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Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney Conference Call Transcript

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins
BOSTON BRUINS CONFERENCE CALL

Friday, July 1, 2016

BOSTON BRUINS GENERAL MANAGER DON SWEENEY

Opening Statement:
First I want to thank everyone and their patience for staying on here this evening. Obviously the Bruins are very excited about several additions that we added to our roster and organization today. We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate. He provides depth and balance to our lineup, as did Riley Nash. And Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons. John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back. Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth. Tyler Randell emerged last year was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance. And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop. He found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board. So I think the overall philosophy of today and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that. But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players. They should be excited about this opportunity and I think going forward for the next foreseeable future and number of years I think that we now have core players that are driven to win. I think our younger players will benefit form being around them day-in and day-out as they grow up to be NHL players on a full-time basis. We still maintain cap flexibility to continue to look for the right deal from here on out and I’ll take questions from here.

On what drew him most to David Backes…
Well it’s the package. Obviously the leadership qualities, they went for a real deep run. He’s hungry to have another opportunity to win. During our conversations he spoke about knowing our team and how hard they are to play against, respecting our leaders and our club. He’s done his due diligence with a number of players that we have on the horizon. He knows this was a full commitment from the ownership, you know, with Cam [Neely], Claude [Julien] involved, players involved. We just went about our business to identify David as a player that our other players want to play with and set examples. And I don't think you can have enough of those, and strength up the middle of the ice is paramount.

On wanting to add a defenseman and if there’s a level of disappointment…
There’s not a level of disappointment. If deals don’t materialize you guys both understand the types of players that were exchanged and the quality of players in the last few days. Things have to line up. People do not want to part with those types of players. And we’ve set a course here to identify some areas that we needed to strengthen. And the last, you know, for the last year, we’re almost to a year on the job here for myself and the number of young players, in particular in defense and some of the center positions that we’ve added, will complement the young players of skill that we have on the wings. And you have to exercise some patience in this regard. These players don’t just grow up overnight and turn into NHL players. And we’re going to have to exercise patience, you know. Our group as it stands has a balance to it with hardness of [Zdeno] Chara and Kevan Miller and [Adam] McQuaid. [John-Michael] Liles brings a veteran savvyness that he can play with Colin Miller. Joe Morrow is an emerging player and Torey [Krug], we’re very happy to have him signed. You know that being said, we have other young players in the pipeline that are going to be welcoming an opportunity and we have to at some point in time continue to provide that and let them step up. Will it stop me from pursuing having conversations that I’ve maybe planted seeds or whatever? But again it’s going to take…you know there’s a high acquisition cost for these types of players and I think you’re better served to identify them, grow them and put them in the lineup when they’re ready to play.

On if acquiring David Backes was because it was so hard to get a defensemen…
No it didn’t steer us away. We identified David from day one as the type of player that would play with and complement Patrice and David Krejci and allow us to have flexibility, be it this year with, you know, if he wants to move to the wing in a production role or a matchup role. You know if you look at the defensive zone starts that David Backes had over the course of his career, it’s phenomenal that he’s produced at the level he has. He’s now got the chance now to play either with Patrice or David Krejci or play amongst them in a balanced lineup that allows him to be in an offensive situation with Krejci and maybe even backup Bergeron from that standpoint. So I think it adds the balance to our group, you know. And if Ryan Spooner continues to emerge and play the way that he’s capable of playing on a consistent basis and David Backes moves to the wing we’re going to be a better organization. If not and Ryan we end up putting him on a wing in a skilled role without the defensive responsibilities then he’ll benefit from that as well, as will our other younger players. We looked at players that we have on the horizon that we’ll be able to move in those situations and David Backes is going to complement this group in an ideal fashion.

On what the Backes signing means for team going forward…
I think our possession game and the ability to possess pucks needed to be better at times. And our core group of players are doing a great job. We have on the horizon a number of young, skilled players that I think will benefit, as I mentioned, will continue to play with Marchand, with Bergeron, with Krejci, and now with a Backes type. He can then slide into players that come in and identify themselves handling bigger roles, then he can slide into different positions. I just think the versatility of this player and the leadership qualities speak for themselves. And his production, we expect it to continue. It took a drop this year, but that’s the age-related studies that everybody looks at and realizes that you know what you’ve signed up for in this player, that if the commitment to the term and from the ownership standpoint, we were all on board. We’re trying to win. The number of players we have, as I mentioned, with the younger players, I think it’s going to be a good complement.

On if this closes out possibility of a Chris Kelly comeback…
Nope, no it doesn’t. We’re exploring some different opportunities. We’ve spoken to Chris’s representatives. It does not close the door there. As I’ve always mentioned, I’m always open to continuing discussion on anybody that would help improve our club.

