When Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli took the GM post in Boston in May 2006, he set a five-year plan and went to work. While he saw progress and goals being fulfilled as early as his second season with the Bruins, he admitted recently to ESPNBoston.com that he still didn't expect everything to essentially go as planned and see his team win a Stanley Cup in his fifth season.
"It probably happened a little faster than I thought it would," Chiarelli said.
But, as he pointed out, the signs of his plan coming together were already showing heading into his third season on the job. The Bruins -- as an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs -- had just taken their arch-rivals to the limit, erasing a 3-1 series deficit in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals before losing Game 7 at Montreal. The series included what many until this past season considered to be the most exciting game in recent memory, a 5-4 win that woke up the deprived Bruins fans and had people talking hockey again in Boston. There were also signs that youngsters like David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel were coming of age.
"After my second year when we saw some of the growth in some of the players -- older and younger -- we felt that we could start pushing this forward as planned and get a little more aggressive," said Chiarelli. "The common denominator in our plan was to make sure the young guys were able to perform in a competitive environment and on a team that's going to win. That way they're better players. I started to see it going into that third year, I started to see the team coming together and see the talent of the team, knowing that we're on route now and just have to make the right moves."
But as is the case with any championship team, the road to success wasn't without bumps and adversity. From the heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Carolina in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2009 to the collapse to the Flyers and Game 7 loss in the same round in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs, plenty of hard times tested the team's core. But the key was that the players -- along with the coaches, Chiarelli and the team brass -- learned from their experiences and grew stronger as a result.
"Yeah. I mean you learn from your experiences and that's why these guys were even better this year," Chiarelli said. "I mean, the last couple years, the Philly series meltdown and the Carolina series where we thought we'd beat Carolina the year before that. We thought we had good teams both those years, so it's learning. They learn how to manage it better with no panic and to get through the crisis and get through a long season."
One of the toughest moments and biggest challenges for Chiarelli was following the Game 7 loss to Philadelphia. The Bruins had blown a 3-0 series lead and the media and fans were calling for heads to roll. But a calm and stoic Chiarelli addressed the media at the end-of-the-season press conference promising to improve but not letting the axe fall on head coach Claude Julien or others. He then went out and made too impact moves, acquiring Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell as well as drafting Tyler Seguin.
"It was hard because everyone was calling for heads and you don't always do what the fans and media say but they're still knowledgeable and had a right to be upset," Chiarelli acknowledged. "But while you want to appease them because they're your customers basically, you could see the guys learning, you could see the guys getting better and you know without giving excuses, you have reasons internally why you lost and you knew that there were ways around them. No one wanted to hear any excuses from last year and we weren't giving them. But we felt internally there were reasons why we lost and there were ways to have healthy players back, to tweak certain things, to make certain moves and we knew that we were close."
Team chemistry and growth continued with those new additions as well as three moves Chiarelli would make this past season before the NHL trade deadline -- picking up Tomas Kaberle, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. That period of the season, primarily the six-game road trip the Bruins were on at the time and finished at 6-0-0, was when Chiarelli knew his team was ready for a possible Cup run.
"I knew we had a good team and our players knew too," Chiarelli said. "They knew that they were close the year before. That doesn't just leave. There is some repairing and building egos and psyche's but the team is still good. So when things were getting straightened out and our roster was set, we went on that road trip just after we got Kaberle, Kelly and Peverley, [and] people started to settle into their roles."
But once again, when the playoffs arrived his team was facing adversity and their character was challenged. As Chiarelli and many players have alluded to, a calming confidence would guide them back from that 0-2 series deficit to Montreal in the first round and help them win that series in seven games as well as two others en route to the Stanley Cup.
"What stood out to me was that the players were pretty consistent," said Chairelli. ...
"The 'one game at a time, one period at a time' [mantra], that was pretty par for the course every game and every day. So they didn't get too far ahead of themselves. When they were down 2-0 to Montreal, I remember in Montreal, before Game 3, the guys. ... I could tell they were in a good spot. I remember being down in the room with Claude and then being interviewed and being asked 'Is this the goalie you're going with' and saying 'yes of course'. And you just remember whenever there were periods of adversity they came through.
"There were certain points along the way, like Game 3 against Montreal, Game 7 against Montreal, Game 4 against Philadelphia, Game 7 against Tampa Bay and Game 7 in 'Van' [Vancouver], all those things were turning points but what stuck out to me was that each day the guys were pretty calm and steady. I saw that from start to finish and there was that calm confidence that you need to get through that grind."
Now as he is in full preparation for the 2011-12 season and trying to lead his team to a second consecutive championship, Chiarelli said he isn't looking back and saying 'I told you' so to his critics but rather is satisfied that his five-year plan came to fruition.
"It was satisfying," Chiarelli said of winning the Cup. "[The media] sees it as ups and downs and I didn't see nearly as many ups and downs ... I understand the media's job is to highlight these things. So when you talk about redemption and you talk about ups and downs, to me, my variance isn't as maybe as big as some may suggest. I was satisfied we won but no redemption to show people they were wrong in saying what they said.""
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.