After 57 games, Boston sits first in the Atlantic Division with 78 points and a 37-16-4 record.
"I think our team has been, as always, our structure has been good. I think we have improved our ability to score," said Chiarelli, before the Bruins capped off their push to the Olympic Break with a 7-2 performance over Ottawa on February 8.
"I think our depth has been outstanding - through the forwards that we brought up and now you see the D in there."
The Bruins will finish out their regular season with 25 games in a month and a half that includes eight back-to-backs. Knowing it would be a tough, compressed schedule ahead, they put themselves in a solid position before the break.
"There are not many games left, so you just want to think about continuing good habits, continuing structure."
Chiarelli has been impressed with the consistency, but he's always, by nature, looking for a way to improve the club.
"I’ve been on the record as saying I’m looking for some depth and I am looking for some depth defensively, not so much offensively, but defensively," said Chiarelli.
"Having said that, I think our group's been pretty good depth-wise. There is not much of a market right now but I like the personality of our team so if we don’t end up doing anything, then we don’t end up doing anything and I’m okay."
"But I’d like to add some depth at some point defensively."
Building Out Back End
While the Bruins will have Zdeno Chara back in the lineup after the break, and feel confident they'll have Adam McQuaid when the schedule starts back up, they'll be without Dennis Seidenberg for the long-haul.
The playoff warrior brings a level of grit, experience and veteran shutdown presence to the Bruins' back end that is unmatched, and with his season-ending MCL/ACL tear, there's no replacing him.
So, for Chiarelli, the objective isn't to "replace," but to add.
"I want a little more defending and if a guy can play both sides, that would be great. We’re not going to replace Seids; I want the ability to defend, I want a little bit of heaviness," he said.
"There are not really not that many players available so beggars can’t be choosers really at this point," he added, expecting a "tough market" as the trade deadline approaches on March 5.
Right now, with the Olympic Break, the NHL is amidst a "trade freeze" until 11:59 p.m. ET on February 23.
"It is going to be tough to get players," said Chiarelli. "It is even closer this year and the lowering of the cap has done that. The lowering of the cap also, so it’s close, way more teams are at the cap so they’re not willing to give up roster players. I’m in that position. I don’t want to give up any roster players so I don’t see it changing."
"Therefore, what is going to be the result is high, high prices."
What makes it easier for Chiarelli, if no deal commences, is the fact that a younger, less experienced 'D' corps has gained considerable playing time, and accelerated roles.
That includes Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller and even David Warsofsky, who showed in his past two games with the club during Chara's absence that he, too, has added to the Bruins' depth on the blueline. On the right side, a player like Zach Trotman can easily fill in.
"With each passing game, I see our D maturing, I see them making less mistakes. I mean, it makes it a little easier on me," said Chiarelli. "But I always feel that we need eight good NHL defenders going in to the playoffs."
"While I’m certainly not going to replace Seidenberg - he’s too good and those players aren’t available - you’d like to think that there is a player with a little bit of Seids' defending that we could find and help us."
"But this year’s been a story about our depth and I’ve been happy with it."
Bartkowski's game has grown ever since the team had to adjust without Seidenberg anchoring the left side.
"He’s learning. He’s learning better how to defend, he’s getting a little more minutes. He’s still making mistakes but the rest of them are, too," acknowledged Chiarelli, of the entire defense corps. "I’ve been looking closely at his defending; he certainly can wheel the puck out well and turn the net well but he’s maturing as a defender. That’s what we’re looking for: better defenders."
Continuing on the defensive-minded theme, the Bruins' GM stressed that it's a bit of supply and demand in that area around the deadline.
"The names that I am thinking about and talking about, maybe two or three of them can play in the top four and the rest of them would maybe shuttle in and out and play down a little bit," he said.
"Usually when I’m trying to add something on a temporary basis, on a rental basis, I’d like that player to have some experience. So that usually translates into being a veteran."
"Playoff experience would be good too so that’s something I look for, I don’t know if I’m going to get it if we add somebody, but that’s what I look for, I think it’s important. And it’s not so much for leadership; I feel our group has strong leadership. It’s more for just having been in the battles and having that composure because that is what you need to win, is composure and compete by the composure also."
Julien Comfortable, No Matter the Outcome
Regardless of what happens, though, Head Coach Claude Julien's emphasis is on the group he has come March 5, even if it remains the same.
"Every year I’ve told Peter, whatever I end up with, I’m going to go with," said the Bruins' bench boss. "That, to me, has always been the job of the coach. My job as a coach is whatever they give me, I've got to get the most out of those guys and that’s my job."
"You’re never going to hear me complain to the GM that we’re missing this, we’re missing that, we’re not good enough. They’re a pretty smart group up there. They can see if we’re missing something. They’ve always done their best to bring us the players that we needed."
At last season's deadline, Boston ended up acquiring Jaromir Jagr and defenseman Wade Redden for depth. They also added Kaspars Daugavins (claimed via waivers), along with Carl Soderberg, but the B's forward corps is in a much different place now than it was a year ago.
Up front, the Bruins have remained consistent. They were ravaged by injuries and players out of the lineup in December, but worked their way through it, and have been rolling all lines throughout their 8-1-2 record in their past 11 games.
"Generally I think the four lines have been performing. You can never have four lines at once performing at the top of their level, but I have been happy with their level of performance," said Chiarelli, who has been pleased by his summer acquisitions.
"That's what expected of me. You, know Iggy, high character, so you know you're going to get a good effort," he said.
"Loui is still a work in progress but I’ve seen parts of his game that I’m going to expect at some point that I have seen before. He’s got to work his way through it, but he is a very good two-way player and I’m happy with him."
"Reilly, of course, has been good. So yeah it’s good. That’s what I’m expected to do and it helps bringing these players into a successful team and structure. It’s easier to do that provided they buy in - and these guys have bought in."
Julien was impressed by his team's focus before the break, even if it was something expected, given the experience of the group. Their 7-2 win over the Senators came without their Captain, and with five of six blueliners combining for less than 250 NHL games.
It spoke to the leadership and attitude of the those in the Spoked-B.
"The proof is there. In the last three years we’ve been able to go far," said Julien. "If nothing gets done, when you look at the team that played tonight [against Ottawa] without some key components as well, I think I’m pretty comfortable."