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July 6, 2006

New-look Bruins drawing players' attention

BOSTON - Jeff Gorton has less than two weeks left as the Boston Bruins interim general manager and he's not just sitting around packing up his office.

The former assistant GM, who will go back to being an assistant when Peter Chiarelli takes over on July 15, has made Boston one of the more active teams in the NHL offseason so far, signing defenseman Zdeno Chara and forward Marc Savard as free agents.

"You can tell that the organization is committed to winning because of these signings," new coach Dave Lewis said yesterday at a news conference to introduce Chara. "Players now want to come here. So there's something going on."

For years, the Bruins were more likely to sit out the market than set it, fueling the feeling among fans that the team wouldn't spend the money necessary to end the franchise's three-decade Stanley Cup drought. When the Bruins did go after big names, they tended to overpay for players past their prime.

But Chara was the most coveted defenseman on the market this summer - and one of the top players overall. The Bruins gave him a five-year deal worth $37.5 million dollars, and Savard signed a four-year deal worth $20 million.

"We were aggressive with him," Gorton said of Chara. "We wanted him to know we felt he was the very best player on the market."

Despite trading away offensive stars Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov last year, the Bruins finished out of the playoffs and in last place in the Northeast Division. Mike O'Connell was fired and replaced by Chiarelli, an Ottawa assistant who was required to stay with the Senators until July 15.

It's an odd arrangement, but not even the strangest one in Boston this year: The Red Sox worked with co-GMs when Theo Epstein walked away from his job, only to return six weeks later. Still, Gorton said he's going about business as usual - not trying to prove a point or audition for his next job.

"It hasn't been that difficult," he said. "One day, Peter's going to show up and he'll start and we'll be ready for that. I don't have a calendar where I 'X' off the days."

Gorton was not allowed to consult with Chiarelli on Senators free agents, including Chara. "Hopefully, he's happy," Gorton said.

Chara had his pick of teams that might have been closer to winning, but he said he opted to come to Boston because he liked the Bruins' young players and the history of the Original Six franchise.

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