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Bruins GM Chiarelli shifts quickly into role

Since officially taking over as general manager of the Bruins July 10, Peter Chiarelli has been hard at work in his new digs at the Garden.
Since officially taking over as general manager of the Bruins July 10, Peter Chiarelli has been hard at work in his new digs at the Garden. (Globe Staff Photo / Dina Rudick)

The only art in the spacious but dimly lit office is a world map hanging over the desk, which was left by the previous administration. On the adjoining wall are five empty picture hangers. There is one lamp, with the setting on low.

The view out the big window is of the expressway but new Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli hasn't had time to take more than a peek nor has he had time to worry about decorating. He hasn't even had time to pick up his head from the stack of messages, files, and assorted business that threatens to take over his desk like rapidly growing weeds.

When Chiarelli excused himself from his office to grab a cup of coffee, assistant director of administration Carol Gould, who is also the team's travel coordinator, dropped a note in his inbox.

``He's not big on lights," she said with a laugh.

Maybe not, but what Chiarelli is big on is getting his teeth into his new job the fastest way possible. He was hired May 26 as the seventh GM in team history but didn't officially start until his former employer -- the Ottawa Senators -- released him early from his obligations. He took over the reins of the Bruins July 10 and his first official day in his new digs was a week ago. It has been a whirlwind since.

When asked if he was overwhelmed by the extensive laundry list of what needed to be done during this transition period, Chiarelli smiled.

``A little bit," he said. ``There were a lot of things to get done or at least to make me aware of so I could make decisions on. I'm used to making recommendations to a general manager. I'm used to doing a lot of things, but now the buck stops here. Just the mind-set has been a little different, but I'm getting used to it now."

He has been meeting with staff at TD Banknorth Garden as rapidly as he can and has tried to acclimate himself to the city, the building, and his new office.

``I'm still not comfortable," he said. ``It's getting better each day. I've been in one job for over seven years [in Ottawa], and prior to that, I was in a job for six years [as a player agent]. I don't know everybody yet. People are very nice here. The fact that I've been here for just a short time, everything is concentrated and condensed. I have a hard time keeping up with my messages. It's getting better, though. Then there are all the introductory calls to the [other 29] GMs. I'm trying to do all of those and I'm dealing with all the personnel issues and meeting with everybody. There still are things we're thinking about doing player personnel-wise. It's pretty busy."

Chiarelli and his wife, Alicia, purchased a home some 20 miles west of Boston, largely because of its proximity to the top-level Ashland gymnastics program where their 11-year-old daughter, Talia, will train. They are looking for a hockey team for their son, Cameron, a soon-to-be fifth-grader who also plays football.

``It's been a little stressful just because everything has been happening at a later date than normal," said Chiarelli. ``But they're getting better now, the kids are getting a little more excited. Now that we have the house, it's a lot better peace of mind for my wife. Now they're looking at their school schedules so they're starting to get keyed up."

City limits
Chiarelli, who earned a degree in economics at Harvard in 1987 , said he's going to have to spend some time reacquainting himself with the city because it has changed so much since his college days.

``It was never easy even when I was scouting," he said. ``I would stay in Springfield or Worcester and over eight or nine days [ I would see several games] in the area and I'd come into Boston for a game. You'd drive in and I still had difficulty in the last two or three years. I'm sure that won't change."

Asked what will change, Chiarelli said a good many areas of the organization are under review. For example, now that Sean Coady -- the former director of pro scouting and player development -- has left the Bruins for a position with the San Jose Sharks, Chiarelli said he'd like to bring in a director of player personnel to complement Don Sweeney, who is the Bruins' new director of player development.

``Sean Coady has left and it was a mutual decision," said Chiarelli. ``I think he wanted a fresh start and I think the same applied here. Player development is different. Donny will be doing some pro scouting and he will also be meeting with prospects along the way. There is a big difference. Player development is very important now, but he'll also be doing pro scouting and learning the league. I think he knows it pretty well now, but he'll be learning it better."

As for the rest of the front office, Chiarelli said there will be a gradual retooling on a case-by-case basis.

``I'm going to make just a couple of changes this year," he said. ``I'm in the midst of mulling them over. A lot of people come in and prior to coming in, they're saying they're going to make wholesale changes. Certainly I'm going to make changes for the betterment of the organization. When I was in Ottawa and [GM] John Muckler came in, he took a year and he assessed everything. You have to give people, for the most part, the ability to do their jobs. I have to assess the situation and there are some things I see right now that I'm going to change. But I'm not coming in here swinging an ax."

