Mike from Attleboro: Chiarelli 'starving the Bear' since Stanley Cup

807840.jpg

Mike from Attleboro: Chiarelli 'starving the Bear' since Stanley Cup

If you arent a black and gold bandwagon jumper, the Minnesota Wild signing both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical contracts should have had a pleasantly familiar feeling to it.

Six years ago the Boston Bruins made a similar splash bringing Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard to the Bruins. At the time, GM to be Peter Chiarelli was still under contract to the Ottawa Senators until July 15th and was strictly forbidden to have any contact with any Senators free agents. So it fell upon acting GM Jeff Gorton to sign the former Ottawa star Chara and Savard, which instantly righted a badly listing franchise.

It was a day that marked the end of the post lockout incompetence and post 1970s championship complacency that became the hallmark of the SindenOConnell regime.

Well a year after the 2011 cup run Peter Chiarelli has managed to keep the incompetence to a minimum, but apparently even a premature evacuation in the first round of the 2012 playoffs isnt enough to stave off another case of post-cup complacency.

It started last summer. The Stanley Cup victory tour hadnt even begun to deposit enormous bar tabs and shirtless rookies across the city, but fans and experts alike were touting this Bruins team as having the best chance to repeat as any in recent NHL history. Usually, this is champagne fueled hubris, but with minimal roster turnover, the Bruins were positioned very well going into the offseason.

Unfortunately, instead of reloading, as forwards Mark Recchi retired and Michael Ryder left via free agency, the Bs settled for talented career under achiever Benoit Pouliot. Instead of correcting the horrific mistake that was the Tomas Kaberle trade, they chose to simply repeat it at a Building 19 price with Joe Corvo. Instead of dealing for impact players, the trade deadline brought roster filler Brian Rolston, Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau. Instead of using Marc Savards money to fuel another championship it was left untouched. None of Peter Chiarellis acquisitions were the kind of players that could provide the Bruins with significant production statistically, nor were they the locker room rallying points needed to rejuvenatemotivate a stagnating team.

As a result, the Bruins' first title defense since 1973 was an underachievement both on and off the ice. Luckily for Bruins fans, Chiarelli blaming the teams first round exit on league parity shows that their rationalizing defeat and excuse making skills are still of a championship caliber.

Since that parity-induced playoff exit, the Bruins front office has shown less activity than Han Solo between Empire and Return of the Jedi. How can a team that underperformed so badly have even less team-building urgency? Yet Chiarelli seems legitimately content to simply re-sign the same roster that was bounced last season, minus their Conn Smythe winning goalie. If what the Red Sox did at the end of the Theo Epstein era was Feeding the Monster, what Chiarellis done since the Bs Stanley Cup Championship is starving the Bear.

Now I will never claim to be the sharpest knife in the draw, but even green rubberized safety scissors can see that bringing back last years team and possibly adding a Top 9 forward isnt going to solve the Bruins parity problems, let alone loading up for a title run. If you havent noticed, this team is bursting at the seams with "Top 9" forwards. And none of those Top 9 forwards could do what this team needed last season: step in for the injured Nathan Horton. This isnt a new problem either. For two years running, this team has entered the offseason with first line players (Savard & Horton) recovering from major concussions. And for two straight years Chiarelli has failed to put an adequate back up plan on the roster during the offseason. Even though the initial reports about Horton are very positive, the fact that this was his second head injury in a year and the length of time he has missed from a moderate hit is still a massive cause for concern. And it is absolutely cause for this team to look above and beyond the usual roster filler.

Despite these facts, the only activity Bs fans have gotten this offseason is in the press. Good news! Tim Thomas waived his no trade clause! OH yeah he still hasnt been dealt. The Bruins made a significant offer to Zach Parise! It was so significant that the Bruins were never mentioned by any prominent hockey writers as they reported incessantly on the former Devil's free agent status. Im sure that after Rick Nash and Bobby Ryan are dealt it will be reported that the Bruins put together super-duper competitive packages to acquire both players.

What this team and its fans need isnt a front office thats content to manage a disappointing season with excuses and press releases. They need a front office that doesnt think simply keeping the band together is enough to contend. They need a GM that will see Jay Feaster losing his mind and take advantage of the situation before Feasters office is padded in rubber. The Parise and Suter signings should be the inspiration needed to return to the daring aggressiveness that laid the foundation for the Bruins revival.

Unfortunately, that probably means the Bruins need to rehire Jeff Gorton.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Haggerty's Morning Skate: NHL teams aren't just making trades for themselves ahead of deadline

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while feeling like Warren Beatty took the sneaky way out by handing that wrong Academy Award card to Faye Dunaway last night. Clearly he knew something was amiss and he let her step into it. Kind of a weasel move if you asked me.

-- An interesting letter from FOH (Friend of Haggs) James Mirtle about the pay wall involving The Athletic sports website in Toronto.

-- Dean Lombardi and the Los Angeles Kings dealing for Ben Bishop is about more than just an insurance policy for Jonathan Quick.

-- FOH Mike Halford has the Minnesota Wild going for it with their trade for Martin Hanzal, but also keeping him from the other teams in the West.

-- NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the Penguins are in great shape after winning the Cup last spring, and it’s clear they’re in good hands after Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle opted not to sell the franchise.

-- Kyle Quincey is being held out of the lineup in New Jersey because of pending trades, and the wonder is who else in New Jersey might be getting dealt.

-- Gabriel Landeskog and his Colorado Avalanche teammates know the trade deadline is coming. It would certainly be weird if they didn’t.

-- The San Jose Sharks feel fortunate for the timing of their bye week as it was clear that they needed a break.

-- For something completely different: Gronk was busy doing Gronk things at the Daytona 500 over the weekend.