Peter Chiarelli had a busy offseason last summer, and by the looks of it, the Bruins appear to be in for a busy postseason.
Yes, the Bruins are an annual Cup contender and were there in the days leading up to that offseason, but this season’s team didn’t just fall into Chiarelli’s lap as a continuation of last year’s squad. There was turnover and complicated decisions to be made with the salary cap coming down. Looking at his handiwork now, it appears the Boston GM did a bang-up job.
The most notable thing he did last offseason was the blockbuster trade with the Stars, but there was way more to it than that. There was replacing Nathan Horton with Jarome Iginla, saying goodbye to Jaromir Jagr, making the tough call to move on from Andrew Ference for the sake of saving money and giving the team’s young defensemen a chance, and bringing in a little-known backup goalie.
He also gave Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron long-term deals, neither of which look to be dicey, but it doesn’t end there. You also have to consider the moves he didn’t make, like the fact that he didn’t panic after a wonky year from Chris Kelly and use an amnesty buyout on the player.
The results of Chiarelli’s postseason work are clearly showing now. Iginla seems to be reaching a new milestone with every shift he takes, while Loui Eriksson has improved steadily. Even with his recent 15-game goal-less drought, Reilly Smith has been much better than anyone expected him to be.
(If you want to go back a few months earlier, giving Carl Soderberg a three year deal with a cap hit of $1.008 million looks like quite the bargain now and will probably be an even bigger one next season, the final year of the pact.)
In the case of Iginla, the Bruins can only hope that he gives them what Horton gave them in his two postseasons, but Iginla has unquestionably given them more in the regular season. Horton only played one full season in Boston, posting 26-27—53 totals in the 2010-11 season. With 13 games remaining, Iginla has already matched that goal total and surpassed the assists (30) and points (56).
The money was also right on Iginla. The Bruins wanted Horton back, but he got a seven-year deal with an annual cap hit of $5.3 million. After Daniel Alfredsson said no thanks, the B’s hammered out a smart, win-win contract with the longtime Flames right winger.
Chiarelli took advantage of the fact that Iginla was over 35, which allowed the B's to give him an incentive-laden deal with a low salary ($1.8 million) and put the money paid for easily attainable incentives (10 games played for a guy who hadn’t missed a game with injury since 2007) toward the bonus cushion.
The Stars trade, meanwhile, continues to be a good deal for both sides. Regardless of how much Bruins fans like the idea of one player who scores a bunch of goals (Seguin has 31), getting two quality right wingers in Eriksson and Smith has proven to be a major reason as to why the Bruins are so deep offensively. Boston currently ranks third in goals per game (3.20), while Dallas is 11th (2.81).
As the playoffs near, Eriksson is playing his best hockey since coming to the Bruins. His season has obviously had its stops and starts due to concussions, but he’s healthy and performing extremely well with Kelly and Soderberg. Even if he doesn’t score in the postseason, which Seguin didn’t for the B’s in last season’s run, the rest of his game would still provide more than what Boston got from Seguin.
The Chad Johnson signing looked to be a head-scratcher at the time and looked to be even more of one when training camp began. Yes, the B’s also had Niklas Svedberg to compete for the backup job, but the fact that Anton Khudobin got $800,000 for the year from Carolina made it logical to wonder why Chiarelli didn’t make more of a push to retain him.
Yet Johnson, after some early training camp struggles, has generally been a very solid backup for Boston, going 15-3-1. Sprinkled in there is a shutout against the Oilers and a win over the Kings.
The Bruins miss Ference given that they ended up losing Dennis Seidenberg for the season, but Matt Bartkowski -- Monday's struggles aside -- has been a serviceable second-pairing defenseman, and Torey Krug has been able to hold down the third-pairing spot that Ference used to play in the regular season. The Bruins are extremely young on the blue line and miss a guy with Ference’s experience, but the cap was coming down and Krug had essentially forced his way into the lineup with his Eastern Conference semifinals performance against the Rangers.
If such a thing as praising Chiarelli existed in this town, most of these moves would get the stamp of approval right now, but not all of them were at the time. Fans argued that Chiarelli gave up on Seguin too soon, while others were irritated that the B’s would welcome Iginla after he chose Pittsburgh over Boston at the previous trade deadline.
Regardless of how they looked then, these moves look good now. So do the Bruins because of them.
(Apologies to second-round pick Linus Arnesson for the lack of mention in this piece.)