Bruins: Deal with the devil?
They need newcomer Satan to commit to two-way play
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- As long as the Bruins aren't lowering their standards too much in order to add Miroslav Satan's scoring touch to their lineup, general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien will be able to keep what they've built standing proud.
The Bruins and their 27th-ranked offense are desperate for some scoring. Satan has proven that's something he can provide, as his 354 goals in 13 seasons will attest. Even when relegated to secondary status, as he was last season with Pittsburgh, a stay that included a brief stint in the minors, he still potted 17 goals in 65 games. But there might not be much more to this $700,000 package than a pair of hands. The 35-year-old obviously lands in the Hub with some questions about desire, commitment and defensive ability. To his credit, Chiarelli acknowledged as much after Satan's first practice with the Bruins on Sunday at Ristuccia Arena.
"Generally speaking, you're not going to get a perfect player on the free-agent market at this time of year," he said. "He's been more of a one-dimensional player over the course of his career. But, as I said, we watched all his playoff games and he was above-average on the defensive side of the puck. And those playoff games, they're high-tempo, high-intensity. We really looked at that. We weren't getting him for his defensive capabilities; we're getting him for his offensive capabilities. He's highly motivated because he wants to be in the league next year."
Provided this isn't the start of the corruption of Chiarelli's vision, the signing of Satan can't hurt. The greatest thing the GM, and his head coach, has brought to the Bruins' organization is accountability. Every player knows there's a responsibility to work hard and give 100 percent on and off the ice, on both the offensive and defensive sides of the rink. While there are different levels of ability and work ethic sprinkled throughout the Bruins' lineup, as there are on any team, there's a balance struck that makes Chiarelli's mix work. The Bruins have been contenders for two years now and the personnel moves Chiarelli has made in that time have kept that balance intact.
But some would argue Satan threatens to spoil the Bruins' broth.
On one hand, former New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury (Satan played three seasons on Long Island) summed up Satan on "Hockey Night in Canada" on Saturday by saying, "Nice guy, can score some goals, has scored a lot of them, doesn't compete very hard." The former Bruins player and coach said that's why Satan was sent to the minors last year and returned in a secondary role behind new acquisitions Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin.
Glenn Healy countered Milbury by saying Satan's minor-league assignment was because of cap restraints and that Satan is a solid player. As Healy explained, and Chiarelli later confirmed, the Bruins' brass did its homework not only by watching each of Satan's shifts from last season's playoffs, but also by chatting up other GMs, including Minnesota's Chuck Fletcher, who was the assistant GM for the Penguins. That research clinched Satan a spot on the Bruins' radar and, finally, on their roster.
Now it's up to Julien to fit Satan into the lineup without disturbing the mix that, despite the Bruins' offensive shortcomings, has still kept them as a solid contender in the East. Julien's success rate in getting players to play hard both ways has been high, even if his rate of getting them to appreciate his mentoring is a little lower.
Center Marc Savard has said that he never would have become an All-Star and a candidate for Team Canada without Julien's help. Savard showed his appreciation by re-signing with the Bruins earlier this season. But Phil Kessel didn't seem all that impressed that he became a decent back-checker and even a late-season candidate for the penalty kill while scoring 36 goals under Julien's tutelage. Now he wears a Toronto sweater.
After getting a firsthand look at Satan during practice, Julien seemed ready to be somewhat flexible when dealing with the Slovakia native.
"You have players that their strength is offense and you've got to let them play within their strengths," said Julien. "We use Kessel as an example. We had to let him score goals. He may not have been perfect defensively but we pushed for him to make an effort in that area and he did. It's the same thing with Miroslav here. We brought him here to help us score some goals or help our team produce and you've got to let him play within his strength. But at the same time, he's very capable of playing the other part of the game and it's just bringing some awareness."
There's a chance that, as Chiarelli said, the desire to play in the NHL next season could inspire Satan to pick up his effort at both ends. It also probably won't hurt that Zdeno Chara is a friend of Satan's and has a tireless work ethic that could rub off on his countryman. These are obviously things the Bruins are banking on.
The Bruins just need to make sure that a precedent isn't set that leads other players to question their commitment to the all-around game. Satan's signing, along with the eventual return of Milan Lucic, is going to take playing time away from two forwards. While the production level has been low from most of Boston's wings and centers, their level of effort and contribution in keeping the club's goals-against average down cannot be criticized. So the challenge will be to hold Satan to the same standard without getting seduced by his scoring ability, which undoubtedly surpasses that of some of his new teammates.
The Bruins have made a deal with Satan; now they need to avoid having their system and structure burned.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.