Peter Chiarelli has not had much down time. On April 25, the Bruins general manager saw his team’s season end. Four days later, following exit interviews and postmortems, Chiarelli departed for Helsinki as part of Team Canada’s management group for the World Championships.
Chiarelli returned to Boston May 18 to kick off the next segment of his calendar: negotiating with unrestricted free agents-to-be, preparing for the NHL combine, and setting up for next month’s draft.
“I’ve been gone for three weeks, and not much has happened here,’’ said Chiarelli. “Guess it’s motivation to play longer next year.’’
Chiarelli and Toronto’s Dave Nonis served as assistants to Edmonton’s Kevin Lowe for the tournament. They were at the helm of a Canadian club that lost to Zdeno Chara and Slovakia in the quarterfinals, 4-3.
Canada is expected to return with medals from every international tournament. But while the team he helped assemble fell short of its goal, Chiarelli voiced his pleasure with being asked to perform his tasks for Hockey Canada.
As part of the management group, Chiarelli spent time discussing all things hockey with Nonis, Lowe, and the other executives who participated in the championships. Other heavyweights in attendance included the Olympic leadership group: Steve Yzerman (Tampa Bay), Ken Holland (Detroit), and Doug Armstrong (St. Louis).
With that much hockey intelligence gathered in one location, Chiarelli described the experience as a three-week seminar. Even NHL GMs have things to learn.
“Nothing really specific,’’ Chiarelli said. “But it’s the ways other managers approach their teams. How they build their teams. The way other coaches do their drills and incorporate their game plans. It was refreshing to get outside of the NHL box, talk with these guys, and share ideas with these guys in a less-stressful environment.’’
Outside of the Bruins bubble, Chiarelli also had more space to reflect on the season that came to a close just over a month ago.
Chiarelli repeated his praise for the Capitals. But as much as Washington deserved to win the first-round series, the Bruins weren’t that far off. Conversations with his colleagues confirmed Chiarelli’s belief.
The Bruins missed Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid. Patrice Bergeron suffered a strained oblique muscle in Game 5. Their power play couldn’t convert.
But most of all, the Bruins could never overcome the strain - mostly mental, partly physical - of playing until June 15 of the previous season. By the end, only trickles of gas remained in their tank.
“At our exit meetings, almost to a man, they said it felt like one long season instead of two years,’’ Chiarelli said. “I didn’t ask that question. But it came up in various forms.
“It’s easy to latch on to all these excuses. But I believe them. There’s no question, looking at these guys when they came through the exit meetings - their bodies, minds - that there was not much left.
“That’s why it will be a good rest and restoration period this summer. There will be rejuvenation.’’
A longer offseason won’t be the only salve as the Bruins regroup. Last summer, they had the majority of their Cup-winning roster returning. Chiarelli did only minor tweaking.
This offseason, the Bruins have more on their to-do list. Their pending UFAs are Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille, Brian Rolston, Joe Corvo, Greg Zanon, and Mike Mottau.
Kelly is the priority. The ex-Senator plays a critical third-line role. He is an alternate captain. Kelly hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his career. The organization does not have an in-house replacement. If the sides can’t agree to an extension by July 1, Kelly will have multiple suitors on the open market.
By extending Kelly at a premium over his $2.125 million annual cap hit, the Bruins might not have enough cash to bring back Paille and Campbell.
Under normal conditions, the cap would rise this summer. But under a new collective bargaining agreement, the ceiling could come down. The Bruins, like every other team, have been instructed by commissioner Gary Bettman to conduct business in a cautiously optimistic fashion.
Unlike in Kelly’s case, the Bruins would have internal candidates to fill voids left by Paille and Campbell. Lane MacDermid looked comfortable and dependable - even taking on the hulking Michael Rupp in his NHL debut - in his fourth-line audition. He could assume some of Shawn Thornton’s bouts.
Craig Cunningham, a former junior teammate of Milan Lucic, earned the trust of Providence coach Bruce Cassidy as a first-year pro. Cunningham had 20 goals and 16 assists in 76 games, and showed some grinding elements of ex-Bruin Chuck Kobasew in his game.
