Deals give them an improved shot
The Bruins are better this morning than they were yesterday morning, with Tomas Kaberle finally aboard as a much-needed power-play specialist and Rich Peverley added for grip-and-rip (59 games/161 shots) duty at center or wing. Factor in Tuesday night’s acquisition of veteran Chris Kelly, a get-in-the-dirty-places center, and the Bruins are a broader, sturdier, more complete bunch as the playoffs approach.
“It makes it more continuous,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli, focusing most of his attention on Kaberle at yesterday’s late-afternoon news conference at the Garden. “It brings kind of all the zones together, to get the puck up cleanly into the neutral zone, to make the plays through the neutral zone with speed. Tomas will help with that.’’
Let it be duly noted, here in a city conditioned Pavlov-like to humongous signings and dramatic, big-cash acquisitions (see: Red Sox, specifically Carl Crawford, et al), that all of Chiarelli’s moves this week were of the “help’’ nature, and not of the “wow!’’ nature.
Yes, Kaberle is the piece de resistance, but his addition, like those of Kelly and Peverley, will not give the Bruins a dramatic new look. None of these guys will alter the way coach Claude Julien looks at the game from behind the bench. They won’t turn a team engineered around his conservative, station-to-station, trust-the-system coaching philosophy and make it fly like a stately eagle or a supercharged perigrine falcon.
Nothing that happened these last few days changes dramatically what the Bruins are or how they intend to play. Their anchor tenants remain Tim Thomas in net, Zdeno Chara on defense, and Julien on the job. They are not going to remind anyone of the late-’70s Canadiens, the Eurocharged Oilers of the ’80s, or even the more contemporary and skilled Red Wings of these last 15 years. Time to find another fantasy if that’s what you are thinking.
Despite these upgrades, the Bruins remain a straight-ahead, grind-away, north-south, work-harder-than-the-other-guys club that still ranks behind the more talented likes of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (when healthy) in the East and Vancouver, Detroit, and perhaps San Jose in the West.
Chiarelli’s deals are the boldest in-season maneuverings we’ve seen by the Bruins since Mike O’Connell’s 2004 acquisitions of Sergei Gonchar and Michael Nylander from Washington. But those were bolder moves, slicker players, each arriving with much expected from them as individual, point-producing assets. Kaberle, Kelly, and Peverley are here more to expand on a theme, not change it, and to complement rather than reassemble.
Of the three, Kaberle’s influence stands to be the most profound. His main job will be to repair or enhance the power play. He already has supplanted aged winger Mark Recchi at the point, where, by the way, Kaberle has not scored a goal this season.
That’s right, the power play’s Mr. Fix-It landed on the Boston roster last night with zero power-play goals in 2010-11. But that’s OK. Just as tee shots are meant to have tees, power plays usually have skilled setup guys, and Kaberle is one of the best at serving smooth, flat, timely, and accurate passes. His assists on the Toronto power play this season numbered 22, only one fewer than league leader Nicklas Lidstrom on that talent-rich Detroit roster. Kaberle’s shot and five-on-five play are ordinary, but his greatest strengths are his ability to retrieve the puck, move it out of the zone quickly and efficiently, and then be Mr. Tee on the power play.
In other words, Zdeno Chara, this one’s for you . . . and this one . . . and this one . . . and this one . . . and this one . . .
“I remember him when he was feeding [Bryan] McCabe with those one-timers all the time from the right point,’’ said Chiarelli, recalling when Kaberle-to-McCabe was one of the league’s sweetest man-advantage tandems. “He’d be at the left point and McCabe would be at the right point. We envision that type of 1-2 punch somewhere down the line. It was an important piece for us to get, and obviously we had to pay a price.’’
At minimum, the price was a late-first-round pick this season and prized prospect Joe Colborne (6-foot-5-inch center), and perhaps a second-round pick in 2012, the latter contingent upon the Bruins signing free agent-to-be Kaberle to a new deal or reaching the Stanley Cup finals this year. A very high price, even without the Round 2 pick. But that speaks to the 32-year-old Kaberle’s particular skills, Boston’s near total lack of a point man, and the ever-present premium attached to defensemen with puck-moving skills.
“He’s young. He [was] exciting to have as part of our organization,’’ Chiarelli said, noting how hard it was to yield Colborne, whom he selected 16th overall in 2008. “We drafted him. He’s worked hard. He’s had success. That was a tough one . . . and there is your premium, right there.’’
Chiarelli talked briefly with Kaberle’s agent, Rick Curran, and made it clear the club wants to keep him beyond this season. The discussion, said Chiarelli, provided him a comfort level that, “I think it will be smooth sailing to sign him when it comes to that time.’’
The Bruins in 2004 had similar hopes for Gonchar, only to see him play but 22 games in Boston and ultimately sign on for a five-year hitch (and one Stanley Cup) with Pittsburgh. The cost to Boston: Shaone Morrisonn, a first-round pick, and a second-round pick. All for a rental. Hey, it happens, and it could happen again.
Truth is, the 2004 Bruins probably were closer to a four-round Cup run with Gonchar and Nylander than the 2011 Bruins are with Kaberle, Kelly, and Peverley. It ended in one round that spring, the Bruins rubbed out in seven games by Montreal.
Seven years later, and the Bruins never more than Round 1 winners since, did these deals get the Bruins a ticket to the conference championship or the Cup finals?
“I can never say with certainty that we’re going to get to that point,’’ said the ever-even-keeled Chiarelli. “I believe that by making these additions that we are significantly stronger. It’s a war of attrition, getting to that point. There is a lot of luck involved. I like the character of our team this year. There is some resiliency. There is chasing after teams when we’ve had some letdowns in games. I know we had a bit of a dry spell there, but it really helps our squad.’’
Better today than yesterday. Realistically, that’s what deadline deals should be, with Game 7 of the Cup finals still four grueling, punishing, and unpredictable months on the horizon.