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 bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

Blidh plans to bring some energy to Bruins after call-up

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Anton Blidh plans on keeping things pretty straightforward on his first call-up to the NHL. 

The former sixth-round pick of the Bruins has earned his stripes at the AHL level with Providence over the last couple of seasons, and comes to Boston as a gritty, energy forward capable of stirring things up in otherwise sleepy games. There’s also a bit of offensive upside for a fourth line-type player with five goals and nine points with 22 penalty minutes and a plus-eight rating in 19 games for the P-Bruins this season. 

It remains to be seen if the Blidh call-up means that the Bruins intend to scratch a player or that somebody is questionable for Saturday afternoon’s game in Buffalo, but Patrice Bergeron did miss Friday’s practice without any real defined reason for his absence. The 21-year-old Swede said he plans to play to his strengths if he gets into the lineup for the Black and Gold, and that could mean getting under the skin of his Sabres opponents. 

“It’s my first time called up, so I’m happy,” said Blidh, who was asked what he'll bring if he gets into the lineup. “I’ll just play simple and play my own game: be hard on the puck and play with some energy. I worked hard [in Providence] and then I got some confidence. I’m not a goal-scorer, but I scored a couple of goals and got some confidence.”

Claude Julien hasn’t been able to catch up Blidh’s work since the season got started, but was pleased by the youngster’s progress in training camp, where he earned notice for his feisty, physical play on a line with Noel Acciari. 

“They said he’s playing well, so they brought him up. We’ll get to see him, hopefully tomorrow,” said Julien. “I didn’t hear a ton of fine details aside from him being a guy that was certainly playing with a lot of energy. I didn’t mind him in training camp either. He works really hard and competes hard, and we could use that.”

That would certainly be the case after watching the Bruins go through the motions for long stretches Thursday night against Carolina before essentially stealing a game that they didn’t deserve to win.