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Monday, February 21, 2011
At last, the B's are true contenders

By James Murphy
ESPNBoston.com

What Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli did last week by acquiring forwards Chris Kelly and Richard Peverley and defensemen Tomas Kaberle and Boris Valabik in three separate trades should halt any criticism that Chiarelli is too patient and passive when it comes to winning.

Yes, the calculated Chiarelli did not have the best track record when it came to trade-deadline deals or even in-season moves that could get his team over the hump. But last week, the general manager decided it was finally time to roll the dice in the hopes that all the team-building he's done since arriving here in 2007 comes to fruition and gives his team a real chance at the Stanley Cup.

Tomas Kaberle
Tomas Kaberle made his debut with the Bruins on Friday in Ottawa.

"I can never say with certainty that we're going to get to that point,'' said Chiarelli in a news conference announcing the acquisitions of Kaberle, Peverly and Valabik. "I believe that by making these additions we are significantly stronger. It's a war of attrition, getting to that point. There is a lot of luck involved. I like the character of our team this year. There is some resiliency."

Following the Bruins' 4-2 win over the Senators on Friday, a beaming head coach Claude Julien addressed the media scrum in the visitors dressing room at Scotia Bank Place. Julien, however, wasn't beaming as much about his team's padding their Northeast Division lead over the Montreal Canadiens as over the fact that in the previous 72 hours his boss had gone out and made a bold statement that he believes his team is a legit Stanley Cup contender.

"You're trying to improve your team and you bring some pieces in that you think will do that," Julien said. "I like the direction our management took and we hope to build on that."

But as the scrum broke up, Julien sat there with a couple of reporters and just raved about his new players, especially Kaberle, who is expected to help an already improving Bruins power play that has scored a goal in each of its last six games and is ranked 13th in the NHL. Julien knows that now he won't have to have forwards working the point opposite of captain Zdeno Chara and his rocket shot. He knows that the team has true versatility and depth up front now with Kelly and Peverly.

"It helps for sure when you're putting lines together and with matchups" Julien said. "And yeah, you all know what [Kaberle] brings to the power play and just the movement of our play up ice."

Of course, Kaberle had been rumored to be headed to Boston via a trade since the Bruins almost acquired him in a draft day deal in 2009. There was plenty of speculation that the moment had arrived a week ago, when the Maple Leafs were in town and a report broke that Kaberle had waived his no-trade clause. But at 11:15 that evening, following a 4-3 Bruins loss to Toronto at TD Garden, Chiarelli was announcing a deal to swap a 2011 second-round pick for Kelly. A tired media and fan base felt let down, and for the next two days Chiarelli took plenty of heat, with many questioning whether he had the sense of urgency needed to take the team to the next level. Friday night, however, the criticism turned to praise.

Julien You're trying to improve your team and you bring some pieces in that you think will do that. I like the direction our management took and we hope to build on that.

-- Bruins coach Claude Julien

"That's a team that can easily come out of the East now," said one NHL pro scout prior to the game in Ottawa. "I mean, it was basically them and Philly before Peter made those deals, but now they're right there with Philly. They could be that team in a seven-game series this time around. Kaberle was the best D-man out there and you know Peverly is really underrated. He is like a poor man's [Marc] Savard."

A top NHL executive agreed and applauded Chiarelli for finally getting the guy he wanted in Kaberle and the player that many around the league felt this Bruins squad was missing.

"You know what? That was what they've needed for like two seasons now," the executive said. "They needed that puck-mover and they got him. You put that with the team they already have and that attack is drastically improved. They got a guy who can move it up ice to those big forwards."

Chiarelli pointed that out as well in Friday's news conference.

"It makes it more continuous,'' said Chiarelli. "It brings kind of all the zones together, to get the puck up cleanly into the neutral zone, to make the plays through the neutral zone with speed. Tomas will help with that.''

Now that the Bruins have that guy and the depth they needed in Kelly and Peverly, it is up to them to make it happen on the ice. Their embattled boss deserves credit. He has done his job, putting the pieces in place to allow this team to be playing in late May, if not June. Whether the players can capitalize remains to be seen.

James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.