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Chiarelli fired as Bruins GM after nine seasons

by Matt Kalman

BOSTON -- The Stanley Cup Playoffs won't include the Boston Bruins for the first time in eight years, but CEO Charlie Jacobs and president Cam Neely said Wednesday the decision to fire general manager Peter Chiarelli after nine seasons was about more than the Bruins' 41-27-14 season and ninth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

"I can appreciate the fact that our fans would probably like us to get a little more specific as to why," Neely said during a press conference at TD Garden, "but we believe that we made the decision moving forward to help improve the hockey club. I don't want to take away anything that Peter accomplished here. I mean, he's going to go down in history as the GM that brought the Stanley Cup back to Boston, the first time in 39 years, so that says a lot about his abilities as a general manager.

"You know, we just felt, and it's not just this particular year not making the playoffs … we just felt moving forward was the best thing for us to do. It was not an easy decision to come to. A lot of conversations about it, but we felt it was the best thing to do moving forward."

The Bruins went 386-233-85 after Chiarelli was hired in the summer of 2006. Chiarelli's tenure included the Stanley Cup championship in 2011, a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and a Presidents' Trophy for the 2013-14 season.

Jacobs said the decision to fire Chiarelli was made Tuesday. The search for a replacement will include internal candidates. For now, assistant general managers Don Sweeney and Scott Bradley, as well as other employees in hockey operations, will report to Neely.

Claude Julien has said he wants to remain Bruins coach, according to Jacobs. For now, Julien is still in the Bruins' plans.

"We told him that we really believe that once we go through the exhaustive search to find the next general manager, that we will leave it up to that GM to decide what he wants to do with our coaching staff," Neely said. "Claude certainly understood that."

Although the Bruins won as many games as they lost, they struggled through an inconsistent season. Several players failed to produce up to expectations, and Boston finished 23rd in the NHL in goals (2.55 per game). Center Patrice Bergeron's 55 points led the Bruins.

Boston was handicapped by its proximity to the NHL salary cap from the start of the season. Because of bonuses paid to forward Jarome Iginla, who left for the Colorado Avalanche as an unrestricted free agent last summer, and a few players on entry-level deals in 2013-14, the Bruins had to deal with a cap-charge overage of $4.8 million this season.

Days before the start of the season, Boston traded defenseman Johnny Boychuk to the New York Islanders for draft picks in order to become cap compliant. Clearly, that trade didn't earn Chiarelli any points with his bosses.

"Let me answer this way: I have never interfered with our GMs' ability to make a trade. We work on a very … call it 'consultative process' in terms of how we make a decision," Jacobs said. "And fairly certain if Peter were standing up here right now and you asked him was he ever prevented from making a trade by me or Cam or anyone, I'm certain he would say 'no.'

"So we need to empower the GM to fulfill his job to the best of his abilities and not meddle in that regard. When it comes, the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and the product that he delivers on the ice and what's left. So we did spend quite a bit in terms of getting Jarome. It did put us in a tough and sticky situation come September. There were a number of options that were sort of flown by the group about how we get compliant and left the decision up to Peter and his group. And that's not to imply I'd have to vet it. I didn't. It was just, 'What you think is best.'"

Trading a top-four defenseman without a replacement on hand set the Bruins back to begin the season. Things got worse as players didn't perform and injuries hit key players like defenseman Zdeno Chara and center David Krejci. Chara missed 19 games, and Krejci 35.

The Bruins still held control of their own destiny with one week remaining in the regular season, but they didn't finish the job. Boston had its five-game winning streak end with a 3-0 road loss to the Washington Capitals on April 8. The next night, the Bruins were tied 1-1 with the Florida Panthers after two periods, but lost 4-2 and fell behind the Ottawa Senators for the second wild card into the playoffs in the East.

The Bruins lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in their regular-season finale, which was still being played when the Pittsburgh Penguins won their game to eliminate the Bruins.

Neely has a vision for the Bruins he wants to see on the ice next season.

"Well, I think maybe we got away a little bit from our identity that we had in the past," Neely said. "I don't think we were as hard a team to play against as we like to be and we were in the past. I thought that got us some success. Our transition game probably needs some improvements, getting the puck out of our end, through the neutral zone. And I think we've got to find ways to create some more offense."

Most of the Bruins' core is signed to long-term contracts, but the front office will have to make decisions on center Carl Soderberg, defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Adam McQuaid and goaltender Niklas Svedberg, who can become unrestricted free agents July 1. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton can become a restricted free agent this summer. Forward Milan Lucic is entering the final year of a multiyear contract that carries a cap charge of $6 million; he is eligible for unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2016.

Although Neely desires change, he doesn't anticipate a major overhaul coming.

"I don't think we're looking at a large or complete rebuild," Neely said. "I mean, we've got still a good core of players that have great character that to a man, most of them, admitted that they had an off year this year. I would think that that group is still good enough to help us compete for championships. You know the difficult thing is where we are up against the cap. And that's going to be something we have to manage."

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