BOSTON (CBS) — It took maybe two questions directed toward Peter Chiarelli before the former Bruins general manager was asked by a media member in Edmonton on Friday about the Tyler Seguin trade.
Chiarelli, who was introduced at a press conference as the new president of hockey operations and general manager of the Oilers, might never shake the stigma of dealing Seguin to the Dallas Stars on July 4, 2013.
Chiarelli, who’s used to the Seguin-related questions by now, responded to the question by again referring to “underlying reasons” the trade was made and reiterating that he’s going to continue to be brave enough to make trades if he thinks a deal of a young star forward is going to better his organization. It may be hard to remember, but the Seguin trade wasn’t the only one Chiarelli made for the Bruins, and many of his trades and signings built the Bruins into a perennial contender.
It might’ve been more appropriate to ask Chiarelli about trading Phil Kessel for the draft picks that became Seguin and Dougie Hamilton, or trading Dennis Wideman for Nathan Horton or trading Byron Bitz for Dennis Seidenberg. But Seguin’s the sexy name everyone wants to always know about. Chiarelli probably won’t live that trade down until he wins the Stanley Cup again, and that’s what he’ll set out to do with the Oilers.
Regardless of the personnel moves Chiarelli made over his tenure in Boston, one thing was undeniable of the Bruins from Chiarelli’s second season (coach Claude Julien’s first year with the Bruins) through his next-to-last season (and even a little in his last season): the Bruins were hard to play against. The Oilers are almost guaranteed to undergo the same transformation over the next couple of years that the Bruins did when Chiarelli arrived.
“There are teams – I won’t name them but you probably know them – there are teams that aren’t necessarily hard and heavy but they strip pucks. They’re hard on battles, they win more than their fair share of battles, their 50-50 battles are won all the time,” Chiarelli said. “They’re heavy but they’re not huge. And a lot of that has to do with the philosophy of the organization and that’s part of what I hope to instill.”
Bruins president Cam Neely said he wants to bring that harder style of hockey back to the Bruins after it was missing this season. Neely, though, has a different idea of how to go about that. And now a little more than a week after Chiarelli was fired by the Bruins, he’s employed again and the race is officially on. The Bruins still have to name Chiarelli’s replacement. But that’s all part of this new competition to change the culture of two organizations. The Bruins’ selection of a new GM will be as crucial as Chiarelli’s hunt for a goaltender in Edmonton.
Future comparisons will be made between Chiarelli’s work with the Oilers and Neely’s work with the Bruins. It doesn’t matter what executive’s back he decides to put his hand up: Neely has proven that, on hockey matters, he’s the last line of decision making in Boston. Chiarelli now has that same freedom with the Oilers, as Edmonton CEO Bob Nicholson made clear Friday.
The Bruins and Oilers aren’t starting this race from the same spot. But they’re closer to each other than they were at this time last year. Some of that was Chiarelli’s doing because of the salary-cap situation he put the Bruins in. But age, injuries and the salary cap were bound to catch up to the Bruins after so many seasons of success. And the Oilers were bound to stockpile some high-end talent after all their playoff-less seasons (nine and counting). A bounce of the Ping-Pong balls landed Edmonton the No. 1 overall pick, expected to be superstar Connor McDavid, this season, and further closed the talent gap between Edmonton and Boston. Determining whether Chiarelli or Neely is starting out at the better position depends on whether you’re the type to invest in a dot com startup or an established corporation. It also matters if you’re one to bet on a top executive with a proven track record or one who’s still feeling his way in the business.
Although Chiarelli put the Bruins in a tough situation in 2014-15 with his salary-cap management and misjudgment of prospects, prior to this season his teams won one Stanley Cup, played for a second one and won the Presidents’ Trophy. The 2013-14 top-seeded Bruins were one win away from reaching the Eastern Conference finals. With a track record like that, Chiarelli might’ve deserved a chance to work his way out of his own troubles after this season’s failure to make the playoffs. But Neely won the power struggle and Chiarelli was shown the gate.
We know that Cam Neely was a Hall-of-Fame player and is a great citizen. He helped revitalize the Bruins when they were a laughingstock off the ice as well as on it. Neely made players and fans proud to wear their Bruins sweaters again and brought accountability and transparency to the organization. Instead of an unpopular owner, Neely became the face of the franchise.
Undoubtedly he had some hand in some of the moves Chiarelli and his staff made over the years, both positive and negative. Chiarelli didn’t trade Seguin without approval, just like he didn’t trade for Nathan Horton or re-sign Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask without input from those around him. We don’t really know what Neely, or his future GM, has in store for the Bruins like we know what Chiarelli will do in Edmonton. Credit and blame will go to one man in both cities from here on out.
The Bruins are Neely’s show now. The Oilers belong to Chiarelli. The starting gates just opened and the race to proving which man can win the Stanley Cup again is on.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.