On choosing Backes over Loui Eriksson…
Well, I think term has always been something that everybody was concerned about with all of our players. That was something that we felt we need to be careful about. We fell a year shy of that with David and felt more comfortable. Did we know that at the particular time we made a decision on Loui, no, but I believe that David provides versatility we’re excited about. And understanding where our lineup is and the young players that will be around primary centers and allowing David, as I mentioned, to go to the wing if we have other players – I mentioned Ryan Spooner, I would mention [Jakob] Forsbacka-Karlsson at some point in time will land on our doorstep. And that will spread things out. It might be the same thing in terms of having Zach Senyshyn or [Jake] DeBrusk or [Danton] Heinen and [Seth] Griffith if he comes up. It will be the same for Frank Vatrano comes up. I can go up and down the lineup of players who we’re excited about over the course of the next five seasons or beyond, certainly. And that’s what the Draft and building the depth needs to have happen. We took a step back in that regard, it was not a fun process as I mentioned. But I think David Backes brings the leadership qualities and such that he wants to win. That’s the rest of our group. We need to have other players emerge. It’s not unlike every team around the league. We have to have younger players step up.

On if someone like Backes was valued more than Eriksson…
The age is one-year difference in terms of the players. It’s always within a range, in terms of what we’re looking at for a player and what their potential trajectory would be if we just decided at this point in time that Backes offered more versatility as to what our hockey club needed and he certainly fit to a large degree what we were trying to do moving forward in complementing our younger players.

On if he’s slow playing a contract extension with Brad Marchand…
No, there’s no slow playing there. We will pick up in a timely fashion. We’ve got a couple other things that we’re exploring in the next day or so, take a deep breath. But we will be exploring completing that for Brad in short order.

On sitting it out from here free agency-wise…
Again, we’ll evaluate. I’ve been in discussions with, in all likelihood, the players you’re describing. And I’ll continue to pick up conversations, whether or not everyone’s closed up shop for the summer. I don’t see that as happening. I think everybody’s continuing, after you get past this initial wave people are still looking to improve their club and have talks and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re in position flexibility-wise to continue to explore the right deal.

On looking at Backes more as a right wing…
We’re going to let it play out. We look at the fact that the penalty killing was an area that we needed to address. He’s really good at that. The strength up the middle of the ice, as I mentioned. Ryan Spooner, it will be a great challenge for him to occupy that spot or play next to one of these centers. The guys that emerge as being able to handle the minutes and the situations are the ones that are going to play. It’s just a real good opportunity for anybody, any younger player coming into this organization is going to be put in position to play with really unique players. And we’ll find the right complements. If that means David gets to move to the wall to play with one of the top two guys in a producing role, that’s okay. We’ve now been in a position where if we want to go four deep, which we generally have when we’ve had success, where’s the matchup come from the other side? The other teams may find it difficult to play against the top centers that we have. So we’re going to let it play out. We do have a blueprint to how we want to look at it, but again it’s going to be up to some of our younger players. They’re going to be given the opportunity to be put in those roles and it’s up to them to seize it.

On the heavy, grinding style being the team’s identity next season…
I don’t necessarily think it’s a heavy grinding. I think it has the ability to play in all three zones. For our standpoint, Riley Nash, you look at possession, you look at versatility to play both center, wing, PK, go up and down the lineup. We’ve still got other young players that I mentioned that are going to be given opportunities in these roles. We need to do a better job. Once we get pucks into the offensive zone, being able to withstand that cycle game and possession, it’s not just going to be about off the rush. Albeit, we have skill coming that is going to complement this group and play a little faster pace, that we have balance on the back end that we’re building in depth there. I think that you have to be prepared to play, have an identity, which we will, play a 200-foot game. David really fits into that, playing defense. And we have players that will get up and down the ice, but I don’t think we’re overly concerned with that and necessarily trying to adapt to one style. I think we have an identity and a commitment to a 200-foot game that we have to have.

On if the discussions he had with David Backes and how Backes’ leadership and intangibles sold him on making the forward a primary target…
Well, as I mentioned, I have to thank the whole organization, from our standpoint and how we approached this. We had sort of everybody all hands on deck in talking to David. This is, I think I understand what it means to play in one city for a period of time and potentially move on. It’s a big decision, it’s a family dynamic, so we had people lending support that there was going to be a real soft landing spot for David once he decided that this was something that he wanted to pursue. We talked about the opportunity – most players would look at it and say, ‘Well, you’ve got Bergeron and Krejci, where am I playing?’ And David looked at it and said, ‘Boy, I get to play with Bergeron and Krejci, whether I’m playing behind them or with them on the wings.’ And he acknowledges, like ‘Wow, we’re a really deep team.’ I said to him, ‘Well, you might not start 62 percent of the time in your own zone as a result of this, and Bergeron might not have to take every draw in every penalty kill situation.” And David [Krejci] might get offensive starts that have drifted away from his game, so it just, there’s a domino effect in identifying what David Backes can bring to the table to our hockey club. But then you talk about the character piece, the leadership qualities and his willingness to want to win and it aligns with the guys that have won. And the more we can surround our team and identify our team in that regard – now, this all being said, that our younger players have to step forward, emerge, have the opportunity to take a hold of it, and these guys are going to be the leading core to get us to where we want to go, and our younger players have to jump on board.

