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

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

No defense for blue-line shortcomings

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No defense for blue-line shortcomings

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

The Bruins had a master plan to upgrade the defense last summer. It quickly morphed into a dumpster fire.

After ultimately deciding they were unwilling to pay Dougie Hamilton an outlandish sum of money -- and coming to the conclusion that the young D-man simply didn’t want to play for Boston anymore -- they dealt him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. It was pennies-on-the-dollar value for a young, top-pairing defenseman, and a fear-based move given the threat of offer sheets that possibly loomed if Hamilton made it past July 1 without a new contract extension.

(They also torpedoed a better draft-pick package offer from their ex-general manager, Peter Chiarelli, by demanding Edmonton's young stud D-man Darnell Nurse, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The Bruins made the decision to move Hamilton after he and his camp ignored Boston’s multiple contract overtures. It was also apparent to those running the team that players like Hamilton and Reilly Smith weren’t meshing well with the rest of the Bruins core. 

(There's no second-guessing from this humble hockey writer about the jettisoning of Smith, despite his solid 25-goal season with the Florida Panthers: he was a soft player in that last year with Boston. The part of that move that should be regretted was immediately signing Jimmy Hayes to a three-year contract extension after closing the Smith-for-Hayes deal. But, again, that's neither here nor there.)

The problem for the Bruins after trading Hamilton was in the follow-through.

First they followed Chiarelli's troubling pattern of overpaying mid-level talent by handing Adam McQuaid a four-year, $11 million extension. Then they were unsuccessful in their attempts to move up in the first round of last summer’s draft and take either of the two collegians, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, who projected as eventual No. 1 defensemen. They offered Hamilton and first-round draft choices; they also tried to use Martin Jones as a chip.

But whether new GM Don Sweeney thought he had a deal in place or not, things fell apart at the 11th hour. The Bruins did have three first-round picks, but they were in the middle of the round. In that position, they were unable to get an immediate difference-maker on defense.

The inability to land that young D-man (and potential heir apparent to Zdeno Chara) at last summer’s draft, or at the NHL trade deadline in February, ended up being a fatal blow. There was too much stress on a patchwork defense corps, and it was a major factor in the Bruins missing the playoffs. And even if they'd made it, the B's would have been nothing more than first-round cannon fodder.

The Band-Aid trade for 35-year-old John-Michael Liles was a nominal improvement at the deadline, but it spoke to just how badly they needed puck-moving reinforcements to assist a clearly overworked Torey Krug.

“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up (in the first round)," said Bruins president Cam Neely at his end-of-the-season press conference. "The scouting staff did a good job of identifying [players], and obviously, if you look back at the draft . . . you kind of had to be (in one of the top spots) to get one of those [defensemen] that were highly coveted. [Sweeney] just couldn’t do it last offseason. [He also] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork (for a future trade) . . . Hopefully [he'll] be able to get something done in the offseason.

"But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon . . . [We] know what our back end is all about. We need to . . . really improve that area of our team . . . [It's] something that I know [Sweeney's] going to be very focused on.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The Bruins finished the season with the aging, declining Chara, now 39, as their No. 1 defenseman, and the 5-foot-8 Krug as their No. 2 while posting a career-high 21:37 of ice time per game. The diminutive Krug perhaps paid the price for that wear and tear with right shoulder surgery last month that could sideline him until late October, which raises red flags about whether he should again play those kinds of heavy-duty minutes given his offensive value.

Beyond those two, the Bruins’ defensive prospects aren’t bright. The body of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is breaking down, and the B's would love to be out from under the final two years (at $4 million per) of his contract. Both McQuaid and Kevan Miller are limited, stay-at-home defensemen better cast as bottom-pair guys. Youngsters Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow weren’t able to lock down roles last season for a multitude of reasons. Miller is the only one who appears to have potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman; Trotman and Morrow seem poised to be passed by other young D-men (Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the organizational ranks sooner rather than later.

Botton line: It simply doesn’t feel like the Bruins have the answer to their defense woes, at least in the short term, within their system.

They need a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career, or being groomed into that prime, who can ideally allow the Bruins coaching staff to start easing up on Chara's ice time. Chara is a No. 1 in name only these days, and would be much better served as a middle-pairing D-man playing closer to 20 minutes a night and removed from the power play, where he no longer features his booming slap shot very much.

It’s an fact that nearly every team that’s won the Stanley Cup since the 2004-05 lockout has had a prime No. 1 defenseman in the 25-33 age range, with the exceptions of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Names like Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty figured prominently in those championships, playing 30 minutes a night during the brutal two-month run to the Cup.

The Bruins don’t have that type of guy right now, and they aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Cup until they get one.

So how do you get one?

Sweeney and his management team are already deeply involved in that process, and that’s where names like Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen and Matthew Dumba will figure prominently in trade discussions this summer. But those types of players are costly, both in terms what will be needed to be surrendered to acquire them -- trade partners will undoubtedly ask for such talent as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner -- and in what they'll be seeking in new contracts, since those demands are what's pushing them into the trade market to begin with.

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that Sweeney and Co. will close the deal for any of these defensemen, given how hard it is to acquire young talent in trades in the NHL. There's also no guarantee the Bruins will target the right guy in a blockbuster trade, seeing how their scouting staff has whiffed on players like Hayes, Zac Rinaldo and Brett Connolly in recent years.  

The Bruins can hope their amateur scouting and development group can unearth a gem. After all, the Blackhawks probably didn’t know they had a future Conn Smythe winner in Keith when they selected him 54th overall in the 2002 draft. The Penguins got a diamond in Kris Letang with the 62nd overall pick in 2005 NHL. The Bruins, too, struck gold when they acquired Johnny Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal for energy forward Matt Hendricks. Within a few years, Boychuk developed into a top-pairing stud on a Stanley Cup championship team. 

So perhaps one of the young prospects currently in the Bruins system is the ultimate answer as an eventual replacement for Chara.

But that’s something tough to count on, especially since -- even if it happens -- it's unlikely to happen in time to provide help next season. Sweeney and Neely need to pull off something in the epic-acquisition category this summer, whether it’s a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and/or something worked out with a team like Winnipeg for a stud like Trouba.

Both their jobs, and the immediate health and well-being of a Bruins organization currently in distress, may very well depend on it.