When the NHL-Rogers deal was announced last week, the first person I thought of really had nothing to do with the deal. It wasn’t Gary Bettman, or Don Cherry, or whoever is in charge of Rogers, assuming it’s no longer Rogers himself.
It was Peter Chiarelli.
Okay, I thought about Cherry a little bit and how upsetting it’ll be if he doesn’t make the jump from CBC to Rogers once CBC is put out of the hockey business. But I mostly thought about Chiarelli, and how his job could have been made the slightest bit easier.
Since taking the reins as GM of the Bruins in 2006, Chiarelli has been methodical in his approach, bringing long-term stability to the roster while keeping the farm system well stocked. The Patriots are known around New England for their “next man up” mantra, but that saying could just as easily be applied to the Bruins. Just take a look at the Bruins’ defensemen. Guys like Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, and Matt Bartkowski were all thrown into the fire as injury call-ups, none being top-tier prospects. As a testament to Chiarelli’s commitment to development, all four of these guys currently play every night for the Bs and have each been part of at least one team that made the finals.
Chiarelli is also a master of the salary cap, particularly in locking up his core guys to reasonably priced multi-year deals, often before they hit free agency. We saw it a few years back with Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron. We saw it soon thereafter with Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, and Tyler Seguin. We saw it this past offseason with Dennis Seidenberg and Bergeron for the second time. The GM knows how to keep a core together, and that’s where this Rogers deal comes into play.
Through the glitz and glamor of such a lucrative deal that will invariably change the landscape of sports media in Canada and possibly bring a team back to Quebec, some are overlooking the financial ramifications the deal has on each team’s roster. Once the deal kicks in, the salary cap should rise. Technically, this means the same for every team, as all teams obviously have the same spending limit.
However, taking a look at what the Bruins have done with guys like Bergeron and Rask, it’s easy to see how Chiarelli’s genius comes into play. By locking up core guys to rich, though not cap-crippling extensions, he’s shored up some money to either retain his players or make a free agent splash in the future. Once the cap increases, someone like Chiarelli will have more leverage to do that, having peace of mind knowing his top two players are signed long term. Had Chiarelli waited until after this season to sign Bergeron, it’s likely that Bergeron and his agent could have negotiated for at least an extra million per year, with the knowledge that the cap is going up after the Rogers deal.
To further help explain things, take a look at the Blackhawks. GM Stan Bowman does an excellent job of keeping his team in contention year after year and has hoisted the Cup twice in the past four seasons. However, his two prized ponies, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, are free agents after the 2014-2015 season. Bowman will have to give those two major raises, likely in the Crosby-Malkin $9+ million range, if not a little more. If you’re Kane or Toews, winner of two Cups (and counting), wouldn’t you want to make more than every other guy in the league? Of course you would.
Now, it’s not as if Bowman had the flexibility to do with Kane and Toews what Chiarelli did with Bergeron and Rask. Bowman took a lot of heat for the mini fire sale after the 2010 season that saw fan favorites Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, and Andrew Ladd shipped out to Atlanta. A few years and another Cup would prove that Bowman was correct in retaining his core guys and replacing his role players, and he actually did sign both Toews and Kane to reasonable extensions during the ’10 season. Maybe it’s a matter of bad timing rather than lack of foresight, but I’m guessing Bowman wishes he’d extended Toews or Kane again at some point during the past two seasons, as the superstars will be fetching big bucks come the summer of 2015.
Again, this isn’t to knock Bowman, who’s team beat Chiarelli’s this past June. It’s just to highlight the fortunate timing and smart dealmaking over the past few years that has come to exemplify Chiarelli’s tenure on the whole. When it comes time to re-up Lucic and David Krejci in the near future, he can put some of the money he saved on Bergeron towards their deals. He’s got his goaltender locked up, and if Chara can stay healthy, the big guy will be sticking around awhile too.
A lot of teams will be well positioned once the money starts trickling down from north of the border, some even better than the Bruins. But whenever there’s a new wrinkle thrown into the salary cap equation, I feel supremely confident with Chiarelli behind the wheel.