On the prospects coming soon for Development Camp and what message he will send to them in regards to where the organization is headed…
It really should send – it’s a two-fold answer – for me, it sends a message to our current players, and our current leaders have won, that this ownership is all committed to find the best players that will complement this group. And the younger players should recognize that this is a big-time land of opportunity in terms of coming in here and just proving to us that you’re ready to play and bring to the table what you can bring and develop. If you don’t make our team now, fill in the gaps that we’re expecting you to do. If that means that Zach Senyshyn has to learn to protect the puck a little bit better, stop and start and not circle away – he had a great year, 45 goals – uses his speed through the neutral zone. Now, be a three-zone player, and what we identify with, and what identifies to win. If Brandon Carlo, who skates and covers ice, can continue to move pucks and find pucks, he might surprise somebody in this camp and I can go right down the line for all of our guys, to be target specific. You know, Danton Heinen was a prolific scorer in college – if he can get his pace up, he’s going to be able to complement these players and contribute offensively at a really high level. So, again, we can go up and down the lineup, we’re just excited about the players that we have, taking a step back in terms of acquiring the picks and taking prospects that should be really, really excited where we’re headed. David Backes identifying to our current players that we’re trying to win, we’re trying to win at all costs, you know, as far as being patient about the process, but we’re in it to win.

On not having any offers to any high-end RFA players…
You know you’re right, as far as my recollection there weren’t. It’s certainly an avenue that we wouldn’t shy away from if the opportunity felt that it was the right player and the situation and the flexibility was there. For us at this point in time I don’t think that’s part of our plan and focus. You know, it doesn’t mean I’ll stop making calls and seeing whether or not there’s an opportunity to continue to improve and add to our club in the right areas and target some players. I don't foresee that at this point in time, no.
 
On the UFA defensemen that went today and if they were in on any of those deals…
We’ve been in discussions with their agents and some of the players that did sign. So we just didn’t fit the right fit or haven’t found the right fit for those players at this point in time. Feeling good about John-Michael Liles coming back and joining that group and providing some balance as I talk about having sort of guys that are able to defend and be hard but also having guys that can transition, get up and down the ice, get back on pucks and move pucks. And obviously we have to have Colin Miller take a step and emerge and Joe Morrow in the same vain. You know, Robbie O’Gara, Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo … Chris Casto is another player. He’s now played three years; he can really skate. So these guys should be, at some point in time, have sort of a whiff of the barn door here to say hey, is there an opportunity here. And you know same thing when [Charlie] McAvoy and [Ryan] Lindgren come on board. And [Jeremy] Lauzon is another one. It’s just an exciting time to realize that we’ve got this core group of guys that want to win and we’re exercising some patience, we did not trade away prospects over the course of, despite having an opportunity at times to jump in, force them from players that may have helped us. But we want to make the right decisions.
 
On being light on top-end defensemen…
Well they’re difficult, as I mentioned, to acquire. I think that in a perfect world you have to find them and develop them and put them in the lineup so that they grow along with you. And hopefully we’ve identified a couple of those players in the last couple drafts and what we have currently in some of our players, they have to emerge as that and grow and develop into that. I think that some of the parts here that we’re moving into the right direction and have some balance, but anybody that would stand up and say, “Well I’ll take a top two guy,” and raise their hand and somebody drops you so they’re going to complain about it. But I do believe it’s very difficult. You saw what the acquisition costs were for a couple of those players and I don’t think the prices are going to drop. So we have to be in a position to allow our players to grow and protect back from keeping them from here on forward.
 
On signing Anton Khudobin…
Well it’s unfortunate that Malcolm had an injury last year, missed the bulk of the games coming down the stretch for us to continue to evaluate his development as a result of that injury, that’s no fault of his. I think signing Anton provided a comfort level. We were committed to playing whoever is in that position a certain number of games to offset Tuukka [Rask] and we’re going to do that. If Malcolm Subban rolls through the door and … You watched a young player, Matt Murray, emerge and win a Stanley Cup. If Malcolm rolls through the door and he’s ready to go then he’s going to play. And everybody – that’s just the competition at the NHL level. But I think that the familiarity with Anton, we’ve had a revolving door for a number of years in terms of the backup position. This was an opportunity to allow Malcolm recovery time. And camp will be unique this year as Rask will be away. The plan will be for these guys to get quality games here through the exhibition season and Zane McIntyre will be a part of that as well, and let’s see who emerges. But I think the comfort level for where we are now and where we will be in the next couple of years, Anton was a good fit for our group.

#07/01/16#
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