WILMINGTON (CBS) — The best thing the Bruins might have going for them right now is solidarity.
Although you could argue how enthusiastically he said it Monday, after he swung a trio of minor deals in the hours before the NHL trade deadline, general manager Peter Chiarelli declared that he believed in his team.
After practice at Ristuccia Arena on Tuesday, most of the players were singing the same song as their GM.
“Obviously the first thing to me that sticks out is that he believes in this team and what we have, and we have to go out there and prove to him that we have what it takes and we can … we just need a chance to get ourselves into the playoffs and then go from there,” center Patrice Bergeron said.
Forward Brett Connolly joined the Bruins for practice Tuesday, one day after he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Forward Maxime Talbot was still on his way to Boston after he was picked up from the Colorado Avalanche.
Neither Connolly nor Talbot was the type of pickup Chiarelli needed to really pump up the Bruins’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup. There were several reasons, valid or otherwise, Chiarelli didn’t go for the big deal at this season’s deadline. Whether teams ahead of the Bruins surrendered too much to bolster their teams can be debated, but there’s little doubt the New York Rangers (Keith Yandle), Tampa Bay Lightning (Braydon Coburn), Detroit Red Wings (Erik Cole and Marek Zidlicky) and Montreal Canadiens (Jeff Petry) upgraded their lineups for the here and now in an attempt to take advantage of a wide-open Eastern Conference. The Bruins slightly improved their talent level enough that that they now have a better chance to remain as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, the position they’re in now, when the regular season concludes in mid-April.
Chiarelli clearly was thinking more about the future than the present with his moves. Coach Claude Julien disagreed with that notion because he knows Talbot can help out this season and he’s confident Connolly will also contribute. That might be the case, but neither player puts the Bruins in the discussion of elite teams that would require less luck to be playing in June. Rather than a more-proven rental, he went for the contractually controllable Connolly, who has yet to hit his stride in the NHL. He added Talbot, with another year on his contract, to supplant Gregory Campbell after this season. Chiarelli didn’t touch his first-round pick or any of his most-coveted prospects. He didn’t add salary that will make it any more difficult to get Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith, Torey Krug and Carl Soderberg signed this summer – if Chiarelli so chooses to retain those players.
For a player like defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who is signed for three more seasons after 2014-15, Chiarelli’s approach to the trade deadline was understandable.
“It’s not just about this year, it’s about the future as well,” Seidenberg said. “I mean the Rangers are going to have to sign guys. … I think that you have to take that into consideration when you build a team, not just for that year but for years coming. It’s a good way to do it.”
It’s a little ironic that Seidenberg is thinking of the future of the Bruins. With a salary-cap charge of $4 million the next three seasons, he might have to be moved in order for the Bruins to have a brighter future. There were already rumors prior to this year’s trade deadline that the Bruins were thinking of asking Seidenberg to waive his no-trade clause.
Seidenberg is still here, along with the five other defensemen who, as a group, have improved since the start of the season but still have too many nights when getting the puck out of the Boston end looks like a Three Stooges short, and protecting goaltender Tuukka Rask and the front of becomes an adventure.
The Bruins are not only banking on the improvement of Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, they’re also hoping that if there’s an injury, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow or David Warsofsky can save the day. That’s a formula that worked in 2013 when Bartkowski, Krug and Hamilton stepped in to keep the Bruins alive on their drive to the Stanley Cup Final. Julien referred to that run during his remarks Tuesday. Of course, he didn’t reveal what the odds really are that lightning could strike twice in three seasons. The chances are slim.
In the end, it won’t matter that Chiarelli didn’t rock the foundation of the team or add depth to his defense corps. Conspicuously absent from the comments of Chiarelli, Julien and the players the past couple days, and even past couple weeks, have been the words “Stanley” and “Cup” (in that order and together). The Bruins already made the calculation that they weren’t one or two pieces away from earning a Causeway Street parade before Chiarelli got to work on Monday.
Confidence in this group from Chiarelli and the players relates just to making the playoffs and crossing that threshold CEO Charlie Jacobs set when he took over that title and put everyone on notice that missing the postseason would be an utter failure.
Chiarelli sent that modest message to the players and they’ve accepted it. The mantra they’re all chanting if that once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. You could call it the curse of the Los Angeles Kings. One eighth-seeded team wins the Cup, and the other 29 think they can go that route.
Sure, anything is possible. But the “let the chips fall where they may” approach doesn’t typically lead to a Cup dynasty … or even keep a team among the strongest contenders for a championship.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.