Cunningham played mostly on the wing, but he can skate in the middle. The Bruins will monitor him closely during training camp.
On defense, it’s doubtful that Corvo, Zanon, or Mottau will return. The Bruins have a spot waiting for Dougie Hamilton, their 2011 first-round pick. Hamilton’s Niagara club fell to London (and fellow Boston prospect Jared Knight) in the OHL championship.
“All the reports are good,’’ Chiarelli said of the defenseman. “Based on last year’s camp with us, this year, world juniors, he’s very much in the mix.’’
Despite Chiarelli’s end-of-year declaration that he was not inclined to trade Tim Thomas, the goaltending situation remains unclear. If the Bruins deem cap space a priority, they can clear Thomas’s $5 million annual cap hit as of July 1 when his no-movement clause expires. They must also re-sign Tuukka Rask, who will reach restricted status on the same day.
The status quo may just be the wise move. Goaltending remains the Bruins’ position of strength. In the playoffs, a hot goaltender is the ultimate difference-maker. The upcoming season could be the Bruins’ final push with their Big Three of Thomas, Chara, and Bergeron.
“I feel we’re close,’’ Chiarelli said. “I don’t plan any major reformatting of our team. If there’s a certain type of player available, we’ll look hard at getting them. But I still really like our group.’’
SEEING IT COMING
Kreider had the right tools
As a squirt, Chris Kreider was a natural hockey player. The Boxford native was a big boy. He had breakaway speed.
But the quality that made Ken Cleary take notice of the future NHLer was Kreider’s hockey sense.
“He was a very cerebral kid,’’ said Cleary, Kreider’s coach from the Junior Valley Warriors program. “When we were doing our locker room prep, I’d have an expression that ‘the lights were always on.’ He was listening. He wanted to know what was going on. He looked at the game that way.
“I’d tell him, ‘You’ve got to see the ice.’ After the game, he’d say, ‘Did I see the ice this game?’ He’d check in what he was supposed to do. He was always good that way.’’
The former Phillips Andover Academy standout has had an amazing year. As a college junior, Kreider won the NCAA championship with Boston College. He had barely finished celebrating that title in Tampa when he signed a three-year, $2.4 million contract with the Rangers, who had selected the winger with the 19th overall pick of the 2009 draft.
With as much grace as he shows in his effortless stride, Kreider transitioned to big-boy hockey.
In 18 playoff games, the 21-year-old had five goals and two assists. Kreider’s youth hockey coach has enjoyed every one of his ex-pupil’s shifts.
“He’s not reliant on his pure speed anymore,’’ Cleary said. “He’s smart with the puck and unselfish with the puck. He’s never been a real selfish player at all. It looks like he’s brought his game up to a smarter level.’’
Even before Kreider scored 15 goals as a BC freshman, scouts projected him to be an impact NHLer. The go-to piece in Kreider’s toolbox has always been his speed.
As a pro, Kreider has complemented his wheels with off-the-chart poise that belies his age. For seven years, Cleary saw the professional approach that Kreider has shown his new employer.
“It’s a fulfilling feeling,’’ said Cleary, who also coached former Boston University captain John McCarthy. “I’ve had a ton of kids go off to college and do stuff. But what’s really satisfying and fulfilling is the way he’s done it and how he’s gone about it.
“It’s a testament to his family and himself. Coaching those types of kids, that’s what makes it fulfilling. He put school first and was always understanding of his team. That shows me that the good guys do make it once in a while. He’s a good kid.’’
Stay-in-school success story
Mark Fayne, currently in his second NHL season with the Devils, can be considered an oxymoron: a four-year college hockey player. Today’s best collegians are on campus for a year or two. Then they trade in the books for a pro contract or a roster spot on a major junior team. Fayne, who was raised in Sagamore Beach and was a standout at Nobles, went to Providence College after also being recruited by Boston College and Boston University. Former PC coach Tim Army won the recruiting war for the defenseman’s services. The Friars didn’t have much success during Fayne’s stay, but according to agent Peter Fish, Fayne regularly logged close to 30 minutes of action per game. “Had he gone to BU or BC, he might not have had the ice time that he did at Providence,’’ Fish said. “He went to Providence and played in every situation. At the end of the game, goal up or goal down, he was on the ice. I think he matured so much being able to play those minutes.’’ As a first-year pro, Fayne played in only 19 AHL games before being promoted to the varsity. During the playoffs, Fayne was most recently paired with Andy Greene, another four-year collegian (Miami). Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, an ex-Friar and former Providence coach, has regularly leaned on unheralded college defensemen to man the New Jersey blue line. Others include Mike Mottau and Peter Harrold. That Lamoriello might just know what he’s doing.
