Peter Chiarelli has established a clear team-first, winning culture with the Boston Bruins. (Steven Senne/AP)
By Allan Muir
As I was watching the Boston Bruins methodically dispose of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy for the league’s best record, a thought came to mind: This is a team that, over the past four years, has dealt away two young players who went on to become superstars with their new clubs...and the Bruins are somehow better for it.
And then a second thought: Peter Chiarelli is the most fearless, and possibly the best, general manager in hockey.
It was Chiarelli who determined that Phil Kessel, the fifth overall pick in the 2006 draft and a 36-goal scorer in just his third NHL season, didn't fit with his vision for the team. And so he dealt the 21-year-old to Toronto for a handful of magic beans, one of which he turned into Tyler Seguin.
Seguin came in and helped the Bruins win a Cup in 2011, but it wasn't long before he also proved to be an ill-fitting piece. Whether it was immaturity off the ice, his style on it or simply an exploding contract that didn't fit well under the contracting cap, he was deemed expendable and shipped to Dallas for veteran Loui Eriksson and another handful of prospects.
Both Kessel and Seguin scored a career-high 37 goals this season, tied for fifth overall in the league. Kessel stands sixth in the overall scoring race with 80 points, tops on the Leafs and an new personal best. Seguin was arguably the breakthrough player of the year, his 84 points trailing just Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf.
Both have established themselves as impact players whose absence would severely cripple their new teams...and yet the Bruins didn't simply survive their loss. They actually got better.
Focusing on the only points that matter -- the two up for grabs every night -- Chiarelli built a team that relies on depth and a shared identity rather than a predominant superstar. The wisdom of that approach is evident. That Stanley Cup in 2011. An appearance in the Final last year. And now, Boston's first Presidents’ Trophy since the 1989-1990 season. That year, the Bruins lost to Mark Messier and the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final, and there's a very good chance they'll fall short of their ultimate goal again. There are no guarantees once you get into the tournament.
But what is guaranteed is this: Thanks to the bold machinations of Chiarelli, the Bruins are as well situated as any team to capture the Cup. Not just this year, but next year and the year after and the year after that one, too.
Plenty of teams talk about establishing a new culture. That's exactly what Chiarelli did soon after being hired in 2006. He created a Culture of We. Everybody ropes, everybody rides and no one is bigger or more important than the spoked B on the front of the sweater.
And that is why the Bruins are the best team in hockey.