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With Lewis, Bruins sticking to transition

The Bruins again today will break from their traditional way of doing business, and officially announce the hiring of a head coach, Dave Lewis, who has no previous connection to the franchise.

Lewis, 52 , will make his Boston debut at a 1 p.m. news conference at the Garden, with general manager designee Peter Chiarelli at his side. The 41-year-old Chiarelli, also with no prior Boston experience, was hired a month ago as the new GM, and still has a little more than two weeks to fulfill in his role as the Ottawa Senators' assistant general manager before he is officially put in charge on Causeway Street.

The Saskatoon-born Lewis, who in two seasons as the Red Wings head coach accumulated an impressive 96-41-21 -6 record, is expected to be joined on the Boston staff by Marc Habscheid, another favorite son of Saskatoon. Habscheid, a 43-year-old former NHL forward, also has no Boston experience in his employment dossier -- a resumé that includes more than six years of head coaching experience in the Western Hockey League (Kamloops and Kelowna).

Chiarelli on Tuesday dismissed Mike Sullivan as the Bruins' bench boss, within hours after the Bruins cut a deal with Lewis to come here as the franchise's Mr. Fix-It. Chiarelli praised Sullivan as ``classy" and ``extremely professional" and was adamant that the former Boston University Terrier was on his final list of five candidates for the job.

Sullivan, who was behind the Boston bench for two seasons -- the years before and after the 2004-05 lockout -- never was able to lead his club to a playoff series victory. He will draw his full salary, in excess of $600,000, that he was due for the upcoming season based on a contract extension he was awarded just prior to the start of 2005- 06.

Lewis, dismissed as Detroit's head coach out of the lockout, scouted this past season for the Winged Wheels. A long time NHL defenseman who logged 1,008 career games with the Islanders, Kings, Devils, and Red Wings, he began his coaching career as an assistant in Detroit immediately following his last season (1987- 88) as a player.

``It's a fantastic pick," said Jim Devellano, Detroit's longtime senior vice-president. ``He's a great man, great person, and a very good coach. Peter Chiarelli made a very good choice as his first choice."

Lewis, named Detroit's head coach upon the legendary Scotty Bowman's retirement, was dismissed for a familiar reason -- his club's lack of postseason success. The Red Wings were eliminated in Round One of the Cup playoffs his rookie year, 2002-03, then were bounced in Round 2 the next season. Here in the Hub of Hockey, unlike Detroit, Lewis will take over a franchise that has very little in the way of expectations, based on recent club history. In Detroit, he had nowhere to go but down. But here, where the Bruins have failed to qualify for the post season three of the last six seasons, he has nowhere to go but up.

In the fall of '02, Lewis inherited a talent-laden Red Wing squad that won the Cup just months before, in what turned out to be Bowman's final game on an NHL bench. It was Detroit's third Cup in six seasons , the franchise's best run since the early-'50s, and the even-handed, mild-tempered Lewis was the logical choice to take over. But when playoff success eluded him, and his high-priced employees, Lewis was turfed in favor of former Anaheim coach Mike Babcock. Despite another strong regular season under a new coach, however, the Red Wings were rubbed out in Round 1 this year by the eighth-seeded Oilers.

The announcement of Lewis today heralds the latest in a string of significant changes for the moribund franchise. On Saturday in Vancouver, the club drafted teenage scoring sensation Phil Kessel with the No. 5 pick overall. They also swapped goalie Andrew Raycroft, a former NHL Rookie of the Year, for elite netminding prospect Tuukka Rask. Only two days later, they dished veteran defenseman Nick Boynton to Phoenix for the Belmont-raised blue liner Paul Mara, who was promptly signed to a two-year contract worth some $3 million per year. Yesterday, the Coyotes inked Boynton to a three-year deal at a total value of just under $9 million.

On Saturday, only some 48 hours after Lewis's formal introduction, assistant general manager Jeff Gorton will be at Causeway command central, overseeing what offers the Bruins will make when the NHL's annual free agency period begins at noon. Gorton, operating with valuations Chiarelli made when he was being interviewed for the Boston GM, is expected to be aggressive in his pursuit of a top-end defenseman and skilled wingers to fill out the club's top two lines.

The Bruins also are rumored to be one of the clubs interested in acquiring defenseman Chris Pronger from the Oil ers. Last summer, when the Blues auctioned off Pronger, the Bruins put together a package that included Boynton. The Blues were enticed , but ultimately took a package that included defenseman Eric Brewer. Pronger, among the key performers who helped the Oilers push Carolina to a seventh game in the Cup finals, informed the club last week that he wants out of Edmonton, due to personal reasons.

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