Bench help
One addition that will be announced shortly is another assistant for coach Dave Lewis's staff.

``Marc [Habscheid] is an associate coach, he's the first assistant but he's going to carry some more duties than that," said Chiarelli. ``The second assistant on the bench is going to be more of an observer. Some coaches like to have that second up in the [press] box, that eye in the sky. I'm not sure what Dave has in mind. He told me initially he wants to have someone on the bench all the time to be an observer, an eye down on the bench. And it will involve working more with younger players, too."

Chiarelli has no plans to alter the amateur scouting staff, led by director Scott Bradley.

``I'm not going to make any major changes there," he said. ``They've done a pretty good job."

The NHL schedule-maker has been very kind to the Bruins this season. They journey out of the Eastern time zone only three times -- to St. Louis, Chicago, and Nashville. As favorable as it is, Chiarelli said he's exploring how to improve the team's travel experience.

``We have three or four leads going on [with regard to charter companies]," he said. ``We're not stuck on any one. It's something where we want to at least put a couple of lines in the water and see if anything comes up that's better. That's something we're looking at closely -- actually -- the efficiency, cost benefit, and player satisfaction, all those things."

The first time Chiarelli -- and prize free agent defenseman Zdeno Chara -- play the Senators will be Oct. 28 at the Garden, and the first time the Bruins are in Ottawa will be Dec. 19.

``It will probably be more weird for Zdeno than me," said the GM.

But first things first. There are many issues to be resolved before training camp opens Sept. 14. Chief among them is signing restricted free agents Patrice Bergeron and Brad Boyes.

``Those are very high priorities," Chiarelli said. ``I've had discussions with both of their agents and we'll have discussions again. I don't normally comment on negotiations, so this will probably be the last time I comment until they get done. We have to sign David Tanabe [who has filed for arbitration] and we have to sign [Milan] Jurcina. I think we're getting close. There are a couple of spots but I'm not sure what I'm going to do. We've got a couple of young kids and maybe we'll have a couple of people competing for spots. That's always healthy."

In defense of Kessel
Whether one of those vying for a roster spot is center Phil Kessel -- Boston's first-round pick (No. 5 overall) in last month's draft -- is still to be determined. A recent ESPN The Magazine article -- in which members of the Columbus Blue Jackets' staff were critical of Kessel's performance in the NHL combine held a few weeks before the draft -- led to the Bruins intervening in defense of their prospect.

``I read the piece, too, and some of it was taken out of context," said Chiarelli. ``Phil, I think he was a little hurt by it. I know he was a little hurt by it. We've talked to certain people about it and there weren't apologies but it was like, `This isn't what we meant.' What's done is done. We talked to Phil after the article and I think he's feeling better. Donny Sweeney talked to Phil and had a good conversation."

As to a decision to return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season or turn pro, Kessel is still contemplating his options.

``I think he's still looking at both sides," said Chiarelli. ``I know there was something written about him saying he was going back and that might have been his thoughts at the time, but it's a difficult decision. We're going to look at it closely in short order here. In his own mind, he's still debating. Another year in Minnesota would be very good. He could dominate. It's always good to dominate a year. But maybe after that your skills don't really develop as they should. You get into some lazy habits so it wouldn't disappoint me if he was to go back. He's a hell of a player and he's going to be a core part of the franchise."

One player who won't be back is center Alexei Zhamnov, whose career is threatened by a severely damaged ankle, which he fractured last season. His ankle hasn't healed well enough for him to return to hockey.

``He will be examined again and in all likelihood he'll be a long-term injury exemption," Chiarelli said. ``That's where it will end up. He's not retiring, he's going to be [listed as] disabled."

Although he and assistant GM Jeff Gorton haven't had the easiest time assembling the roster given the logistical hurdles, Chiarelli is very pleased with what he has so far.

``We've got some tinkering to do," he said. ``But we've got a really good core."

And sooner rather than later, Chiarelli expects he'll feel right at home in his new position.

``I'm ultimately the decision-maker," he said. ``I'm going to use the resources around me, including [president Harry Sinden]. He's a Hall of Famer, it would be ridiculous for me not to ask him for advice and Jeff, who's got the lay of the land. I have to inform myself and educate myself before I make decisions, so I'll use the resources around me."

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