BOSTON (CBS) – In September, Bruins owner/chairman Jeremy Jacobs had this to say about general manager Peter Chiarelli. “Peter’s the best in the business right now. And we’re relishing his success and his capacity.”
The Bruins were in the midst of contract negotiations with restricted free agents Torey Krug and Reilly Smith. Chiarelli was having a hard time fitting the two young players under the salary-cap ceiling. Was he mismanaging the cap?
“Oh, I think we’ve done a fabulous job. This is a great team,” Jeremy Jacobs scoffed before storming off.
Pretty soon Smith and Krug would sign one-year deals for the 2014-15 season, but Chiarelli would have to trade defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for draft picks before the start of the regular season in order to be cap compliant.
Four months after Jeremy Jacobs’ words of praise for Chiarelli, Charlie Jacobs was elevated to the position of CEO to replace his father. Three months after that, Chiarelli was shown the door.
“It was really about ‘how do we improve our club moving forward?’ And it’s a task and, frankly, an audit that we take every year after the season is over,” the younger Jacobs said. “This season happened to end a lot earlier for us. And we’ve been very fortunate in that regard. I think Peter had a very good tenure here. And you think about the stretch of one, trips to the playoffs, and two, success in the playoffs that he’s had. But it became time we believed to be to separate and move forward.”
No matter who replaces Chiarelli, Neely and Jacobs are going to be the ones to credit with success or blame for failures in the years ahead.
Chiarelli’s run of success with the Bruins has been well-documented: seven straight seasons in the playoffs, one Stanley Cup championship, one other trip to the Stanley Cup finals, one Presidents’ Trophy. Chiarelli’s flaws have also been covered extensively. There was the Jarome Iginla cap overage that took up $4.8 million of the Bruins’ cap space this season. Chiarelli failed to replace Boychuk over the course of this season. The former GM slightly overpaid several players as a sign of loyalty until the salaries all combined to put the Bruins in “cap jail.” Early in his tenure, Chiarelli had a couple drafts that provided the Bruins with nothing in terms of players or assets.
The prospect pipeline has seemingly improved with the addition of 2014 first-round pick David Pastrnak and the selection of Denver star Danton Heinen and a fresh crop of college free agents that have joined the Providence Bruins of the AHL for the stretch run. The Bruins won the bidding for Torey Krug when he left college and Dougie Hamilton fell into their lap as the last present from the Phil Kessel trade.
The Bruins, though, are going to have some difficult decisions in the offseason that’s upon us and ones in the near future. This summer they might have to play hardball with restricted free agent Hamilton and consider parting with one of their high-priced core players in order to make space for summer signings and an in-season pickup or two next year. If Jacobs and Neely didn’t want to leave those decisions up to Chiarelli, that’s their right. It’s their franchise.
But you have to wonder how difficult to please these pillars of the organization are and how that’s going to affect importing [if they don’t stay in house] a bright mind to make sure that this season is a one-year blip and not the start of a trend reminiscent of some of the Bruins’ darker eras.
Jacobs and Neely didn’t just show up in Bruins Land on Wednesday. They signed off on all of Chiarelli’s moves, even the ones that failed. Neely, who was brought back to the organization after the Jacobs family already hired Chiarelli, clearly wasn’t pleased with how much Chiarelli was accepting the president’s input.
“I’m looking for more. I’m not going to micro-manage a GM. I want him to be able to do his job,” Neely said. “I certainly want to have conversations about why and what the thought process is to make particular deals or trades and how that is going to look for the franchise, not just when it happens but also moving forward.
One has to believe Chiarelli wasn’t too pleased with Neely’s recommendations. Neely revealed Wednesday that even with the mandate to make the playoffs looming over the Chiarelli, the GM was inform he should not trade assets for any rental players that Neely didn’t think would make a difference for this season. Right there Chiarelli probably should have quit, but he stayed on in an effort to maintain his reputation and maybe salvage something from this season if the Bruins did their old-school flipping of the switch for an improbable postseason run.
The next general manager will probably do more than answer to Neely, and to a lesser extent Jacobs. The next few rosters will be Neely’s with the legwork put in by the new GM. It’s difficult to gauge, though, what it’s going to take to succeed under Neely and Jacobs. Neely said he didn’t think the Bruins are “looking at a large or complete rebuild” and that the current “good core” is filled with character and potential to play better next season after an “off year.” The salary-cap troubles aren’t going away without altering the core. Taking a chance that every player that underperformed will bounce back won’t do anything to impress the masses and, in short, won’t happen. The next GM will have to do something to shake up the makeup of the team in order to change the culture of entitlement that has grown.
However, autonomy is dead. Neely’s going to have more say. A slow start to the season could inspire another midseason declaration or two from Jacobs about heads rolling if things don’t turn around. That didn’t work this season and is likely to cause more harm than positivity moving forward.
The Bruins should be a playoff team again with a tweak or two next season. It doesn’t take much to be one of the top eight teams in the conference. That doesn’t mean they’re going to be elite again in less than a couple seasons. Digging out from their problems requires a long-term plan. If the Bruins start changing general managers the way they used to go through goaltenders, you might as well put a circus tent up over TD Garden and plan on players and coaches avoiding Boston like the plague.
Patience will be the virtue that determines whether this power play by Neely and Jacobs was correct and whether they have what it takes to mold the organization back into a championship-caliber outfit.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.