Patient Peter Chiarelli architect of Bruins’ success
Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, seen here visiting the University of Ottawa with the Stanley Cup in 2011 has been patient in building his team into a perennial contender. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI Agency)
One of Peter Chiarelli’s best assets is patience.
And when the Boston Bruins general manager looks for a defining moment in his seven-year tenure, he doesn’t go back much further than May, 2010 when he had to decide whether he believed in this group or it was time to send people packing.
That spring the Bruins became only the third team in NHL history to allow a team to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. The Philadelphia Flyers rewrote history by winning the Round 2 series 4-3 after a miraculous recovery.
It was then Chiarelli had to determine which way to turn and he chose to ignore the noise and keep the roster intact. The result was a Stanley Cup title in 2011 and as the final gets under way Wednesday in Chicago, the Bruins are back with pretty much the same group.
That wouldn’t be the case if Chiarelli wasn’t patient.
“There was a lot of pressure from various sources to gut the team (in 2010),” Chiarelli told QMI Agency in a one-on-one interview from Boston Monday. “That’s a hard decision not to do that after such a catastrophic event.
“After we won the (Cup), it wasn’t hard to keep this team together. The hard decisions were the year before. You see these guys in their exit meetings, you see these guys all year and you could see that they cared and they wanted to make good. That’s knowing their character and these players.”
A former Senators’ assistant GM, Chiarelli was hired by Boston in 2006 with the task of getting the club back to respectability. He arrived armed with a five-year plan and impressed owner Jeremy Jacobs enough to get the job.
Chiarelli was determined to change the “culture”.
“That was something I felt strongly about. It’s not out of the ordinary for a GM to make that statement,” said Chiarelli.
Slowly, but surely, Chiarelli went about his business. He strengthened Boston’s scouting staff, made sure he helped build up the young assets and hired coach Claude Julien in 2007, a year after signing big defenceman Zdeno Chara.
Through it all, Chiarelli, 48, a Harvard grad, has kept a low profile but he is the architect of the success. He doesn’t determine what’s best for this team based on snapshots, he always looks at the big picture and every step is logical.
“Every GM will say that’s the hardest thing,” Chiarelli said. “If you’re moved by a snapshot here or a snapshot there you’d be changing your mind every four games. What may be the right decision one day might be the wrong one the next.
“The hard thing about keeping a team together is determining whether these players have the character to get where they were before. What has become easier for us is that players want to stay in Boston.
“When players want to stay in Boston, it speaks a lot to their character, their willingness to commit and buy in. That in itself has been a growing process as well. It makes it easier to keep a team together but every year we’re going to have to make hard decisions and that’s the reality of a cap world.”
The Bruins are in the final because they have created a culture of winning.
In 2011, the Bruins made the difficult decision to walk away from winger Michael Ryder. He was an integral part of the Cup team, but Boston decided it was time to move on and keep players elsewhere. Somebody else would step up.
The Bruins are here against the Hawks because they’re a good team. They sent the Pittsburgh Penguins packing with a sweep in the Eastern Conference final because they the better team and, as Julien noted, nobody is put on a “pedestal.”
Boston’s success is based on the “all for one and one for all” approach, unlike the star-studded Penguins.
“There’s a bit of a bunker mentality in professional sports and to be successful you all have to pull in the same direction,” said Chiarelli, who is heading into the final year of his contract next season. “Claude and I talk a lot. We talk about the team philosophically and players. Your manager and coach have to be, for the most part, on the same page.
“We have disagreements but behind closed doors we figure it out. The solidarity sits, part and parcel, with the solidarity of the whole group. This is just what Claude and I believe in. Those things trickle down throughout the organization.”
Chiarelli has never thought his team is perfect. He and his staff analyze every day to see what they can do better. Before the trade deadline, he was determined to add a scoring winger and his No. 1 target was Jarome Iginla.
The Bruins thought they had Iginla at the deadline. They were told he had agreed to a trade to Boston by Calgary GM Jay Feaster, but then stood by in disbelief as Iginla changed his mind to accept a trade to the Penguins.
