The Boston Bruins did not build a Stanley Cup contender with what has essentially become the standard model over the past decade.
Unlike the Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings (and what teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames hope to become), the Bruins did not procure a core of top-10 draft picks as a result of finishing at or near the bottom of the NHL standings. The Bruins did finish poorly enough to pick in the top 10 on merit twice in the past decade, and one of those selections (Phil Kessel) led to two more top-10 picks in a rather famous trade.
Instead, the Bruins have built one of the NHL's best rosters in a variety of ways. The two previous administrations before Peter Chiarelli arrived did an incredible job of landing premium talent beyond the first round in the draft.
The 2006 NHL Draft, which occurred during a unique period for the Bruins because Chiarelli had been hired as the new general manager but wasn't allowed to officially leave the Ottawa Senators for the position, produced Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand as second- and third-round picks. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron were second-round selections before Chiarelli arrived.
Boston also proved adept in the free-agent market, with high-profile signings (Zdeno Chara) and under-the-radar moves (Tim Thomas). Jeff Gorton, who served as GM during the interim before Chiarelli arrived, pulled off one of the best trades of the decade when he shipped goalie Andrew Raycroft to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a prospect named Tuukka Rask.
Chiarelli, like Ray Shero in Pittsburgh and Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles, made the necessary moves to flesh out a championship-worthy roster. He traded for Nathan Horton, Dennis Seidenberg, Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly. The Kessel trade landed Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Jared Knight, and trading Seguin (along with Peverley) has added Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and Joseph Morrow.
There were more defections this offseason than there had been in the previous two, but the core of the 2011 championship team remains, and the Bruins are expected to contend for the Cup again in 2013-14. Boston was two wins shy of a second title in three seasons, and the way the 2013 Stanley Cup Final ended figures to still be fresh in the players' minds when training camp begins next month.
"The ending wasn't fun, and I still don't feel good about it," Chiarelli said on the Bruins' breakdown day. "None of us feel good about it, but my job as a manager is to look at this season and this group from 30,000 feet and to evaluate and to make decisions going forward, and at the end of the day I can tell you that I really liked what I saw. I liked the gumption. I liked what [coach] Claude [Julien] and his staff did with groups that were mixed and matched at times. I liked the performances by [Rask], [Krejci], everybody; Lucic, [Chara], all the guys.
"So I'm feeling a little better now than this morning, than yesterday, and when I get back to my perch of 30,000 feet, I'll feel even better."
Chiarelli had more work to do this offseason, but the changes made have ensured another season of high expectations in Boston. The Bruins lost both of their top two right wings from the postseason lineup, Horton and Jaromir Jagr, to free agency.
To replace them, Chiarelli landed Eriksson in one of the biggest trades of the summer and signed free agent Jarome Iginla. Seguin was on the team's third line for much of the postseason, so losing him and Peverley creates a couple of holes to fill. There are several candidates to replace them, including players Chiarelli's staff drafted (Jared Knight, Ryan Spooner, Jordan Caron) and ones they traded for (Smith and Fraser). Carl Soderberg, who was acquired by a previous administration but was finally convinced to cross the Atlantic Ocean by Chiarelli's group, is a favorite for one of those spots.
The other big moves the Bruins made this offseason were all about keeping the franchise as a Cup contender for years to come. Rask produced a season that had him in the Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy conversations, and he earned an eight-year, $56 million contract. Bergeron also signed a long-term extension (eight years, $52 million).
BRUINS' OFFSEASON OUTLOOK
Additions: RW Loui Eriksson, RW Jarome Iginla, RW Reilly Smith, RW Matt Fraser, G Chad Johnson, RW Nick Johnson
Subtractions: RW Tyler Seguin, RW Nathan Horton, RW Jaromir Jagr, D Andrew Ference, G Anton Khudobin, RW Jamie Tardiff
UFAs: LW Jay Pandolfo, LW Kaspars Daugavins, D Wade Redden
Promotion candidates: G Niklas Svedberg, C Jared Knight, C Ryan Spooner, D Joseph Morrow
"That core is so important to a team," Julien said. "A lot of teams make changes along the way, so that's part of the business. You have to be ready for that. But any time you're able to keep that core group of guys together that you feel confident will give you a competitive team every year, it's a bonus."
Adding Chara changed the franchise, and the defenseman is one of the most indispensable players in the League. He, Rask and Bergeron can be the backbone of the Bruins for several more runs at the Stanley Cup. Bergeron in many ways exemplifies everything Julien wants his Bruins to represent.
A Selke Trophy winner and likely annual contender for the award, Bergeron has become one of the top players in the League. He plays excellent defense and drives possession on offense. He would be an easy choice as captain if the Bruins didn't have a Cup-winning one already, Chara.
The ultimate example of Bergeron's value could come in February at the Winter Olympics. Canada likely will bring a roster loaded with natural centers -- No. 1, franchise-type centers -- to Sochi, Russia. Bergeron has a chance to be one of the few who actually get to stay in the middle.
"The mentality in the organization is team first, and to me it means a lot," Bergeron said after agreeing to his extension. "That's the only way you can win. To me it exemplifies exactly the values that I have. … Over the past five years we have a great core of players that are working toward that same goal. It makes it fun to come to the rink every day for practice and games. I want to keep doing that and keep playing hockey in Boston."
There are a couple of new faces to work in, and one of the young defensemen Chiarelli has stockpiled needs to replace Andrew Ference in the top four. Rask needs to prove he can repeat 2012-13.
The Senators are trending upward, and the new kids on the block, the Detroit Red Wings, also look formidable, but the Bruins will enter the 2013-14 as not only a favorite to win the Atlantic Division but also to return to the Cup Final for the third time in four seasons.
"Obviously we've shown that we're still a championship-caliber team, and we're a team that plays with a lot of pride, and we can win," Lucic said.
That level of expectations, more than anything, is what the work of Chiarelli and Julien has fostered in Boston.