The Boston Bruins returned to the playoffs in the spring of 2008. Although they fell to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the message was sent. This young Bruins team was good, and they were only going to get better. GM Peter Chiarelli, since he was hired in 2006, had done a terrific job of adding talent to the group.
His stretch of strong transactions would continue in the summer of 2008. With the young Bruins ready to take another step, Chiarelli went to market looking for a little forward help. He landed on a hotshot prospect previously selected in the top five, and a veteran once on the other side of the heated Boston/Montreal rivalry.
Small Trade, Big Results
One of Chiarelli’s strengths early in his tenure with the Bruins was his ability to pull players from what appeared to be irrelevant deals. One of those instances was on June 24th, 2008. On that day, Chiarelli pulled off a trade with the Colorado Avalanche that would pay massive dividends.
The Bruins sent grinder Matt Hendricks out west in exchange for defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Hendricks had played the entire 2007-08 season in the AHL. His offensive numbers were strong, as Hendricks scored 52 points (22 g, 30 a) in 67 games. At this point, however, Hendricks had yet to play an NHL game. He was four seasons into his career.
Boychuck, meanwhile, had only played in four NHL games in four professional seasons. He was far from established. He spent most of the 2007-08 season in the AHL with the Lake Erie Monsters.
He’d spend most of the 2008-09 season in the AHL as well, this time with Providence. Boychuck exploded with the the P-Bruins, registering 65 points (20 g, 45 a) in 78 games. He became an NHL’er and never looked back.
Boychuck played a strong role in 2011, playing in 25 playoff games. Boychuck had old-school elements to his game, but also had a rocket of a shot and could move the puck. No one knew it at the time, but the Bruins had acquired a core piece for a depth player.
Another Free Agent Splash
No, it isn’t as sexy as signing Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. That said, two years later, the Bruins made another big splash in free agency. First, they won the Blake Wheeler sweepstakes. Wheeler was selected 5th overall in the 2004 draft by the Arizona Coyotes, but went the NCAA route and elected to not sign with the Coyotes.
The Bruins were the lucky recipients of a young power-forward immediately ready to step into the NHL. Although Wheeler didn’t finish the 2010-11 season in Boston, he provided the club with solid depth scoring on the wing during his stint.
Wheeler was cashed in at the 2011 deadline for another key piece up front, Rich Peverley.
Although he never reached the heights with the Bruins, Wheeler has emerged as a star forward with the Winnipeg Jets.
After Wheeler was locked up, Chiarelli turned his attention to a more veteran presence up front. He settled on rival Michael Ryder. Ryder had played each of the past four seasons with the Canadiens. Twice in those four years, Ryder scored 30 goals. In the other years? 25 goals in 2003-04 and a career-low 14 in 2007-08. The Bruins bought low on a proven sniper.
Ryder paid off in a big way. He’d score 27 goals in his first season as a Bruin, and never lit the lamp less than 18 times in a season. He also made some key plays during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including in Game 5 of the opening round series against his former team.
With a playoff berth in their back pocket, some serious confidence and now two new top six forwards, the Bruins looked poised for a big 2008-09. Sometimes, what you see is not what you get. In this case? The Bruins came as advertised. In the process, they’d add another key member of their Stanley Cup winning club.