The latter includes trade activity. Sweeney had been in talks with the other 29 general managers, and those came to fruition on Friday in what was a busy lead-up to the first round that saw the Bruins pick 13th, 14th and 15th overall.
Earlier on Friday, Boston acquired the 15th, 45th and 52nd overall picks in this year’s draft from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Dougie Hamilton.
The Bruins also acquired the 13th overall pick, goaltender Martin Jones and defenseman Colin Miller from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Milan Lucic.
The activity began on Thursday, when the Bruins acquired a 2016 sixth round pick from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for the rights to Carl Soderberg, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and wasn’t going to be returning to Boston.
“There were a lot of balls in the air in terms of Dougie’s situation, as there were with Milan,” Sweeney told reporters about an hour before the first round of the draft kicked off on Friday night. “And we worked over the course of the last couple of days in particular, weighing every one of our options and what would materialize. Sometimes you’re certain your ask is not met and you have to react accordingly.”
“I talked with - I’d say every team in some context. Maybe not just on Dougie alone, but I connected with every general manager.”
Hamilton is set to become a restricted free agent on July 1. Sweeney had expressed the intent to re-sign the defenseman, and reached out with a significant long-term contract offer. There was a possibility that Hamilton would have received offer sheets from other clubs willing to shell out for the 22-year-old.
“It was definitely a possibility. We knew it existed,” said Sweeney. “As we came down to the stretch, we felt that we had positioned ourselves, especially with the Lucic situation that we executed, that we would have been in position [to be able to match - so I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the offer sheet all along. I thought we would get into a position to be able to match.”
“We extended Dougie a very significant contract offer and it didn’t lead us to where we thought we’d be able to with him being comfortable being a part of our group long-term. So that sort of changed the course a little bit.”
“I think everybody views Dougie as foundational type player,” Sweeney later added. “And it was indicated to us that that might not be the case going forward.”
“We were in a position that we felt that it would be better to move in a different direction.”
The Bruins and Hamilton were not able to come to an agreement on contract negotiations. There was a gap between the two sides.
“You’re going to have to ask Dougie’s camp, because at the end of the day, I don’t know what necessarily it would have taken to get done outside of maybe something being forged on us, relative to the contract offer that we extended,” said Sweeney.
Hamilton just wrapped up his three year, entry-level contract.
“It’s always going to take two sides to make a deal,” said Sweeney. “Clearly, there’s been a bunch of players that have jumped bridge deals and gone to the next one. It’s up to the individual team and the players themselves to find that deal to be made, and whether or not that would have existed here, I firmly believe it didn’t.”
The compensation the Bruins received in return gave them three picks in this year’s draft. Sweeney had to make the decision.
“That was a decision that I made. We were in a position - as I said, if you feel like you want to ask the question whether or not an offer sheet was going to come, go ahead and ask, I can’t answer that. You have to ask the 29 other general managers whether or not they were going to do it,” said Sweeney. “We were in a position to be able to react accordingly if we felt that that was necessary. I think the more important part was I don’t believe that Dougie would have been comfortable in Boston going forward for long term.”
Boston also tried to get a player in exchange for Hamilton, or move up in the first round. The cost was too high.
“That was something we definitely considered. But teams at this time are very reluctant to do so,” said Sweeney. “Everybody approaches the draft certainly with some frenzy and understanding where those picks and there’s value there. And clearly, now with us sitting with three consecutive picks in the first round, we feel good about that. It’s going to be a little bit of a younger group, but we also have a core group of guys that still exist, minus Milan and Dougie.”
With Hamilton no longer in the Spoked-B, the Bruins’ defense corps will look fairly different. Adam McQuaid will remain a Bruin, after being re-signed. Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Dennis Seidenberg and Kevan Miller round out the back end, with young players like Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow and newcomer Colin Miller competed for full-time jobs.
“I certainly believe McQuaid helps in that category,” said Sweeney. “Is he on our power play? No he’s not, but Kevan Miller I think has offensive upside. You saw where Zach Trotman stepped in, you saw where Joe Morrow stepped in, it’s clearly a younger group. We are going to go back and look at to continue to improve our hockey club in every area. That’s not going to stop.”
“Adam McQuaid re-signing with us is a big plus,” said Sweeney. “He’s a big part of our organization, he’s a tremendous leader on and off the ice. He brings an edge and a physicality that we need to maintain, and our forward group is going to be young in some areas, but they’re ready for that next challenge as well.”
“Clearly, we have to integrate our younger players in our lineup and do a better job, as I’ve mentioned, be patient with them, and continue to develop them at the NHL level, and I think every team faces that.”
While it was tough to pull the trigger on the deal with Hamilton, it was very difficult for Sweeney to deal Lucic, who was drafted 50th overall by Boston in 2006 and spent all eight of his NHL seasons with the club.
“I can’t tell you how difficult the call was to make and I expressed that to Milan,” said Sweeney. “I have to thank both Milan and Doug Hamilton for being part of the Bruins’ organization. I’ve been with Milan from day one when he arrived to our group and that was a very, very difficult conversation to have.”
“I just felt that, the situation we were in, it was going to be very difficult to extend the offer to the level that I thought it would take to retain Milan going forward, and you know, our hockey club has significant dollars tied up in a number of players in that same category and it would have been hard to please, in all likelihood, two more players.”
Sweeney had spoken generally with Lucic’s camp about a contract extension, with the winger set to enter the final year of his contract in 2015-16. He knew what Lucic’s pedigree would command on the open market, with his playing style and what he’s accomplished.
After Friday, the Bruins were set to next head into the second day of the draft with eight picks, including three in the second round. It’s a new experience for Sweeney, in his first foray as general manager.
“Very new to this seat and actually executing it and as I said, I felt comfortable talking to other general managers and getting a gage as to where they were at,” he said. “I do know their rosters and their players and our staff does, and certainly the value of the picks that we garnered as a result of this. It’s not easy, it’s not easy trying to [improve your team] - because other teams are trying to do the same thing.”
While Sweeney executed difficult decisions on Friday, he was confident going through the process.
“I think every general manager’s going to sit up here and try to improve their hockey club. Do I think we do need to? Yeah, but we have picks and we have assets that I can now try and turn into that,” said Sweeney. “But I’m not going to force the fact that other teams may be looking to - we shed salary today as a result of that as well.”
“So we’re in a position going forward, we have to have our younger players in this situation step forward, and be given an opportunity to grow and develop and I feel confident in our coaches to be able to do that.”
In keeping the 13th, 14th and 15th picks, the Bruins selected defenseman Jakub Zboril and forwards Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn, prospects who will likely need time to develop.
That doesn’t mean the Bruins are being built to win down the road. Sweeney reiterated that they’re being built to win now.
“Our expectations are to make the playoffs, absolutely,” he said. “With our goaltending, and our core group of guys and our strength up the middle of the ice - we had players that didn’t score at a level they were supposed to [this past year]. Are we going to look to improve our club? Absolutely.”