To call Don Sweeney “much maligned” in his early days as Boston Bruins general manager would be an understatement. Everything from his ability to maximize value in trades to the direction of the franchise has been questioned based on 72 hours of controversial transactions.
So after trading forward Milan Lucic and defenseman Dougie Hamilton, are the Bruins in a rebuild?
“No, I don’t think it’s a rebuild,” he said on Tuesday. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that will carry and even more tremendous load while we wait for these young players to find their footing.”
OK, so maybe it’s a “build” instead. Sweeney boasts that the Bruins are bringing back five of their six defenseman from last season, although that back-end saw the Bruins’ team GAA go from a 2.08 to a 2.45 year to year. (Injuries were a factor.) In that group is Adam McQuaid, whose contract received an 'F' on a Bruins draft weekend report card.
Sweeney acknowledges that the Bruins need to add goal-scoring badly this offseason; and the UFA market being what it is, Sweeney might look at players that have yet to meet their scoring potential.
“I would look at players that have the ability to score some goals, jumping into that next level of scoring or have a full body [of work],” he said.
What Sweeney is really asking for, essentially, is for patience. And some faith.
He doesn’t have either from Bruins fans at the moment, who have seen a bungled Hamilton trade derby – with a return just a shade above what the Bruins would have gotten from an offer sheet – as well as fan favorite Milan Lucic traded to the Los Angeles Kings due to economics and the baffling acquisition of Philadelphia Flyers fourth-liner Zac Rinaldo, a clear throwback to the type of “Bruins hockey” that President Cam Neely threatened to, well, “rebuild.”
Sweeney said the Bruins hoped to dig through the meathead and find the player inside Rinaldo, whose “courage” he lauded.
“We’re certainly hoping he can move forward in his career. The skating piece, the courage piece, maybe there’s a penalty-killing component to his game. There’s more to this player than his crash and bang game,” he said.
Another name that was mentioned frequently on Tuesday’s conference call was that of Martin Jones, the restricted free agent goalie that the Bruins acquired for Lucic. A goalie that could still have an offer sheet put on him by another team.
“We had discussions, we’ve explored some different possibilities with him. We’ll see where the day leads to,” Sweeney said.
Where it won’t lead, according to the Bruins: To Tuukka Rask leaving Boston in a blockbuster trade this summer.
“Tuukka Rask is not on the market,” Sweeney said, emphatically.
On Wednesday, the market is open for teams like the Bruins to improve via free agency. Sweeney won’t rule out offer sheets. He’s actively shopping Marc Savard’s cap hit to acquire assets. He’s talking to the agents of free agents to gauge interest in the Bruins.
“If this doesn’t materialize tomorrow, I’m sure criticism will come again,” he said.
But Sweeney said he’s undaunted by the maligning of his rookie summer as GM.
“I did attack this from looking at cap flexibility, and improving my team from now until Sept. and going forward. Some situations we were presented would have put us further behind the eight ball,” he said.
“Some people are looking at this as taking steps backward,” he said, “[but we have a] plethora of players, so that you and everyone will say, ‘Wow, they got some really good assets.’”