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.