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Does Peter Chiarelli get enough credit?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 28, 2013 11:43 AM

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Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton are still skating the early shifts of what should be long, accomplished, perhaps even decorated careers. But their obvious if unfinished talents have already made it tempting to project Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli's September 2009 deal, which sent Phil Kessel to the Maple Leafs for a hat trick of draft picks that became Seguin, Hamilton, and Jared Knight, as an all-time heist, the hockey version of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for Joe Barry Carroll and Ricky Brown, or Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb.

Maybe Hamilton will become Zdeno Chara's successor as the defensive fulcrum and Seguin will win multiple scoring titles and the deal will surpass Barry Pederson for Cam Neely or Ron Grahame for the pick that became Ray Bourque as the most lopsided swaps in relatively recent Bruins lore. I suspect it will be regarded precisely that way, and Chiarelli deserves all the praise he is already getting for that particular deal.

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I'm just not sure Chiarelli, for whom an argument can be made that he is one of the most successful recent general managers across all major sports, gets enough credit for the other stuff, the subtler trades and transactions that don't demand big headlines.

The accumulation of these deals over the years have gone a long way toward making the Bruins, accelerating though the abbreviated season with a 12-2-2 record, a true contender not only because of talent, familiarity with each other, and discipline, but exceptional depth, something most teams lack and something coach Claude Julian utilizes to great effect.

Consider these smaller but essential trades -- just trades, excluding savvy signings such as Shawn Thornton -- that Chiarelli has pulled off through the years, helping the Bruins win one Cup and surely contend for a couple more. These are just players on the current roster:

February 10, 2007: Acquired Andrew Ference (and Chuck Kobasew) from Calgary for Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau.

May 16, 2007: Acquired Adam McQuaid from Columbus for a fifth-round pick.

June 24, 2008: Acquired Johnny Boychuk from Colorado for Matt Hendricks.

October 20, 2009: Acquired Daniel Paille from Buffalo for a 2010 third-round pick.

March 3, 2010: Acquired Dennis Seidenberg from Florida along with Matt Bartkowski for Byron Bitz, Craig Weller and Tampa Bay's 2010 second-round draft pick.

June 22, 2010: Acquired Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell from Florida for Defensively Deficient Dennis Wideman and draft picks.

February 15, 2011: Acquired Chris Kelly from Ottawa for a second-round pick. (I seem to remember a lot of Bruins fans being peeved that they didn't get Mike Fisher instead.)

February 18, 2011: Acquired Rich Peverley (and Boris Valabik) from Atlanta for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart. (Wheeler's become a decent scorer but he was a puck-losing tease here.)

That's a pretty extraordinary knack for the secondary or supplemental deal. Ben Cherington should have such a deft touch with his remodeled Red Sox roster.


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I'm not sure why Chiarelli doesn't get more than the occasional stick-tap of credit, though I have my theories. The first and most obvious is the Cam factor. There are few more universally beloved athletes in Boston sports lore than Cam Neely, and in some ways he remains the face of the franchise as the club president, a position he has held since June 2010. The Bruins are tough and intense and resilient, built in his mold, and it's very easy -- and right, in a lot of ways -- to give him the credit for what the organization has become. The perception is that Neely is forever the goal scorer. Still, Chiarelli is responsible for more than just dishing out assists, you know?

I also believe the odd circumstances of Chiarelli's arrival and his tense, lawyerly persona worked against him from the beginning. He was hired in May 2006 but didn't officially join the franchise until July 11 because his employer, the Senators, wanted him to work to the end of his contract. In the interim between when he was hired and when he actually started the job, the Bruins, with interim GM Jeff Gorton and director of amateur scouting Scott Bradley running the draft, chose Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand, three players directly or indirectly essential to their franchise's turnaround.

In the same span, Chara -- whom Chiarelli knew well from Ottawa and absolutely coveted -- Marc Savard, Shean Donovan and Mark Mowers were signed, while the Maple Leafs were mined for the first time, accepting Andrew Raycroft for prospect Tuukka Rask.

How much of that was his doing? In discussing the moves the occurred during his purgatory, Chiarelli told the Globe in July 2006, "Let's just say what I set forth was very specific."

lewisdavecard527.JPGOf course, there were hiccups along the way, just as there are for every successful general manager. Chiarelli's first coaching hire, Dave Lewis, was weird, disorganized, and had committed to a terrible decision in facial hair. (Chiarelli did want to interview Claude Julien at the time, but he had just been hired by the Devils.) He paid Manny Fernandez when he had Tim Thomas on the roster. The Tomas Kaberle swap in 2010 was a flop, though the process made enormous sense even if the results weren't there (I'm beginning to wonder whether Kaberle put a curse on the Bruins' power play). He got the worst of deals that sent Brad Boyes and Kris Versteeg to success elsewhere.

But it's a good sign, as the rumors start to fly about the upcoming trading deadline, that it takes a pretty extensive search to come up with just a couple of mistakes by Chiarelli. With plenty of cap room, perhaps the Bruins will add a name player such as Jarome Iginla, Daniel Briere or Daniel Alfredsson.

But if it's just small deals the Chiarelli makes, there's six-plus years of history suggesting that whatever he does and whomever he acquires, there's a good chance they'll turn out to be just what the Bruins need.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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