Chiarelli was disappointed but not heartbroken. He decided to tell his side of the story in a press conference the day after the deal fell apart because “everything had been so public” he felt that Boston fans and media deserved an explanation.
“It wasn’t hard on me. I didn’t look good because I was tired,” said Chiarelli, who added he hadn’t slept because he had been up all night with his dogs.
“That was just another deal that didn’t happen. We’ve had a lot of deals that don’t happen, but they get close. That one, for whatever reason, became completely public and it was a high profile deal. There was mis-reporting.
“You have to turn the page. You can’t dwell on those things.”
The Bruins proved to Iginla he made the wrong choice.
Now, Boston is headed to the big dance against the Blackhawks and Chiarelli would love to drink from the Cup again.
“To be in the final two of the last three years is a really great accomplishment,” said Chiarelli. “We’re happy to be there but we know we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The final step to glory begins for Chiarelli and the Bruins Wednesday at the United Center.
Patience is a virtue and his has paid dividends for Boston.
CHIARELLI'S TOP FIVE MOVES
1. Signed Zdeno Chara as a UFA on July 1, 2006
After getting the job and being forced to wait until July to begin his active duties because Ottawa filied a grievance with the NHL, Chiarelli made sure he had the 6-foot-9 Chara in place.
Though Chiarelli was technically working for Ottawa when Chara signed a five-year, $35 million contract, he made it clear in the plan he laid out for owner Jeremy Jacobs that the organization needed to be built around a franchise player.
Chiarelli told interim GM Jeff Gorton to make the deal happen because Chara wanted to stay in the East. He could have gone to the L.A. Kings, but signed in Boston and the rest is history.
2. Hiring coach Claude Julien on June 21, 2007
Chiarelli has admitted he made a rookie mistake with the hiring of Dave Lewis as the bench boss in 2006.
After Jacobs told a Boston newspaper he’d give Chiarelli a “mulligan” for that decision, he didn’t waste any time fixing the problem. Fired by the Devils with 102 points and three games left in 2007, Chiarelli jumped at the chance to get Julien.
They both grew up in the Ottawa area and Chiarelli did homework on Julien’s work ethic. He knew he was the right choice and the Stanley Cup in 2011 is evidence of the fact.
3. Keeping the 2011 Stanley Cup champs together
As the Bruins prepare to play the Hawks, there are 18 holdovers from the club that won the title in ‘11. In the salary cap era, that has been minor miracle for Chiarelli to pull off.
Players have cashed in on their success with long-term deals, but with the Bruins back in the Cup final, it has been worth it. People talk about the difficulty of building a dynasty, but Boston has shown you can go a long way with a solid team.
Chiarelli’s challenge this summer will be to keep forward Nathan Horton and defenceman Andre Ference. Don’t bet against him by any means.
4. Acquiring Tuukka Rask from Toronto on June 24, 2006
This was one of Chiarelli’s first deals and it’s still paying dividends. The Leafs were desperate to get a No. 1 goalie after watching Roberto Luongo get dealt to the Canucks and traded Rask for Andrew Raycroft straight up.
The Bruins didn’t have to count on Rask right away because they had Tim Thomas. Not only did Thomas round into form to help the club win a Stanley Cup, but Rask has taken over this season and has a 1.92 goals-against average in the playoffs.
Rask allowed only two goals in the series against the Penguins and is a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate.
5. Adding a veteran presence for young players
Chiarelli has never shied away from making trades to help the team down the stretch. He was aggressive in trying to get Jarome Iginla from Calgary and Brenden Morrow from Dallas.
Neither of those deals worked out, but he did get Jaromir Jagr from the Stars and he has certainly made his impact felt. He hasn’t scored any goals but he’s made things happen and is appreciated in the room.
In 2008, Chiarelli brought in Mark Recchi from the Tampa Bay Lightning. No, the Bruins didn’t win a Cup immediately, but he became a force in the dressing room and a big reason they did win the title in 2011.