Captain passed the torch
It’s impossible to watch Ryan Callahan play and not think of the man he replaced as Rangers captain. Callahan grinds with a similar pace and passion as Chris Drury, who retired last August. Drury faded toward the end, mostly because of a balky knee, but his professional approach and work ethic left their mark on Broadway. As GM of the 2010 US Olympic team, Brian Burke delivered the best line about the former BU star when explaining why he made the roster: because he’s Chris Drury. Wouldn’t be surprised to hear something similar about Callahan in several Olympic cycles.
Pitching in for home team
Impressive run in the World Championships for Zdeno Chara and the Slovaks, who accomplished their primary goal of qualifying for the 2014 Olympics. Slovakia fell to Russia in the title game, 6-2, with Chara scoring both goals. “He played very well,’’ said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. “At the start, I could see him getting geared up mentally. It’s a real grind. As the tournament went along, I really liked his game over there. It’s a different game. He has to pass more. The way of defending is different. You can’t take yourself out of position too much defensively. Not that he does anyway. But it was good to see him adjust. He was the leader of that team. I give them credit. That team had a lot of mojo.’’ Chara was one of only four NHLers on the Slovakian roster, along with Michal Handzus, Tomas Kopecky, and Andrej Sekera. Classy, by the way, of Chara to pay tribute to Pavol Demitra after the gold medal game. Chara wore the jersey of his former neighbor and friend, who died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash last summer. Couldn’t have been many dry eyes in Slovakia.
Gill may stay put
Ex-Bruin Hal Gill could re-sign with Nashville prior to July 1. The Predators acquired Gill Feb. 17 from Montreal for Blake Geoffrion, Robert Slaney, and a 2012 second-round pick. Gill was limited to five playoff games because of a lower-body injury sustained after blocking a shot during the regular season. He is coming off a one-year, $2.25 million contract, and his future in Nashville will depend on how the Predators negotiate with Ryan Suter (unrestricted free agent July 1) and Shea Weber (restricted). The Predators would like to have Gill back if there’s enough cash left in the drawer.
Ex-Bruins Brandon Bochenski and Kevin Dallman, teammates for Barys Astana, finished the KHL season atop the scoring charts. Bochenski led all players with 27 goals. Dallman had 18 goals and 36 assists for 54 points, most among defenseman . . . Stop if you’ve heard this one before. Carl Soderberg, the Malmo Mystery Man, might join the Bruins in 2012-13. Soderberg has once again expressed interest in NHL hockey. In 2011-12, he had 14 goals and 21 assists for Linkoping of the Swedish Elite League. The Bruins acquired the Swedish center for Hannu Toivonen from St. Louis right around the time dinosaurs were lumbering down Causeway Street. We’ll believe it when Soderberg is spotted at Logan . . . Ryan Getzlaf will be entering the final season of his five-year, $26,625,000 contract in Anaheim. Getzlaf (11-46-57 in 82 games in 2011-12), who played for Brian Burke and Randy Carlyle in Anaheim, is the kind of wide-shouldered No. 1 center the Maple Leafs need to play alongside Phil Kessel. But Toronto’s more urgent need is in goal. To that end, the Duck they’d prefer is Jonas Hiller. The puck-stopper, however, is probably the Ducks’ second-most important player after Corey Perry. Hiller made 73 appearances this past season, tied with Pekka Rinne for most in the league. Goalies with such pedigrees don’t often move . . . Those player interviews on TV right before puck drop do anything for you? Me neither . . . It has become standard operating procedure at NHL rinks to honor military members during TV timeouts. It’s unfortunate that current affairs require the presence of soldiers in hostile areas. But it’s wonderful to acknowledge their service at sporting events.