BOSTON — If you’re looking to build a successful NHL franchise, it might help to borrow a page or two out of the Detroit Red Wings’ playbook. That’s something Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has done, and it’s worked out pretty well.
The Bruins and Red Wings are two of the NHL’s model franchises, and it’s no surprise that Chiarelli used the Wings as a model while helping the B’s to the top of the hockey mountain. When the two Original Six clubs start their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series Friday night, it will mark the Wings’ 23rd consecutive postseason appearance.
“I have great respect for that organization, great respect for (general manager) Kenny Holland, (head coach) Mike Babcock, (team owners) the Ilitch family,” Chiarelli said Monday. “I followed them for a lot of years — maybe that long, 23 years.”
The Bruins and Red Wings have worked closely together fairly recently. Chiarelli and Holland worked as part of Hockey Canada’s management group at this year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. Babcock, the head coach of that team, had Bruins head coach Claude Julien on his staff as an associate head coach.
“I got to know (Holland) a little better during the Olympics,” Chiarelli said. “He’s very bright. He looks at things a lot of different ways, a lot of different angles, to get a solution. And then you can see that in their development — they like developing people in the minors, but they also find players elsewhere in trades and in free agents, and that’s what we try and do.”
If that plan sounds familiar, that’s because it’s exactly how this Bruins team was built. Ever since taking over in 2006, Chiarelli has exhausted all resources in building the Bruins into perennial Stanley Cup contenders.
The Olympics also allowed Chiarelli and Julien to get an up-close look at the way Babcock goes about his business. Julien and Babcock obviously worked closely on a star-studded coaching staff, and Chiarelli was privy to those hockey meetings.
“Mike Babcock — he’s a really sharp guy. I got to sit in on their coaches’ meetings in advance of the Olympics and during the Olympics, and he’s very, very bright,” Chiarelli said. “So I have a lot of respect for them, but now they’re competitors, the other side of the ice, so we’ll figure out a way to beat them.”
Bruins fans hoping that kind of access will give their team some sort of advantage when the series begins likely will be sadly mistaken. The Bruins and Red Wings met four times this season, and both teams have plenty of information on each other from this season and seasons past. That should make for quite the chess match between Julien and Babcock, who now are the NHL’s two longest-tenured head coaches following Barry Trotz’s firing in Nashville.
“We all got to know each other a little bit better, but I don’t think — there’s no secrets in this game anymore, and I think at the same time I know his tendencies, he knows mine,” Julien said Tuesday. “It’s just going to make for a more interesting series, but I don’t think there’s that big of a difference between the two of us because we worked together or if I was going against someone else that I didn’t work with.”
One thing is for certain, though. Any sort of respect and admiration forged during Hockey Canada’s run to the gold medal in Sochi will be thrown out the window — or at least tabled for the time being — when the two historic franchises begin their first playoff series against each other in almost 50 years.
“I have a lot of respect for them,” Chiarelli said, “but now they’re competitors, the other side of the ice, so we’ll figure out a way to beat them.”
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