Jeff Gorton did a terrific job at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver for the Boston Bruins. The interim GM traded for Tuukka Rask and drafted Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand to kick off a rebuild aimed at returning the Bruins to greatness. With the draft now in the rear-view mirror, Gorton’s focus shifted.
He was now executing the plan of Peter Chiarelli, the club’s new GM. Although Chiarelli was named to the job in May, he couldn’t officially take over until July 15th, 2006. That didn’t stop him from putting his mark on the roster when free agency opened.
A Major Splash
Chiarelli gets a lot of criticism in Boston for how things ended. That criticism? Deserved. That said, he deserves a lot credit for the first five years of his tenure. Chiarelli could do no wrong for a long period of time. That period began on July 1st, 2006. What he did that day changed the complexion of the franchise forever.
The Boston Bruins signed defenseman Zdeno Chara to a five-year deal worth $37.5 million. Chara and Chiarelli knew each other quite well. Chiarelli played a big role in getting the hulking defenseman to Ottawa in 2001. They stayed together until 2006, when the Senators let Chiarelli go to Boston and elected to keep Wade Redden over Chara. Both Redden and Chara were unrestricted free agents.
One team’s poor decision was another team’s treasure. The Bruins attacked when they saw their opening to add the elite defenseman and proven leader.
“I was very impressed with how professional and straightforward Boston was in pursuing me,” Chara said in a statement released through his agent in 2006. “I want to lead this team by setting a good example with my work ethic, drive, dedication and discipline.”
In addition to signing Chara, the Bruins inked center Marc Savard from the Atlanta Thrashers. Savard signed a four-year deal worth $20 million.
Chara would become the Bruins’ captain and an elite defenseman for the club. He set the tone and changed the culture for the Bruins. Chara has now played 14 seasons with the Bruins, winning the Norris Trophy in 2008-09.
Savard, sadly, saw his career cut short due to injury. When he was in the lineup, however, he was an elite playmaking center for a Bruins team in desperate need of a top-six forward.
“Marc is one of the top playmaking centers in the game today,” Gorton said at the time. “He will fit in well with the skill players we have on our team and the direction in which we are headed.”
With Chara and Savard in tow, the Bruins were ready for the next era.
The One Misstep
Chiarelli’s lone real misstep in the early days came behind the bench. His first move as GM was to fire Mike Sullivan and bring in his own head coach. His guy? Dave Lewis. Lewis was named head coach just days before Chara and Savard signed.
He only lasted one season. The Bruins finished the 2006-07 season with a 35-41-6 record. Chiarelli elected to fire Lewis due to the club’s inconsistent play during the season. Highlighting the inconsistency was a 1-10-1 finish to the season.
The 35-41-6 record does not tell the entire tale of the 2006-07 season. In fact, the Boston Bruins can consider that year a success. Why? They added numerous pieces that lifted the Cup in 2011.