General Manager Don Sweeney stressed that on a conference call with media Wednesday morning.
“I’ll explore whatever I have to do, in every way, shape, or form to continue to improve the club and find the blend and the balance that we need,” said Sweeney.
Improving the nature of the defense is a priority.
“We talked about it as a group — improving our defense is No. 1,” President Cam Neely said at the end of the 2015-16 season.
“We have areas that we want to address in the depth of our organization, likely in the forward position, either on the right wing or the center, or again, on the back end,” Sweeney said on the conference call, when asked by a reporter about the areas where they are looking to improve.
“We’re exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players or to be in the marketplace.”
Above all, Sweeney emphasized the need for another defender to help the team’s transition game, which saw systematic improvements for 2015-16.
“I think we need to look for another transitional D-man,” said Sweeney. “We’ve had talks with [impending restricted free agent] Torey [Krug] and we’ll find, whatever term that ends up being, we’ll find a contract for him.”
“But we’re looking for balance,” Sweeney continued. “We’re also looking for players like Colin Miller to take the next step. We’ve got younger players that will hopefully push, and that’s what you want.”
While the Bruins are focused on improving their transition, they’re also tackling this while going through a transition.
“You want the depth of the organization to be there for the younger players to push somebody out because they’re ready to play,” said Sweeney. “You know, [Matt] Grzelcyk and [Rob] O’Gara, and I just came back from seeing [Jeremy] Lauzon play — very excited about the trajectory of that player and the possibility down the road, depending on what his development curve looks like and when he gets in here and playing against the men.”
“So we’ve got pieces in place that will hopefully push the group that we currently have and that’s what you want. You want that internal competition that players feel like they better perform. But we’re also looking outside, at the marketplace, because we need to continue to transition the puck better.”
The Bruins could land an elite transitional defenseman in a variety of ways.
“You know, either through free agency or through acquisition — it’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace,” said Sweeney. “But we’re going to be aggressive.”
The current members of the Bruins’ blueline will also be expected to upgrade their play, along with the entire five-man unit’s defensive play. That should help get the puck moving better up ice.
“I’d like to see us improve a little better on the defensive side of the puck, and that’s meaning bring our goals against down a little bit and to me it’s not just defensemen it’s forwards coming back and making sure we have a better group to defend so that we can turn the puck over,” said Julien.
“And I think that in itself — if we can get a little bit better defensively, whether it’s tracking, whether it’s in the zone — we can get the puck quicker and get our transition going.”
The addition of Bruce Cassidy as an assistant coach on Julien’s staff will help in that regard. Cassidy, Head Coach of the Providence Bruins for the past five seasons, will be behind the bench handling the defense in 2016-17.
As a defenseman, Cassidy was a puck-mover. In Providence, he has helped with the development of players like Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow and Colin Miller.
“What I expressed to him was I'd like to see our D’s use the ice a little bit more when it’s there for them and not worry so much about moving it to his partner,” said Julien. “So whether it’s wheeling the net, whether it’s taking ice that’s given to you, I think it will help the transition. That’s right in his wheelhouse.”
“That’s how I’d like us to look on the transition part, where we’re a little more fluid coming out of our zone,” said Cassidy. “That generally is a mindset that the defensemen have to buy into, that they have the ability to do that.”
“Every player on the back end has the ability to move the puck; they might not all be labeled necessarily puck-movers throughout hockey, but they’re NHL players, they all have the ability to move the puck and we want to sort of grow their game there and at least reach their ceiling and hopefully beyond in that part of it.”
That development involves players at all stages of their NHL careers, getting the defensive-minded players to open up their skating game, and vice versa for the puck-movers.
“We have to build that confidence into their game where they can move the puck, make good decisions with it, and if they mess up, then they’re going to have the opportunity to get back out there and get it right,” said Cassidy. “So that’s our goal and I believe that group can do it.”
Still, as much as transition has been repeatedly emphasized, Julien wants his group to be tougher defensively.
“The transition game to me wasn’t as big of an issue as the play without the puck defensively and how many goals we gave up this year,” the bench boss made sure to stress. “So we have to find that balance of continuing to bring the scoring that we did like we did last year but improving on the goals against.”
Whichever combination of defenders shakes out on the back end for the 2016-17 season, they’ll ultimately need to produce results, along with the rest of the team.
“It’s always going to come down to results, there’s no question,” said Sweeney. “I’m on record: this is a results-oriented business, so we have to get better in areas, we have to improve our roster. I’ve said all along that we need to continue to improve our roster.”
“We’ll be in the marketplace in every different way, shape, or form to try and acquire players that will continue to help us do so.”