BOSTON (CBS) — Here’s a revolutionary idea: Let’s try to make a judgment on a season before it ends.
For Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins, much will be made of what happens over the next few weeks or perhaps the next couple of months. The general manager built a team that was tops in the National Hockey League this season, but many in the region are withholding judgment on the job he did until they can see the final result.
Yet, that is hardly a fair practice.
A GM’s job is to build the best team he possibly can. Oftentimes things beyond his control severely alter the fate of the season. A postseason failure typically stands out as the biggest mark against any GM. Again, that’s not entirely fair.
One need only look as far back as 2011 for proof of that. Chiarelli built a team that was capable of winning a Stanley Cup. We know that to be true because the team obviously won the whole thing. Yet the Bruins found themselves in overtime in Game 7 in the first round against Montreal, and everyone knows that playoff OT is not only the most intense action in all of sports but it’s also often decided by a fortunate bounce. The Bruins were on the right end of that bounce, in this case a Nathan Horton shot deflecting off Canadiens forward Jeff Halpern and past Carey Price, and the rest is history.
Had that bounce gone Montreal’s way, it’s likely that Claude Julien would have lost his job. It’s just as likely that Chiarelli would have been fired as well. Had it happened, it would have been a reactionary decision, and as we saw in the three series that followed, it would have been wrong.
Chiarelli built a championship-caliber team in 2010-11, and a bounce or two going the other way in the playoffs would not have changed that.
As for this season, much hot air has been burned online and on the airwaves on a debate that has pretty much settled on one thing: Chiarelli’s trade of Tyler Seguin last summer will be judged and evaluated based on how the Bruins and Stars finish this postseason. To use a series of highly sophisticated words, that is a heaping pile of bull crap.
Seguin no doubt had a phenomenal season, posting 17 more points than his previous career high. Aside from the fact that Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith combined to post four more points than Seguin while costing $600,000 less against the cap, there is this: Seguin’s absence has absolutely nothing to do with the Bruins this season. Without Seguin, the Bruins finished third in the NHL and first in the Eastern Conference with 3.15 goals per game. The team boasts three solid scoring lines, thanks to the emergence of Carl Soderberg on the third line with Eriksson and Chris Kelly, and thanks to the stellar play of Jarome Iginla on the top line. Iginla probably would not have been in Boston if the team still had Seguin counting against the cap, lessening the importance of Seguin to this Bruins season.
And considering Seguin had just three goals and eight assists in his final 40 postseason games with Boston, his absence from the Bruins roster is completely irrelevant with regard to this postseason.
Plus, if Chiarelli has made any errors in building this year’s roster, it is on defense. To be clear, there’s nothing Chiarelli could have done to replace Dennis Seidenberg, because there is no player quite like Dennis Seidenberg. Yet the team enters the playoffs relying on the occasionally shaky Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski. Torey Krug, who’s dynamic offensively but can be overmatched physically, will also be getting significant minutes of ice time. If any of the three make a few mistakes, or if Bartkowski proves to be a victim of the flu bug, it could mean Andrej Meszaros takes the ice in their place, and that is the extent of their depth.
Unlike last year, when Kaspars Daugavins and an inexperienced Soderberg had to play in the postseason and showed the Bruins’ lack of depth at forward in the process, the team this year appears to have its holes on defense.
Still, such criticism might be overkill. The Bruins allowed just 2.08 goals against per game, finishing the season second in the NHL. So they’ve been able to make it work, giving plenty of reason for optimism heading into the postseason.
Overall, it is far too easy to make judgments and assessments when you have the benefit of hindsight on your side. As a GM, all you can do every day is look at your team and ask yourself if you have a team capable of winning a championship. And if you look at the Bruins right now, you’d be hard-pressed to make the argument that they’re not a real contender.
What’s more, the team is deep and strong and built to contend for many years to come, thanks to long-term contracts for Tuukka Rask, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg.
Chiarelli’s 2013-14 season may end with him hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup over his head, or it may end with a first-round exit at the hands of the Red Wings. But the result doesn’t mean much if you’re looking backward instead of forward.
And as it stands right now, Chiarelli has done his job very well. Nothing that happens in these playoffs will change that.
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