Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Chiarelli comes to Beantown
...but things look a little different than before

For the life of me, I can't think of a more bizarre situation in hockey executive history than the one with Peter Chiarelli and the Boston Bruins.
Peter Chiarelli was still working for Ottawa when Senators free agent Zdeno Chara agreed to terms with Boston. The soon-to-be Bruins general manager was able to keep his glee to himself.

"I'm in a room with a couple of other guys," he said. "It was interesting, to say the least."
I'll bet.

Named the 7th general manager in Bruins history on May 26, 2006, Chiarelli was barred from taking the helm of the team until mid-July (a stipulation that was cut short by the Senators, who must have finally realized the absurdity of having him still with the team and allowed him to yesterday move to Beantown).

Now, if Chiarelli had been taking a position with, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets, staying with the Senators wouldn't have been quite as off-putting. But the Bruins? A division rival who you'll be playing eight times in 2006-07? A team you're competing with directly for free agents?

The mediation hearing where league commissioner Gary Bettman set out the conditions of Chiarelli's move to Boston apparently got rather heated between the two sides, as the warring factions struggled to stake a claim. It all sounded rather ugly.

Chiarelli's a Harvard-educated lawyer, a guy who was a player agent before he joined the Senators in 1999 and who has undoubtedly been waiting to helm his own team for quite some time. As he says later on in the Associated Press piece I quoted above, "you can't help but think about your future team."

He might as well have had a Bruins jersey on in the Ottawa war room (which he wasn't allowed in, consequently, after taking the Bruins job).

The other interesting stipulation of Chiarelli's deal was that he wasn't to have any contact with the Bruins or interim GM Jeff Gorton, who became the 'man in charge' through what was the most important time in the season (and maybe the most important in the next decade given the impact of the acquisitions made).

One would think such stipulations would mean Boston would remain rather quiet as the free-agent season stormed past. Instead, they've been perhaps hockey's busiest team the last six weeks:

June 22: Named their new director of player development (Don Sweeney)
June 24: Drafted Phil Kessel No. 5 overall (among others)
June 26: Dealt Nick Boynton for Paul Mara
June 28: Fired their head coach (Mike Sullivan)
June 30: Named their new head coach (Dave Lewis)
June 30: Bought out Shawn McEachern and Travis Green
July 2: Signed Zdeno Chara ($37.5-million/five years)
July 2: Signed Marc Savard ($20-million/five years)
July 3: Signed Shean Donovan (two years)
July 7: Signed Mark Mowers (two years)

Meanwhile, the man who signed on to guide this franchise through the next four years was twiddling his thumbs in Ottawa.

As I said, it's bizarre.

The face of Chiarelli's franchise until 2011 is now undoubtedly going to be tied to the summer of 2006, Chara and Savard. One can't help but wonder how much say the rookie GM really had in what's happened the past few weeks.

Now, back when Chara's monster deal was first signed, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch addressed the strange dance being done here, and pointed out the fact that Chiarelli had, in interviews with the Bruins brass for the top job, laid out a detailed blueprint for what he would do with this franchise. The insinuation is that he named names and charted a course — one that was impressive enough that it was what got him hired.

If you ask me, that blueprint is what we've been watching unfold the past few weeks, piece by piece, in Boston. If it works under these circumstances, Chiarelli will be heralded as a genius. Or even The Hockey News' next Executive of the Year.

Score another for the Harvard exec. And this one's been behind enemy lines.


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