By James Murphy | NHL.com Correspondent
When the Boston Bruins held their final interview with Peter Chiarelli before deciding to make the former Ottawa Assistant General Manager their new GM, Chiarelli presented them with a detailed game plan of how he would approach the 2006 off-season. According to team owner Jeremy Jacobs and his son, Executive Vice President Charlie Jacobs, this plan convinced the organization that Chiarelli was their man.
"Peter presented a very detailed plan of how he would approach things this off-season and we were impressed to the point that we knew he was the right choice," Charlie Jacobs said following the hiring of Chiarelli back in May.
Ironically though, it would be Chiarelli's future assistant general manager, Jeff Gorton, who would spearhead that plan initially and help the Bruins become a drastically improved team.
Under the terms of an agreement reached between Boston, Ottawa and the NHL, Chiarelli had to remain in his post in Ottawa until July 15. Eventually, he would be released from that obligation five days early, but until that day, it was Gorton's job to revamp the Bruins roster via the Entry Draft, unrestricted free agency, and trades.
"Jeff had a lot on his plate all of a sudden, but he handled it with ease," said Harry Sinden, who recently stepped down as president of the Bruins to take over the role of senior advisor to Jeremy Jacobs.
Sinden also pointed out that Gorton did all of this by swallowing his pride and putting the team first. Gorton after all was one of the top candidates for Bruins GM and yet despite losing out to Chiarelli, he was able to move on and get right back to work for him and the team.
"It was a difficult for him, having applied for the same job, but he took it like a trooper," Sinden said. "The job he did was extraordinary and he should be proud."
That job started with the draft, where he used the fifth-overall pick to select Phil Kessel, who many believe was the best pure talent available. He also traded goaltender Andrew Raycroft to Toronto for another goalie, Tukka Rask, who some scouts say is the best goalie not playing in the NHL. A few days after the draft, Gorton was wheeling and dealing again. This time he sent defenseman Nick Boynton to Phoenix for another defenseman, Paul Mara.
But Gorton's best work came on July 1, the first day of unrestricted free agency when, as Sinden put it, he pulled a "coup", signing the top prize of the free-agent market, defenseman Zdeno Chara
and also signing the top center in Marc Savard
within the first four hours of free agency. Gorton also was also able to add a gritty and speedy winger in Shean Donovan to give the Bruins more forward depth.
"I was very happy with what Jeff was able to do that day; he basically pulled a coup," Sinden said. "When you can go out and get the best guy on the market, an elite player like Chara and especially a top defenseman it picks up the whole team."
While Gorton was flattered by Sinden's praise, he believes he was simply doing his job and doing what needed to be done for the Bruins to be a better team.
"Obviously it means a lot to me to have a Hall of Famer say those things about me," Gorton said. "It's also been an honor to be able to work with Harry and see the way he operates. Not too many people have accomplished what he has and been such an important part of the game. So I've been very lucky to have learned from him and have that experience."
But as Gorton pointed out, he was simply doing what he was taught and what he was supposed to do as the interim GM of the Bruins at the time.
"I think when you looked at our team after last season it was pretty clear what we needed," Gorton said. "We needed a number one defenseman and we needed a center for (Glen) Murray on the second line. We set out with the goal to fill those holes and then also address any other areas we may need improvement.
We benefited from the fact we targeted someone who wanted to stay in the East with Chara. And then the sales job that was done by other people in our organization like Don Sweeney, Cam Neely and Dave Lewis, I think really helped."
While calls from Bruins alumni and their new head coach helped, Chara's agent Matt Keator still believes Gorton's professionalism and negotiating shouldn't be underscored.
"Jeff's always been a good guy," Keator said. "I've always found him good to be fair and good to deal with. A lot of negotiations depend on personalities. If a guy is arrogant, he won't do well. But Jeff has never been that way and that's why you see him doing a good job."
According to Keator, Gorton was straight forward in the Chara negotiations and made it clear that they felt his client was the man they needed.
"We gave him our figures and they told us that they were willing to do what it takes to get a guy with leadership and talent. In their eyes, 'Z' was that guy."
So after a short but successful stint as GM, could Gorton eventually become "that guy" for an NHL team? Sinden certainly thinks so.
"Look, Jeff came into this situation with some inexperience running a team but the job he did has certainly thrown his name into the spotlight and I'm sure there's a good future for him in this league," Sinden said.
As for Gorton, he is just happy to have experienced what it's like to be an NHL GM and is looking forward to working with Chiarelli.
"When you've been in the business like I have and work your way up, it's only natural to want to eventually run an organization," he admitted. "I really didn't know what to expect and though I was trying to get the job full-time myself, I did my best to do what's right for the team and I'm looking forward to doing that with Peter."