VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It has been a whirlwind three months for Bruins interim general manager Jeff Gorton.
First came the firing of his boss and mentor, Mike O'Connell, March 25. Then came the interviewing process for O'Connell's position. The job went to Peter Chiarelli, and although he's in town for tomorrow's NHL draft -- as the assistant GM of the Ottawa Senators -- he won't be available to work for the Bruins until July 15.
Gorton has been conducting the day-to-day business of the franchise, signing prospects, preparing contracts as league deadlines come and go, and he will spearhead the Bruins' draft efforts.
The club's options are many. They can retain the No. 5 overall selection and draft a top prospect who will make an impact sooner rather than later. They can trade up if they don't believe their top choice will be available at No. 5. They can trade the pick and get an NHL-caliber player. Gorton has acknowledged the Bruins don't have enough bona fide NHL players, and trading the pick could go a long way toward bringing in an established player. The Bruins could also trade down, but that is unlikely unless they can get a name player in a package deal.
Whatever they decide, it will be a very active weekend for the Bruins.
``It's fair to say I've talked to other teams about where they stand and their thoughts on their positioning in the draft," said Gorton. ``So we like our position at No. 5, but we're also going to look at both scenarios, whether we have to go up or down to acquire players. I don't think we can say no to anything.
``Our job is to get the best player and, at the same time, not turn our back to the possibility of finding some NHL-ready players along the way."
The Bruins have two second-round picks (Nos. 37 and 50), one a result of not signing Lars Jonsson (taken No. 7 overall in 2000), which means they might be able to find another gem such as Patrice Bergeron, whom they snagged at No. 45 in 2003. If nothing else, Gorton said it gives the Bruins leverage.
``If we have to move up from No. 5, we have some good things we can throw together," he said. ``No. 2 picks over time, over the years, have proven very valuable. If you look at the teams that have been successful and won championships, they've done pretty well in the second and third rounds. The first round, you can't make mistakes, you've got to get good players. But the second and third rounds, it seems to be the successful teams have hit on."
``I think we have a good group of guys who work hard, that know players, understand the game and the process, and they work well together," said Gorton. ``They trust each other. It's always been important [to identify good players] but it might be more so now because you cannot cover up mistakes by just signing unrestricted free agents.
``If you don't draft well, you're going to pay the price because there's only a certain amount of money you can spend. If you don't have those young guys, for a lot of reasons that's going to hurt you. These players, when they're younger, are not making top money in the league. So you need good players who aren't making $5 million. You're always going to have some highly paid players but, at the same time, if you can draft well and bring these guys into your lineup and have them contributing, yet they're still in their entry-level contracts, it gives you more room at the top end to spend. It puts you in good negotiating position with your players if you've always got a steady stream."
At the end of May and into early June, the Bruins' scouting staff was in Toronto for a combine to get a look at 110 of the top prospects. In addition to watching the off-ice fitness testing, Gorton estimated they interviewed 70 of the best and brightest NHL wannabes. He described it as another piece of a bigger puzzle.
``It's always a great opportunity to get to know these guys a little bit more and get you a little time with them to interview them and see what they're all about, the drive they have, and then see them in the workouts and how they do and how competitive they are," said Gorton.
So, how do the scouts evaluate a player who might become a part of their future? Gorton said there is only so much you can gather from the combine.
``It's a little bit of everything. Strength, bench press, leg-power strength testing, vertical jumping, and long jumping," he said. ``It's fairly extensive. As a whole, the league does a very good job of putting us all together in an environment where we know the tests, we know what they're doing, and we're comfortable with it. You learn about their training methods. You can learn a lot about how a guy looks and has trained since the end of his season, whether or not they've taken time off or they've made a commitment to start working now. You learn a lot about leg power and a lot of that goes hand in hand with their skating ability.
``In the interview process, you can learn a lot about what's inside the player. If you put him in front of you in an environment where you have five, six, or seven guys looking at him and asking him tough questions and see how they respond, some of these kids are pretty impressive."
When asked if there was a possibility of getting faked out, Gorton said it was possible, but the screening processes cut down the chances of that happening.
``It's not 100 percent," he said. ``Some of these kids are pretty well-schooled. If you go through the process enough, a lot of the kids will tell you the questions are the same in each room. We've seen enough of them over the years to hopefully be able to decipher who's real and who's not. A guy doesn't come in and blow us away on the testing. I know football had a little bit of that. You get blown away on the testing and the 40-yard dash and all that. He's not going to go on our list from, say, No. 25 to No. 8. You get your list together, you talk to the kids, and there are a lot of little discussions about Player A and Player B, and that's where it becomes important."
``A lot of those things, you say, `We can work with this,' " Gorton said. ``If it's poor eating habits and they've gone on natural ability their whole lives or they haven't worked out, you can work with those things. What you're trying to determine is can you get them to do the work? Are they the type of person who knows they need it? If you get a guy in front of you who is a great athlete and a great hockey player, and he's got poor eating habits, you try to figure out if it's because he's lazy or he doesn't know any better and he never had to do anything else. A lot of times you have to remember what you were like at 17 or 18. It's all pieces of the puzzle."
Part of the screening process is to find out what makes the young players tick. Do they have the mental makeup to be a successful pro? Gorton said there are ways to tell.
``You get the kids in that you like and you want to talk to them and see what they're about and find out what they're doing physically off the ice and find out what they think of themselves as players, as people, and where they're from," he said. ``Things like if their parents make them work or they allow them to do whatever they want to do. Every little bit helps."
Gorton has been able to communicate with Chiarelli on some issues, most notably that Gorton will run the draft. ``Just from my conversation with Peter, he's completely comfortable with the process and the draft and the way we've done it in the past and the people who are running it," Gorton said. ``He looked at it like he has enough going on right now rather than get too involved in it. It's going to be the way it's been."
As for team president Harry Sinden and executive vice president Charlie Jacobs, they have entrusted the draft to Gorton and Co.
``They want to know what's going on and our thoughts," said Gorton. ``But no, I would say it's in my court."