BOSTON -- It’s more than overdue to give Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli his just desserts.
It seems easy to overlook Chiarelli’s accomplishments and outstanding body of work with the Black and Gold over the last seven years. After all when the Bruins GM arrived on the scene in 2006 he was an inexperienced newcomer from Ottawa, who had never run his own NHL franchise. He even was the second choice for the gig after Ray Shero turned down Jeremy Jacobs and Co. in favor of the same position running the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In Boston, the Bruins were the runt of the litter along the Boston sports landscape when Chiarelli was hired. The team stunk, they’d traded away franchise center Joe Thornton and the “Hub of Hockey” had turned into an Original Six nightmare with crowds numbering less than 10,000 filing through TD Garden. Meanwhile, boy wonder Theo Epstein was in between World Series championships for the Red Sox as a Brookline native that had grown into a GM prodigy.
Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli were still a coaching/management team in Foxboro amid the glow of Super Bowl titles and a “Patriots Way” that was the model for NFL franchises. Even the Boston Celtics had former guard Danny Ainge as their general manager, a beloved member of the 1980’s dynasty teams with Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale. They were also building toward their 2008 NBA championship with Ainge executing the daring deals for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that eventually punched their NBA Finals ticket.
Familiar faces and established reputations in Boston were the common thread for the management groups with the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics, but Chiarelli entered the Boston scene as an outsider. He was a name known largely in Ottawa hockey circles, and he was replacing a Harry Sinden-led regime that had been powering the B’s decisions since the early days of the Bobby Orr Era.
So there was hesitancy toward change and a legitimate doubt Chiarelli could do the job when he hired Dave Lewis as his first head coach leading into a disastrous first season as general manager. That seems like an awfully long time ago for an NHL executive heading a hockey organization that’s reached the playoffs six straight seasons, and has made it to the Stanley Cup Final in two of the last three years.
But it’s not so distant that Chiarelli still doesn’t remember that feeling intimately.
“You come in and there were some terrific people on the ice already here, off the ice. So you just have to rely on your judgment when you're meeting these people, making assessments and trying to figure out how to improve the current state of affairs,” said Chiarelli. “There were some hard decisions and there were sleepless nights, especially that first year. But you know, I talked about delivering a message, Cam talked about the plan, that stuff to be consistent and to stick by your standards and to stick by your principles.
“Eventually that trickles down and you start seeing the fruits of your labor. So you just stick to it, recognize trends and move quickly where it needed.”
That slow trickle started with the signing of Zdeno Chara away from the Ottawa Senators, the organization that Chiarelli was exiting to come to Boston with a giant 6-foot-9 gift in tow. Then a year later, Chiarelli hired Claude Julien following the “Dave Lewis Error.”
The rest has been a slow, steady rise into the top echelon of NHL franchises with Chiarelli’s solid hockey trades, savvy maneuvering around the cap and Boston’s keen ability to recognize talent at every turn. Some have teased and mocked Julien’s system over the years as an overly conservative bore, and a style of play that handcuffs elite offensive talent.
But the other thing it does?
It wins hockey games.
That’s probably why Chiarelli didn’t hesitate to list the hiring of Claude Julien as his proudest moment of the last seven years running the storied Bruins franchise.
“I’ve got to say the single biggest thing was hiring Claude. He came off of being fired twice, and there were a lot of questions about him,” said Chiarelli. “So I knew he would be receptive to things. So obviously I knew what he was like – receptive to things so he could evolve with the rest of us.”
During that time Julien become one of the most highly respected coaches in the NHL, and he’s entered the conversation as the best coach in Boston’s long history of Bruins hockey. Chiarelli and Julien have helped develop promising young talent like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask, and turn them into legitimate NHL stars.
Identifying and locking up those core players – and continuing to build around cornerstone players like Zdeno Chara and Bergeron – is the exact thing that’s turned the Bruins into a perennial Stanley Cup favorite.
“One of the things we talked about here being the Boston Bruins is, not just making the post season but competing for Stanley Cups,” said Bruins President Cam Neely. “We’ve been to the finals twice, won it as you know in 2011. Pete’s done a really good job of keeping our core group together, identifying the core group, and making sure that we lock them up.
“He’s done a really good job at understanding the type of player that our fan base really enjoys watching.”
That is directly under the job description of general manager, and it’s the reason that Chiarelli has distanced himself from the current management groups behind the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics.
One would do well to pay attention to Chiarelli, and to stop underrating him. Because he’s the best general manager that Boston has among their big four pro sports teams. Now everyone has another five years to study up on exactly what’s allowed Chiarelli to go from Ottawa outsider to Boston’s best in a seven year span that’s taken the Bruins to new and exciting heights.