morning after guiding them back into the playoffs once he had replaced Claude Julien midseason. 

Cassidy was hired in early February and spurred the Bruins into an 18-8-1 finish to the regular season before falling in six games in the first round of the playoffs to the Ottawa Senators, and showed an ability to spur Boston’s offense while also working well in developing the Bruins young players at the NHL level.

Since Cassidy assumed head coaching responsibilities on Feb. 9, the Bruins ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.37), first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in the NHL in wins (18), tied for second in the NHL in power-play percentage (27.8%), tied for third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.30), tied for fifth in the NHL in faceoff percentage (53.6%) and tied for sixth in the NHL in takeaways (229).

It was an impressive showing by Cassidy in his return to the world of NHL head coaching after a two-year stint with the Washington Capitals some 13 years ago, and it was clear to just everybody that he had earned the right to coach the Black and Gold.

“It’s no secret that I appreciate the way that [Bruce Cassidy] thinks the game, and I think we played well in front of him. Guys wanted to compete for him and I think his record speaks for itself when he popped in,” said Torey Krug, who was among B’s players like Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Backes that endorsed Cassidy publicly during B’s break-up day on Tuesday afternoon. “I think he is a guy that the players want to play for, and I think a lot of [other Bruins players] would echo that same message.”

Cassidy and GM Don Sweeney will both meet with the media on Thursday morning to discuss the hiring, pore over the just-concluded season and talk about the bright future for the Bruins after gaining a foothold under the new coach’s guidance. 

Zdeno Chara interested in summer contract extension: 'Of course I would be'

Zdeno Chara interested in summer contract extension: 'Of course I would be'

BRIGHTON, Mass – At 40 years old and entering the final year of his contract with the Bruins, one might expect that Zdeno Chara was hoping to finish things up strong next season and ride off into the Boston sunset as a future Hall of Fame shutdown defenseman. 

One would be totally wrong, however. 

Chara finished off a very strong season for the Bruins as their de facto No. 1 defenseman and averaged a whopping 28:46 of ice time during Boston’s six games of playoff hockey. It wasn’t by design, obviously, as Chara was pushed into some games where he went over 30 minutes of ice time due to the blue line injuries and overtimes, and it wasn’t always perfect as evidenced by Chara’s minus-3 rating in the series and his disastrous delay of game penalty at the end of a Game 2 loss in Ottawa. 

But by and large it was an excellent season for Chara as a shutdown D-man paired with Brandon Carlo where his leadership benefited the 20-year-old rookie, and Carlo’s mobility and puck-moving helped bring out the best in Chara’s game as well. The 10 goals and 29 points and plus-18 in 75 games while averaging 23:20 of ice time was a strong showing for the Bruins captain, and undoubtedly encouraged Chara that the end is not near for his career. 

With that in mind, Chara said during Tuesday’s breakup day that he welcomed a discussion about a contract extension with the Bruins following July 1 as he hopes to continue playing beyond next season. 

“Of course I would,” said Chara, when asked if he’d be interested in an extension this summer. “It’s something where I want to continue to play, and I take a lot of pride in my offseason training and being ready for every season. It’s probably something that management has to think about and make a decision about, but I’ve said many times that I would like to play beyond this contract. 

“I want to still be very effective and still get better and improving while maintaining my game, and adding to my game. It’s a game that’s going extremely fast as we go forward with a lot of skill assets. You have to be able to make those adjustments, and that’s a focus for me going into every season so I can be an effective player.”

Clearly it would need to be under optimal conditions for the Bruins to extend Chara at this point in his career, but a short term contract that pays the aging D-man something in the neighborhood of next season’s cap hit ($4 million) would be palatable for a player that’s easily still a top-4 defenseman in the twilight of his career. 

There just shouldn’t be any expectation he’s going to get additional term or be anywhere close to his salary total for this season that was in the $7 million range, and instead it will be a potential contract extension that reflects Chara’s value to the Bruins even if Mother Nature is starting to slow him down a little bit. 

Chara’s skating game certainly has slowed for a 6-foot-9 defenseman that never counted skating as a real strength, and you don’t ever see him wind up and blast away full strength with that 108-mph slap shot that was featured in so many All-Star Game Skills Competitions over the years. But he can also still be a shutdown guy, a dominant penalty killer and an intimidating presence in the defensive zone that causes every offensive player to take pause when he’s out there. 

Even if Chara eventually becomes a middle-pairing defenseman over the course of the next couple of seasons, the Bruins could still use his presence on and off-the-ice as a defensive stopper and a mentor to all the young D-men in the organization. So it may be that the Bruins are just as interested as their 40-year-old captain in extending things another year or two with so much roster turnover toward youth expected on the B’s back end over the next few seasons.