After acquiring Steve Montador at the 2009 trade deadline, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli expressed his admiration for the team then-Calgary GM Darryl Sutter had put together prior to a run to the ’04 Stanley Cup final.
Chiarelli didn’t need to verbalize the high esteem he held Sutter in because the Bruins’ roster reflected it quite well – with Montador joining incumbent Bruins Andrew Ference, Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle as players that had been one win from the Cup with Calgary that were now on Boston’s payroll.
A year and a half later, only Ference remains with Boston from that quartet of ex-Flames. While Chiarelli’s philosophy of building around all-world goaltending and being a gritty, hard-to-play-against team still mirrors part of Sutter’s approach, Bruins fans must hope that that’s as far as Chiarelli will go with his replication of the Sutter strategy.
Sutter, who became Calgary’s GM in April 2003, resigned/was pushed out this week by Flamers ownership and turned the reins over to Jay Feaster. The Sutter stint as GM in Calgary hit its pinnacle at the start with the trade for superstar goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff in November 2003 and then that run to the ’04 final. However, the rest of Sutter’s run was decorated with first-round playoff exits, lost free agents and poor trade decisions.
Feaster inherits an organization that is old, slow, overpaid and encumbered by nearly a dozen players on no-trade or no-movement contracts. It is a team with few blue-chip prospects in the development pipeline, thanks to a series of ruinous trades over the past two years in which the future was sacrificed for quick fixes in the present that backfired in big, meaningful ways (can anyone say Olli Jokinen?).
Jokinen was a player Sutter twice erred on. First, he dealt youngsters Matthew Lombardi and Brandon Prust, along with a first-round pick, to get the center from Phoenix at the ’09 deadline. Then after swapping him for marginal NHLers last winter, Sutter re-signed Jokinen last summer. This season, Jokinen has produced just 19 points in 34 games while hitting the Flames cap for $3 million this and next season.
Sutter’s sins went well beyond two poor decisions involving Jokinen. The GM failed to retain the likes of Kristian Huselius and Mike Cammalleri when they hit free agency, and he lost them for nothing. He traded for Alex Tanguay, who scored 81 points his first season with the Flames and then dropped off to 58 the next year and hasn’t been the same player since.
In explaining that the Flames were able to re-sign star defenseman Dion Phaneuf after his entry-level deal expired but then failed to put a championship-caliber team around him, Duhatschek wrote Wednesday:
But eventually, the Flames had to pay for Phaneuf’s early successes – and soon backed themselves into a corner by repeatedly overpaying just enough to retain all their core players and land players via free agency. The result was today’s aging, capped-out team that has trouble keeping up with some of its free-wheeling, penny-pinching, more-successful adversaries.
Sutter compounded the problem by dealing Phaneuf away to Toronto last winter and receiving just marginal NHL talent in return. An even bigger blunder was handing out no-movement and no-trade clauses as though they were candy. The Flames have 10 players signed for next season with an NMC or NTC, according to CapGeek.com.
That’s one of the areas where Chiarelli has obviously strayed from the Sutter blueprint. While Chiarelli gets criticized for being generous with his NMC and NTC distribution, Boston has just five players with such clauses signed for next season. In addition, he has managed to re-sign key potential unrestricted free agents in Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and Tim Thomas, and got Milan Lucic to commit to Boston without testing the restricted free agency market.
While the first round of the playoffs was Calgary’s biggest road block – the Flames lost there every year from ’05 to ’09 until missing the playoffs last spring – under Sutter, Boston’s season has come to a halt in the second round two years running. It’ll be interesting now to see if Chiarelli can continue to stick to his own game plan and not fall in the Sutter-like trap.
The pressure this winter to swing a deadline-deal to solidify his team for a deep run in ’11 will be as hot as it has ever been since Chiarelli landed his gig in 2006. So far, he has resisted the temptation to sacrifice the future for a quick fix in the present (which we know isn’t always the big fix it’s expected to be). The price for players the caliber of Marian Hossa, Ilya Kovalchuk and Tomas Kaberle (who still hasn’t been moved) has always been too high for Chiarelli’s taste, so he has passed.
Chiarelli has to continue to build through his youth and stockpile those prospects and picks for the future. Just next summer, the Bruins are going to have difficult decisions to make with free agents Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. In future summers Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin and Lucic (after his second contract expires) will have to be dealt with. Some players will stay and some will go. The Bruins will be in a better position to negotiate if they have talent in the pipeline ready to step in.
There’s no doubt that as a player, the Sutter work ethic was something worth emulating, and that Darryl Sutter had the right idea at the start of his GM run. For Peter Chiarelli, everything Sutter did after the lockout, however, should be more of an example of what not to do to ensure a long, successful run as general manager of the Bruins.