In case you haven’t been paying attention since Peter Chiarelli came to Boston in July 2006, the Bruins general manager isn’t exactly trigger happy. He doesn’t overreact to wins and losses, doesn’t make moves just to counter what his club’s stiffest competition does, and doesn’t negotiate through the media or declare what moves he’s going to make to the masses.
That’s why those of you worrying that the Bruins’ inactivity — other than selecting five players who won’t be heard of in New England until the next decade — at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal, and their expected quietness on the free-agent front because of their cap situation come Wednesday, will cause a disappointing step back in the franchise’s road toward perennial-power status need to borrow one key characteristic from their team’s GM: patience.
There is still a lot of time remaining between now and the start of the 2009-10 season. Chiarelli doesn’t even have to be done working by the close of business July 1 or even by the end of this week. There’s obviously a huge market correction going on here and the Bruins just need to ride out the tide. Whether that means getting a better value for their puck-moving-defenseman dollar once the top free agents set the market limit or making a shrewder trade with Phil Kessel, Boston doesn’t have the ability or the need to be the trend-setter here. It’s all really up to the likes of Montreal, Toronto, Los Angeles and other teams with cap space, plus clubs that may or may not have room once they decide whether to sign the cream of the UFA crop (the Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik), to sort of hit leadoff and set the table. Then the Bruins and the majority of the other better NHL clubs, who are in the same boat as Boston, can step in and take their cuts.
Sure, were it not for some miscommunication about the No. 7 pick (reportedly), Kessel would be a Maple Leaf and Tomas Kaberle a Bruin and we’d be talking about the boldness Chiarelli showed over the weekend. But that’s just the point. Without that pick, Chiarelli knew that deal would be a steal for Toronto and he wasn’t going to make a trade just for the sake of it. He knows not only that a 21-year-old Kessel has more value than a 31-year-old Kaberle and that with player movement barely proceeding at a snail’s pace, if he can’t get exactly what he wants for Kessel, Chiarelli will have the upper hand when it comes time to retain the speedster’s services.
Right now, you cannot forget that status quo benefits the Bruins. They won the Eastern Conference last year and then won a playoff round before running into a difficult matchup against Carolina with a roster that had more broken ribs and kidney stones in a seven-game series than most clubs have over the course of a few seasons. Sure they could stand to get bigger on the back end to make up for the wear and tear smaller defensemen Matt Hunwick and Andrew Ference have to fight through. But if all the Bruins do is retain their own restricted free agents and then add a healthy Marco Sturm back into the mix, that keeps them on even footing with the best in the conference.
Sure Philadelphia is better in the short term with Chris Pronger in its lineup. But obviously the soon-to-be 35 defenseman is on his back nine and the price to acquire him was prohibitive. We have yet to know how Montreal will spend all its money, if Jonas Gustavsson will pick Toronto (and if he does if he’ll perform as advertised) or if Washington, the New York Rangers or New Jersey will be able to maneuver around obstacles similar to that of the Bruins. With the likes of Michael Nylander and Scott Gomez hogging your cap, it’s tough to get better. There’s no reason for Chiarelli to do anything drastic as long as everyone’s in the same boat.
With the exception of a few hiccups (Dave Lewis, Brandon Bochenski) at the outset of his tenure, Chiarelli’s plodding plotting has been dead-on. He brushed off the notion of buying out Manny Fernandez and wound up with a Jennings Trophy-winning goaltender tandem last season. He got exactly the two players he wanted when the trade deadline rolled around — Mark Recchi and Steve Montador — and both contributed to the Bruins’ continued success. When he lost Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm to severe injuries the last two seasons, he didn’t panic and mortgage the future to replace them.
Now there’s the little matter of Kessel and David Krejci’s injury absences looming on the horizon. The best case scenario would have them both back on the ice for games somewhere between the start of the regular season and Dec. 1. There’s truly no way to plug those holes with equally skilled players because that cap space would have to be opened again once the Bruins’ stars come off long-term injured reserve. Boston will just have to hope they can make due with Vladimir Sobotka and a couple other kids combining with any second-tier free agents they bring in the same way Krejci, Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler developed fast enough to pick up the slack.
And with a new four-year extension in hand, Chiarelli also has to look hard at his cap situation for next summer. The cap is expected to drop and Boston will have to deal with Lucic and Wheeler as RFAs and Marc Savard as a UFA (not to mention Zdeno Chara looking ahead to his final season on his deal).
No, this is not the time to turn the Bruins into some sort of Filene’s Basement. If as a GM you believe in the players you’ve put together and you have faith in your player development throughout the system, and by all accounts Chiarelli does, than you’re already better than some franchises that are constantly changing draft philosophies and front-office personnel. The Bruins got where they are because of Chiarelli’s patience, and so far there’s no reason to doubt they can get where they want to be following the same theory.