By Jay Cohen
---- — Here’s all you need to know about the man behind the Boston Bruins.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, a semi-regular fan during the recent playoff run, is thoroughly impressed with the product.
This hockey mastermind hired a new head coach and fired him a year later when he realized it was a bad decision. He then picked the next — and current — head coach. He picked most of the players, some through free agency, draft and trades. He re-signed the few that were already here.
And, most importantly, he slowly but surely built the franchise he was brought in to save into so much more.
Peter Chiarelli, please, take a bow.
Chiarelli couldn’t be more different than the guy that held the job for so many years, Harry Sinden.
Chiarelli attended and played hockey at Harvard University, got his law degree, practiced law and got his introduction into pro hockey as an agent.
Sinden graduated from the “School of Hard Knocks” and for more than three decades had the Bruins owners’ ears as the coach, GM and/or team president.
Both built exciting, profitable teams using slightly different methods: Chiarelli spent to the max. Sinden saved.
One version almost worked, thanks to some keen trades and player acquisitions. The other, well, is very close to overtaking the Big Bad Bruins Era as one of the most successful in the last half-century.
But to truly appreciate Chiarelli is to truly understand the depths to where this franchise had fallen over a decade.
The Bruins had won only one playoff series in 11 years and didn’t make the playoffs four times. And legendary Ray Bourque was on the roster for half of those disasters.
Owner Jeremy Jacobs’ name was dirt in this town. And their franchise player, Joe Thornton, was dealt away to San Jose by GM Mike O’Connell for basically a bag of pucks.
But within a month on the job in June of 2006 Chiarelli immediately made a big splash adding two high-priced free agents, defenseman Zdeno Chara and center Marc Savard.
Then quietly, the B’s drafted/stole Milan Lucic (50th overall), Brad Marchand (63rd overall) and dealt afterthought goalie Andrew Raycroft for a netminder named Tuukka Rask.
Not a bad start, huh?
Well, it gets worse before it gets better. Chiarelli hired long-time Detroit Red Wings coach Dave Lewis, who won three Stanley Cups as an assistant coach under Scotty Bowman but had failed as a head coach leading two first place teams to only one series win.
The Lewis-led Bruins finished in last place and didn’t make the playoffs. The fact that Chiarelli was then able to fire Lewis despite the fact he had two more years left on his contract exhibited the new power of management.
Chiarelli took a big risk with Lewis’ replacement, Claude Julien, who was abruptly fired twice by Montreal and New Jersey despite regular season successes.
“I knew Claude and I liked his philosophies on defense and I liked the way he developed younger players,” said Chiarelli. “That was going to be important because we were going to be very young for a few years.”
More big moves by Chiarelli occurred:
In June of 2008 he traded Matt Hendricks for Johnny Boychuck.
In March of 2009 he traded draft busts Matt Lashoff and Martins Karsums for Mark Recchi.
In September of 2009 he dealt away Phil Kessel, who was never comfortable with Julien’s defensive approach, to Toronto for two first round picks, which turned into Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton.
A month later, in October of 2009, the Bruins acquired fourth-liner Daniel Paille, a former first round pick from 2002, from the Buffalo Sabres for a third and fourth round pick. Trust me, Sinden never would have made a deal with their long-time rivals.
Near the trade deadline in March of 2010 he dealt away Byron Bitz, Craig Weller and a second round pick for defensive defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and “throw-in” Matt Bartkowski.
In February of 2011, he dealt away a second round pick for centerman Chris Kelly, a noted two-way player.
And last, but definitely not least, Chiarelli went hard after undrafted college free agent Torey Krug, out of Michigan State, last March.
“We had our eyes on him,” said Julien. “It took some work to get him. It was not easy.”
All of the aforementioned players also, at some point over the last half-dozen years, have had to re-up on their contracts. In fact, each player was signed to three or more years.
Despite an incredible resume of player acquisition, there have been some bumps along the way.
In fact, the Bruins hired Cam Neely has team president — with Chiarelli’s apparent blessing — to bring back some of the grit the organization had been missing.
There also have been meetings with the “stubborn” Julien, looking to “grow” his defense-first approach.
And what have we got?
A championship-driven organization that is in position to not only win the Stanley Cup in the next week, but in position to compete for a title the next three years, too.
The best part of Chiarelli’s tenure, though, has been the lack of drama.
There has been virtually no finger-pointing by management or players after some difficult losses.
The Bruins are for real, on and off the ice.
Their home sellout streak is now at 163, which adds up to about 2.9 million fans, so it appears everyone is happy.
And if we’re being honest here, a lot of the thanks goes to Chiarelli.