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GM Chiarelli's No. 1 focus is transition game

by James Murphy
Since coming aboard as the Boston Bruins' general manager in 2006, Peter Chiarelli has stressed the importance of having a well-balanced defense that can be both physical and offense-minded.

When the Bruins lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring, Chiarelli acknowledged that he would have liked to have seen how the series might have turned out if defensemen Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick hadn't been sidelined with injuries. Both were key cogs in a defense that Chiarelli has been trying to mold into one of the best at outlet passes and the transition game.

"I'm not saying it's the reason we lost the series, but we definitely missed them out there and it would be interesting to see how things could've turned out with them in the lineup," Chiarelli said at the time. "We need to factor in that these guys were out and what they do bring to our overall game and the power play before rushing to judgment on what we need to do in the offseason. Are there improvements to be made? There always are, but we need to factor these injuries in and figure out what those improvements are over time."

Chiarelli's first move this summer was to sign Johnny Boychuck, who earned top defenseman honors in the AHL, to a one-year, one-way deal. He then avoided arbitration with Hunwick, signing him to a two-year extension last month.

"Matt, I thought, had a very courageous year and a good year," Chiarelli said. "He proved himself to be an NHL player. He certainly performed well when he had the chance. His style of play, his grittiness, his compete level and his offensive game certainly allowed him to fit in well into our mix."

While retaining Hunwick was not much of a shock, Chiarelli did surprise with his next two moves.

With leading goal-scorer and restricted free agent Phil Kessel still unsigned, many expected that to be Chiarelli's next priority. But he stayed with the defense, trading Aaron Ward to Carolina for Patrick Eaves and a fourth-round draft pick. The Bruins then bought out Eaves, freeing up money to add unrestricted free-agent defenseman Derek Morris.

"We are very excited to have him on board," Chiarelli said of Morris, who spent most of last season with Phoenix before being traded to the New York Rangers at the deadline. "He's a right-shot defenseman who has considerable offensive skill. He can play both sides. He has a very thick, strong body and a very competitive edge. He can move a puck. He can find a seam. We feel he's an upgrade to our defense."

Both Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien have stressed the importance of a quick-transition game, mobility and the importance of that first pass from the defense. With the addition of Morris, Chiarelli believes he has completed his plan of having such a blue line. Despite losing some physical presence with the trade of Ward and earlier free-agent departure of Shane Hnidy, Chiarelli thinks Morris can bring the right combination of skill and size and maybe even pair with captain Zdeno Chara on the club's top defensive pairing.

"I'm not saying it's the reason we lost the series, but we definitely missed them out there and it would be interesting to see how things could've turned out with them in the lineup."
-- Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli

"We feel we've added a No. 2 defenseman to our mix," Chiarelli said. "We feel we've upgraded. He's a guy who brings more skill to our lineup. He can retrieve pucks, he can get to pucks, and he can compete. I really like the makeup of our defense now.

Ward was popular in the dressing room and a leader, but the Bruins are confident they have enough chemistry and leaders on the roster and are also looking for younger players to make the leap in those departments.

"Well it's always sad to lose old players that you enjoy playing with ... [but] it's unfortunate in hockey that it's a business and you can't keep a team together forever," goalie Tim Thomas said. "But we got some good new guys. A guy that has earned his shot in Johnny Boychuk, and I don't know much about Derek Morris, but from what I'm told and have seen he will be a great addition.

"We still have a lot of veteran leadership still in this dressing room, and there's a good core of young guys that can step up. We should be good chemistry-wise."

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