Most of Peter Chiarelli’s time this offseason has been spent retaining the Bruins’ core talent, including a contract extension formalized Tuesday for coach Claude Julien. With a new NHL season scheduled to start Oct. 11, it appears the general manager’s most important roster acquisition will be the return to the lineup of power forward Nathan Horton, whose 2011-’12 season was truncated by concussion issues.
“Nathan Horton has been cleared for contact,’’ said Chiarelli, addressing the media as a part of a news conference Tuesday centered on Julien’s new pact. “And by all accounts from our medical staff, he will be ready to play.’’
As encouraging as a healthy Horton may sound to most Bruins fans, some of the more vocal Black-and-Gold faithful continue to vent their frustration that the Bruins failed to acquire players such as forwards Zach Parise (to Minnesota) and Rick Nash (to NY Rangers), who were moved recently.
Just a year-plus removed from the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 39 years, Internet chat rooms, Twitter, radio talk shows, and hockey beat writers’ mailboxes are chock full of communiques from fans opining that Boston’s six-year GM hasn’t done enough to avoid a repeat of this past season’s first-round knockout by Washington.
“We have the ability to score and to defend — all of these areas I am happy with,’’ said Chiarelli, noting the club’s maturation under Julien’s tutelage. “It’s a testament to Claude and his ability to adapt and change when he sees the game trending in certain ways. We have discussions over the course of the year and summer and he’s able to adapt. So, I think that’s a great attribute of Claude.
“Having said all that, I am happy to announce his extension. But I want to remind you of one thing: I feel strongly in this core. I feel strongly in Claude. We will continue to improve and we will continue to look at all facets of our game to improve. That’s our mandate. That’s my mandate. And we will continue to do that — and we are happy to have Claude along for the ride.’’
In other words, Chiarelli believes in his team as constituted and believes it has the proper offense/defense balance to win. The rink of public opinion may believe otherwise, but he is content with the team he built, despite the fact that Tim Thomas, his two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, has put his career in mothballs.
Julien, though not discounting Thomas’s value to the team in recent years, sounded non-plussed by Thomas’s planned respite and possible retirement.
“Well, you know, we lost a guy by the name of Marc Savard, who led our team in scoring every year,’’ said Julien. “We were able to adapt. I see that as the same kind of a challenge. No one’s going to deny what Tim’s done for our hockey club over the years. But we’ve mentioned Tuukka [Rask] is a very capable goaltender — he’s got his opportunity to showcase that this year. When I saw [Anton] Khudobin play, whether it was training camp or whether it was with us, you could see a goaltender that not only has improved, but matured. And I honestly have a lot of confidence in our goaltending.’’
Speculation continues as to where the Bruins will establish their practice facility upon leaving Wilmington — perhaps in a couple of years — but team president Cam Neely said Tuesday that the club is considering a number of options. Once out of Wilmington, now considered a fait accompli, a move closer to downtown Boston would make the most sense, because most players make their home in the city. One suburban option the club could consider is Bedford, home of the Edge, on the fringe of Hanscom Field. Most of the club’s charter flights come and go from Hanscom’s civil air terminal . . . Little known fact: Hanscom Field is named after Laurence G. Hanscom, a former pilot and ex-State House reporter for the Globe, long before blogging days . . . Chiarelli lauded his club’s ability to break out of its defensive zone under Julien’s guidance. “It’s beautiful to watch,’’ he said with the relish of a Museum of Fine Arts board of trustees member . . . Julien praised his team’s leadership, both in the locker room and on the ice. “There’s a lot of good going on here.’’