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Free Agency: Bruins Play Skating Game

Sweeney says adding strong skaters was "paramount"

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - Don Sweeney had a common theme in mind when inking John Moore, Joakim Nordstrom, and Chris Wagner to contracts in the opening hours of free agency on Sunday: skating ability.

The importance Boston's general manager placed on adding the fleet of foot was clear.

"Well, the skating component of all the players we added today, I think, was paramount," said Sweeney. "Joakim is a great skater. Wags will be forechecking, he's real hard on the puck. John, from a recovery standpoint, from getting back on pucks, being able to play against different line matchups in situations for us.

"But overall, I think we have better balance in terms of what we can present each and every night as a matchup for our team."

As always, Sweeney was also looking to build up depth, particularly on the back end, where Boston found out - once again - during the postseason that a team can never have enough defensemen.

"We look for players that will complement our group," said Sweeney. "John, what he represents for our hockey club - we're just trying to find value, whether it was a trade partner or whether it was a free agent. You generally overpay this time of year, whether it's your turn or however it may be…but we feel fortunate that were able to get a player of that nature."

And with Riley Nash (Columbus) and Tim Schaller (Vancouver) signing elsewhere on Sunday, the Bruins were also in need of some new bottom-six blood.

"They both skate really well - [the] physicality piece," said Sweeney. "Noel [Acciari] is a player that ran through some injuries, the way he plays. Chris can slide over there; he's a three-position player.

"Again, being target-specific on some of the needs that we had, that we felt that we were potentially losing with some players, as I was going through some negotiations there, that we needed to replace."

Video: Sweeney spoke with media after signing new Bruins

Falling Short

Sweeney was disappointed to lose out in the John Tavares sweepstakes. A contingent of Sweeney, Cam Neely, and Bruce Cassidy flew to Los Angeles earlier this week to pitch the center on coming to Boston, but ultimately the 27-year-old chose to leave the New York Islanders and sign a seven-year, $77 million deal with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs.

"I would've preferred it not in our division," said Sweeney. "The overall process was a really good process and structural to have somebody else dive inside our own team, and we were thankful for the opportunity to present. [Tavares' agent] Pat [Brisson] and his group and John himself were really good about it, and he was well prepared, and we felt we were.

"We put our best foot forward and it didn't fall our way. But, again, to be in that situation is something that our group should be happy about…. it's, obviously, a reflection of our current players and a testament to them….it's a reflection of our entire organization.

"I've said all along, it's about winning. That's the mandate that we're trying to put forward to all of our players, whether it was the Development Camp guys or the highest level free agency players that we're trying to attract, to be a part of what we're trying to do."

Sweeney said that despite not landing Tavares, the team will not shift its approach for the remainder of the offseason.

"No…you have contingency plans," said Sweeney. "All of [the] staff…I'm grateful for them, everybody worked hard, and all of the plans and all of the situations we had - the ownership was certainly supportive of what we were trying to accomplish - and hopefully we move forward as a better team."

Video: Bruins sign 7 players on day one of Free Agency

Ongoing Discussions

Sweeney indicated that negotiations with restricted free agent Sean Kuraly were progressing towards a solution. The 25-year-old center notched six goals and eight assists in 75 games during his rookie season.

"We've had really good discussions with Sean, so I would expect that at some point in time in the near future, but I might have felt that with a couple other guys too without going through it," Sweeney cautioned. "Until you get a deal on paper it doesn't exist. But we've had many discussions and our intentions are to find a good spot."

It's possible that Kuraly, if re-signed, could get a shot at the third-line center role left open by Nash's departure for Columbus.

"Sean Kuraly is certainly a player that wants to have a bigger role," said Sweeney. "And then you have the three younger players [in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic, and Jack Studnicka] that we feel [can push], and we also have a couple of other guys that we've added to the group [in Wagner and Nordstrom] that we're going to go to work with and see where they fit in."

Leaving Town

The Bruins saw nearly all of their unrestricted free agents sign elsewhere on Sunday, including forwards Kenny Agostino (Montreal; 1 year, two-way), Schaller (Vancouver; 2 years, $1.9 million AAV), Nash (Columbus; three years, $2.75 million AAV), and Austin Czarnik (Calgary; 2 years, $1.25 million AAV); goalie Anton Khudobin (Dallas; 2 years, $2.5 million AAV); and defensemen Nick Holden (Vegas; 2 years, $2.6 million AAV) and Tommy Cross (Columbus; 1 year, two-way).

"Sometimes it just doesn't happen," said Sweeney. "You can be close and think it's done and it just doesn't. That's part of it, and I wish those guys all well because they were great Boston Bruins and they were successful here, and I think they realized that and they put themselves in good situations."

Veteran forwards Tommy Wingels and Rick Nash - who, according to reports, continues to contemplate whether or not he would like to continue his career - have yet to sign elsewhere.

"I've been in touch with Tommy's group still, but we're going to take a step back and kind of evaluate where we are," Sweeney said of Wingels. "And whether it comes together from a veteran standpoint, integration of youth…again there are different opportunities to kind of look around ask about trades. We're going to be a little more patient after today and moving out."

Sweeney said negotiations with Khudobin reached a point that forced him to look elsewhere before other options were off the table.

"Well, we got to a point where we felt we weren't closing a deal and we had gone through the goalie list and could tell it wasn't going to be," said Sweeney. "I think we just looked at all the factors and we had conversations with other goaltenders and it came back to our comfort level and what we are trying to accomplish that Jaro fit in, checked one of our boxes."

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