Bruins right to fire GM Peter Chiarelli, but topflight replacement is crucial
You know what they say. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
So you can bet that Peter Chiarelli, fired this morning after nine seasons as general manager of the Bruins, won’t be out on the curb for long. In fact, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s introduced as the new GM of the Maple Leafs before the week is out.
But even if he doesn’t land in Toronto, or in Ottawa, where he got his start, he won’t be out of work for long. Chiarelli built a nice legacy for himself in Boston. His teams went a combined 386-233-85 and qualified for the playoffs seven straight years from 2008 through ’14. He built the teams that had the third- and fourth-best regular-season records in franchise history. He won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2014, and the Stanley Cup three years before that.
Those accomplishments would constitute a nice career for most general managers. Chiarelli, at 50, is just getting started.
But none of that means the Bruins made a mistake letting him go. This, despite appearances, wasn’t about firing a man on the basis of one failed season. It was about the belief that he was the wrong man to bring Boston back. And his bosses had plenty of ammo to make that case.
For all his early success, Chiarelli’s last years with the Bruins were marred by trade disasters, misplaced loyalties and salary cap mismanagement.
To be fair, Boston would not have won the Cup if he hadn’t made the deals that brought Dennis Seidenberg, Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell to town. Even the much-maligned swap for Tomas Kaberle was easy to justify in the wake of a championship.
Chiarelli deserves full marks for those—but they aren’t the trades for which he’ll be remembered.
The way he sent Tyler Seguin packing in July 2013 after three seasons will go down as one of the great blunders in franchise history. Reasonable off-ice concerns aside, Chiarelli was forced into making the deal with the Stars primarily because there was no cap-room for the six-year, $34.5 million extension he had given Seguin less than a year before. That—more than the disappointing assets (Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser) he received in return for a player who is now established as one of the league’s best, or his decision to prioritize David Krejci over Seguin—was his inexcusable error.
It was a similar salary cap miscalculation that led Chiarelli to send heart-and-soul defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders last year on the eve of the regular season. It had been clear for months before the deal that cap constraints created by the "creativity" of the Jarome Iginla contract were going to cost the Bruins a valuable asset. That it nevertheless came down to a trade at the last possible minute, and that it also ended up being for the player that the team could least afford to lose, exemplifies the worst kind of dithering and indecisiveness.
Of course, his cap woes were a problem of Chiarelli’s own making. He seemed indifferent to the ramifications of rewarding members of the 2011 Cup winners. Signing Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to long-term deals and a no-movement clauses was one thing. But handing similar benefits and generous commitments to supporting players such as Seidenberg, Chris Kelly and Milan Lucic stripped Chiarelli of any flexibility he might otherwise have had and forced him into making decisions that crippled the team in both the short- and long-terms. He lacked the bloodless objectivity to understand how small the core of a club truly is.
But the inability to identify and develop young talent was really Chiarelli’s downfall. Take a look at the team’s roster for that season-ending loss in Tampa. Just three players selected under his watch—Ryan Spooner, Zach Trotman and David Pastrnak—were in action that afternoon, none of them in a particularly significant role. A fourth, Dougie Hamilton, was injured, opening a space for Trotman.
Chiarelli’s draft history is littered with first-round duds like Zach Hamill, Joe Colborne and Jordan Caron, and marred by the failure to mine the diamonds in the rough that define a successful scouting program and allow a team to fill depth roles with young, affordable talent. Bruins president Cam Neely admitted as much in this afternoon's press conference, referencing "the three or four dead years" that should have helped backfill the organization.
At the end of it all, Chiarelli had assembled a team that was old and slow, lacking both skill and grit. It was a team without an identity. And that right there was reason enough to move in another direction.
Now the pressure falls on Neely to find someone whose thinking more closely aligns with his own. That may be Don Sweeney, his former teammate and Boston’s current assistant general manager. Or the hire could come from outside the organization. Pat Verbeek or Julien Brisebois from the Lightning and Paul Fenton from the Predators deserve consideration.
Whatever the call, it’s clear the B’s needed a change. They got the first step right. Now let's see what they do with the next one.