In the aftermath of the Boston Bruins firing Peter Chiarelli as general manager, and his subsequent hiring last week by the Edmonton Oilers, the overall assessment of his resume indicates a well-respected hockey man who knows how to build a championship club.
Chiarelli’s critics, however, believe his record with the Bruins (which includes two Stanley Cup Finals, one championship and a President’s Trophy) isn’t as impressive as it seems. Among their harsh assessments (which includes pointing out some bad trades and expensive signings), they claim Chiarelli was merely the beneficiary of a solid foundation of young talent left by his predecessors. Apart from netting two first-round picks in the Phil Kessel trade in 2009, they point out the Bruins’ draft record under Chiarelli wasn’t that good.
Much of the criticism is merely revisionist history. While Chiarelli did stretch the Bruins’ cap limit re-signing key players, that’s the price of maintaining a perennial Stanley Cup contender in the salary-cap age. While the Bruins were limited in cap space both this season and next, Chiarelli still left them a core of talent around which a worthwhile successor can rebuild. As for his trades, while he deserves criticism over the Tyler Seguin and Johnny Boychuk deals, his overall trade record was very good. In fact, it was a significant factor in building the Bruins into a Cup champion.
The critique about his draft record in Boston, however, has more substance. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand were all drafted before Chiarelli officially took over as Bruins GM. Ditto the acquisition of goaltender Tuukka Rask from Toronto. Apart from the obvious success of landing Seguin and Dougie Hamilton with the two first-rounders the Bruins received from Toronto in the Kessel trade, winger David Pastrnak appears the only pick by Chiarelli as Bruins GM who could blossom into a star.
So yes, Chiarelli inherited a solid foundation upon which to rebuild the Bruins in the summer of 2006. Citing that, however, as a reason to belittle his achievements as their general manager is ridiculous.
There’s a perception among some hockey followers that a general manager taking over a team with a good foundation and building it into a Cup champion is a lesser accomplishment compared to someone who built a champion roster from the ground up.
Over the past twenty years, however, few general managers have taken a team from virtually nothing and turned it into a champion. Jim Rutherford was the last to accomplish that feat, building the Carolina Hurricanes into a Stanley Cup winner in 2006. New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello, architect of the Devils’ powerhouses of the 1990s and early 2000s, was the last to build and maintain a perennial Cup contender.
While it’s unquestionably impressive when a general manager can build a team seemingly from scratch into a champion, it’s no less of an achievement when a GM builds upon a solid foundation of good young talent and turns a team into a perennial championship contender.
The Los Angeles Kings won two Stanley Cups in three years under GM Dean Lombardi, whose predecessor drafted core players Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown. Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman saw his club win two championships during his tenure, yet all-stars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford were already on the roster when he took over in 2009.
Same goes for the general managers of other Stanley Cup champions over the last twenty years.
Ray Shero was GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2006 to 2014, joining a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury already in the lineup. In 1997, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland took over a franchise stocked with Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov.
Brian Burke became Anaheim Ducks GM in 2005 with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry just starting their NHL careers. When Jay Feaster took over as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2002, franchise players Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards were already in the lineup.
Pierre Lacroix took over the Quebec Nordiques (soon to be Colorado Avalanche) in 1994, which already had Joe Sakic, Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan, Peter Forsberg and Milan Hejduk on the roster or in their system. Bob Gainey became GM of the Dallas Stars in 1992, with Mike Modano, Derian Hatcher and Jere Lehtinen already on the roster or in their system.
Nobody knew for sure how good Bergeron, Lucic, Marchand, Rask and Krejci would become when Chiarelli took over as Bruins GM. It’s not like they were already established stars when he got the job. Even if they were, Chiarelli’s task of building around them was no easier.
Chiarelli did a fine job building upon a promising foundation. He was instrumental in bringing Zdeno Chara to the Bruins as a free agent. He acquired Mark Recchi, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Nathan Horton, Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. All played significant roles in the Bruins 2011 championship season. All but Recchi were part of their 2013 run to the Cup Final.
Suggesting Chiarelli won’t have the same measure of success in Edmonton is a reasonable assumption. He has numerous roster issues to address with the Oilers, who were poorly managed by his predecessors for nearly a decade. But let’s not dismiss what he did with the Bruins as though he got lucky because some promising youngsters were already in the system or on the roster when he got there.
In Edmonton, he’s got three established young stars in Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, two promising youngsters in winger Nail Yakupov and defenseman Justin Schultz, plus several kids with potential in Darnell Nurse, Leon Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom. And he’s got the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, which will be used to draft wunderkind center Connor McDavid.
Chiarelli’s predecessors brought that young talent to the Oilers, but they obviously didn’t have a clue how to build around them. If they did, the Oilers would be in the playoffs this spring and Chiarelli would still be looking for work.
The Oilers still lack quality goaltending, proven top-two defensemen and skilled depth through their checking lines. They also need a head coach capable of tapping into the full potential of those young players, and a scouting department capable of drafting well beyond the first round. The Oilers are nine years out of the playoffs and it will still take time to turn this long-moribund franchise around.
How Chiarelli builds upon that foundation he’s inherited in Edmonton is what matters. Considering his accomplishments with the Bruins, he’s got a pretty good chance of turning the sad-sack Oilers into at least a perennial playoff contender.