When Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli speaks, it helps to have the ability to read between the lines.
Like any GM, Chiarelli isn’t going to come right out and say what he is going to do. But, there are clues, whether it is the inflection in his voice, what he emphasizes or repeats through a press conference or the subtle hints he lays along the way.
With that, when Chiarelli said on Tuesday “we will make some changes,” one has to believe those words are a stronger statement than just saying he plans on making tweaks to his lineup.
“As a manager, you try and keep it on an even keel. You take away the positive things, you take away negative things and you try and improve and you move forward. So having said that, I did feel that variance between the ups and downs were too much, so we will look to make some changes,” Chiarelli said.
“We’ll go through the normal process of meeting with our pro scouts, meeting with Claude and his staff, and talking about the makeup of the team and personnel and style.”
The makeup of the team, personnel and style is going to be different — probably much different. Chiarelli spoke about infusing youth into the roster and his goal of adding youth season-to-season. The movement started with Milan Lucic and David Krejci, went to Blake Wheeler and Matt Hunwick and then Tuukka Rask and Johnny Boychuk over the past few seasons.
Through that, there has been a sprinkling of Vladimir Sobotka and other role players like Petteri Nokelainen, Martin St. Pierre and Matt Lashoff, who Chiarelli has found new homes for after breaking them in with the big boys (except Sobotka).
To hear Chiarelli speak on Tuesday, it sounded like next year might be a pivotal year in the youth movement.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a plan, to the best of our ability [to] inject younger players into the lineup in a competitive environment,” Chiarelli said. “Of course, our objective is to win the Cup and we feel we can both and we feel that we’re making progress towards that goal. We will continue to stick with that and we have some young players who will be given opportunities.
“That’s not to mean that we’re discounting or dismissing any of our restricted or unrestricted free agents. They’re a part of the planning process. We’ll sit down and we’ll speak with my staff and Claude [Julien’s] staff as to what they’re futures will be with us — they, meaning the players.”
That was part of Chiarelli’s opening statement. It’s telling he was proactive about saying he will continue to add youth to the roster before the press conference was turned over to reporters.
Almost every guy who was asked about his impending status during breakdown day said, “I would love to be back and I expect to be back.” Yet, when pressed, only Dennis Seidenberg could say that his agent has actually been in contact with Chiarelli.
“I haven't heard any specifics. I just heard that they have started talking and that is it. If it was me, then, we will see. It think it is a process and I hope that we can get something worked out,” Seidenberg said.
Part of the reason for that is the youth on the roster. Seidenberg said Tuesday he hopes he doesn’t actually make it to free agency and a deal can be reached with the Bruins before the signing period begins July 1. (This coming from a defenseman who had to wait for two months last summer before the Panthers gave him a one-year contract.)
For his part, the only player that Chiarelli seemed firm on in his press conference was Seidenberg. The other young players, guys like Boychuk and Blake Wheeler, said that they had not reached out to their agents to make a deal but were confident they would be back.
“He was a very solid defender who could move the puck well,” Chiarelli said of Seidenberg. “Having Dennis in the mix pushes down other defenders and allows them to have better match-ups, so we missed him.
“[But] we’ve got a number of players we haven’t made decisions on, so I put them in the mix.”
By default, Chiarelli has to give his first priority to the unrestricted free agents on the roster. Mark Recchi did not want to talk to the media today, relaying a message via the media relations staff: “I talked to the after Game 7 and talked for a while.” But if Recchi is offered another $1 million contract, there is a good chance he will take it.
Then there is Boychuk, who caught on to unrestricted free agency in the most roundabout of ways (Category 6 because he did not have enough service time to be restricted and over age 26 even though he was a rookie in 2009-10) who will have to be given priority over a restricted defenseman like Stuart.
“I think Johnny played well in the position that he was in. He was able to play with one of the top defensemen in the league [Zdeno Chara], which I think was important for him. I think he has a physical style of play. He’s got a dimensional shot,” Chiarelli said.
It is interesting to compare how Chiarelli described both of those players. For the most part, the GM knows he has Boychuk on line whenever he wants, so it behooves the general manager to not play up his desire for the defender in public. On the other hand, Seidenberg could be snapped up sooner than Chiarelli would like, and sending a message through the press to his agents that the Seidenberg is wanted helps the general manager get the discussions rolling.
When it comes back to “we will make some changes,” the question that follows that is “how?” The Bruins are up against the cap and have some contracts Chiarelli would love to see taking up space on a different NHL roster. He also said the team will not be big players in the free agent market come July, so the expectation is that some of the core players from the current group will be on the block, starting Wednesday.
“As far as committed contracts and entry into the unrestricted free agent market, [we’re] probably not going to be too heavy on entering the unrestricted free agent market. But there are other ways to facilitate change and you look to either the trade market or to talent from within and whether that’s prospects, post-draft players or whatnot,” Chiarelli said.
A clue into the mindset of Chiarelli and how his offseason approach will play out came when asked about the tone of the team, especially in context of the inability to close out the Flyers in the semifinals. He recognized the problems the Bruins faced against the Flyers were more than just a hot team coming back with Simon Gagne. The bulldog was missing its teeth.
“The fact that we couldn’t finish it off by winning one game in four, obviously shows … I don’t know if complacency is the right word, but there isn’t that extra ‘oomph.’ Whatever you want to call it, it isn’t there,” Chiarelli said. “As far as going forward, that is player personnel that I will look at and there is instilling an attitude from me, through Claude [Julien] and to the rest of the group.”
Interesting. Add “we won’t be big in free agency” with “no oomph.” Where does that point? Trades, probably. And we are looking at you, Michael Ryder. The forward was distinctly missing for a good portion of breakdown day and the media relations staff had to more or less drag him into the dressing room to face reporters. Unlike Recchi, Ryder does not have the type of clout on the team or in the league to not have to face the media, especially considering the season he had. Chiarelli talked of not wanting the “variance” between the highs and lows being too great. That statement, in a backwards kind of way without mentioning the player by name, was a direct jab at Ryder. There is no other player on the Bruins who was so up and down on the year except for maybe Dennis Wideman, who makes himself far more accountable that Ryder on a daily basis.
“I have to live with it and I talked to half the players this morning and these guys are shaking their heads so you have to learn from it,” Chiarelli said. “They are professionals and they will move on but there is an issue there.”
When it comes to heads rolling because of the epic collapse against Philadelphia, it does not seem that Chiarelli or Julien will be on the chopping block. It would not surprise if a couple of Bruins coaches met the axe as way of shakeup but the front office is committed to Julien and ownership is committed to Chiarelli. The general manager is not the type to make snap decisions based on one bad series, no matter how bad that series ended up being.
Chiarelli has no other choice other than to be patient with the core group of his roster for the next few years, though some of the contracts might be purged in favor of youth (Wideman, Ryder, Tim Thomas). He noted the Bruins were one of only five teams to make the semifinals two years in a row, and it is easy to imagine that he told Jeremy Jacobs the same thing after Game 7. Chiarelli knows there are things to like about his roster but at the same time acknowledge that something needs to be done to get this core over the hump. Changes? Absolutely, maybe even some very surprising ones, but do not expect him to completely blow the entire thing.
“Obviously you have to make hay when the sun shines. When you’re in the playoffs, you want to go as far as you can,” Chiarelli said. “We lose that series, but we were close. We dissect that series, we look at deficiencies in our game and you address them as you look forward. I don’t just address that series and fix the team based on that series. I look at the whole thing. I look at the short-term, the middle-term, and the long-term.”