BOSTON -- The adoption of the salary cap in the NHL starting with the 2005-06 season was supposed to be a major obstacle for general managers looking to maintain a consistent roster from season to season.
Since the NHL put a ceiling on how much a team can spend on salaries, GMs have met the challenge with varying levels of success.
Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has been one of the best at solving any salary-cap issues and making sure year to year there isn't much turnover in the Bruins roster. That's how five of the six defensemen and 11 of the 12 forwards who played regularly and won the Stanley Cup in 2011 were part of the team playing in the 2013 Final.
Chiarelli's handling of the Bruins' salary-cap situation in his seven seasons has helped the team become a perennial winner for the first time in more than a decade. For his efforts with the cap and in other areas, the organization rewarded Chiarelli on Thursday with a four-year contract extension that will begin with the 2014-15 season.
During a press conference Friday to announce his new deal, Chiarelli talked about the philosophy he put together from his days as an assistant general manager with the Ottawa Senators and has only tweaked during his time in Boston.
"It's evolved; it hasn't changed drastically," he said. "Where I was before here, we had an internal cap, so to speak, so you had to be a little proactive on player turnover. But here we've been given the resources to push the cap, which will ultimately give you your best team. But there are challenges that come with that because you're at the cap. But the ownership has given us those resources so we're able to be aggressive and proactive. At the same time, we have to think on our feet because although it seems slow, the cap changes quickly in this business. So it's evolved, and I think you just look to trends and you see what other teams are doing. But really the general approach hasn't changed."
The basic philosophy for Chiarelli and his staff is that after players who fit the mold the team wants are identified and acquired, they are kept in the organization within the Bruins' means. Over the course of Chiarelli's reign, the Bruins have been out front on new contracts for star players Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Tim Thomas and since-traded Tyler Seguin. Role players also have been rewarded for their efforts with contract security and ice time. Boston has become a destination organization again.
This summer, Chiarelli made sure Bergeron and goaltender Tuukka Rask continued to be cornerstones of the franchise. Bergeron was signed to an eight-year, $52 million extension one year from free agency, and Rask signed an eight-year, $56 million contract as a restricted free agent.
Though there are a lot of factors that go into deals that rich and long, ownership's confidence in Chiarelli's decision-making has to be sky-high for those types of contracts to be offered.
"You certainly have to have a lot of trust and confidence in management, not just the GM, but all of management," Bruins principal Charlie Jacobs said. "And we had some discussions in particular this summer regarding the contracts we signed Patrice and Tuukka to. We committed over $100 million in a matter of about a week just this summer to two players. So I think that speaks volumes about the amount of trust we place in not only Peter but in his hockey operations department and their projections about how their player personnel will deliver for us in the future. That stability is key. You have to have that core."
From 1972 through 2006, the Bruins had two general managers: Harry Sinden until 2000 and Mike O'Connell thereafter. When the Bruins went outside the organization for a GM for the first time in Jeremy Jacobs' ownership of the team (O'Connell had played for the Bruins and served as Sinden's assistant for several seasons), the desire was to bring someone in who could duplicate Sinden's longevity but in a completely different era in professional sports.
Though Chiarelli's first season didn’t foreshadow a lengthy run with the team -- the Bruins missed the playoffs and coach Dave Lewis, Chiarelli's first hire, was fired after one season -- the organization maintained its faith. Starting with the hiring of Claude Julien as coach, Chiarelli began to carve the path that ultimately would result in the 2011 Stanley Cup, the franchise's first since 1972.
Chiarelli said Friday that Julien's hiring is the best move he's made so far.
"I've got to say that probably the single biggest thing was hiring Claude," Chiarelli said. "And he came off of being fired twice and there were a lot of questions about him. So I knew he'd be receptive to things. And obviously I knew what he was like, so he'd be receptive to things so he could evolve with the rest of us."
Chiarelli has stuck with Julien through the ups and downs. The triumph of 2011 was preceded by the historic collapse in the second round of the playoffs in 2010, when the Bruins became the third team in NHL history lose a series it led 3-0, eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers. Then the Bruins followed their Cup title with a first-round playoff loss. Last season they returned to the Stanley Cup Final, but lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Chiarelli and Julien have kept their message to players at every level of the organization consistent and let everyone know where they stand.
"We all have the same expectations," Bruins president Cam Neely said. "The great thing that as a coach that Claude has is there's no gray area. And there's really no gray area with Pete as well. So as a player you kind of know where you stand, and I think that's important to get the most out of the players."
The challenges of keeping the team together are fluid. The Bruins traded Seguin and Rich Peverley, and lost Nathan Horton and Andrew Ference to free agency this summer. Veterans Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson have been added to the mix, but there figures to be a lot of youth competing for jobs and filling lineup spots this season and in the near future.
That's the next phase of Chiarelli's plan to conquer the cap. He's going to make sure his high-priced core has sufficient support from talented young players, but also less-expensive players. The Bruins have used several draft picks over the years in trades, but replenished their farm system by supplementing their drafts with free-agent signings, including defenseman Torey Krug and last season's American Hockey League goaltender of the year Niklas Svedberg.
"We're going to see an influx of young players this year," Chiarelli said. "They're going to get a chance. Not just the ones we've seen the last year, but the other guys are going to get a chance. We're going to make room, because to make the commitments that we did to our core, although the cap is going up, you have to have flexibility. You have to have the other players coming. So that's an area I’d like to improve on."
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