Rask A Factor in Offseason Plans
Sweeney indicated that the Bruins will be patient in their approach with Tuukka Rask as the netminder goes through his offseason surgery for a torn hip labrum and the subsequent rehab that will follow. Rask, an unrestricted free agent this summer, said last week that he does not want to play anywhere else and is eyeing a return to the ice in January or February.
That would leave the B's with a hole in goal over the season's first few months, one that could be filled by a combination of Jeremy Swayman and Daniel Vladar and/or a veteran free agent.
"Obviously, Tuukka has to have the offseason surgery and re-evaluate how he's doing coming out of that," said Sweeney. "As he mentioned, he knows he's had a torn labrum and wants to make sure that Dr. Kelly, who's likely to perform it, that there are no surprises and then go from there. He indicated to us that he fully intended to rehab with the intention of coming back and we'll go through our meetings and such and go forward.
"But we have to factor in that he could be a part of that - whether or not that means that the two young guys get the bulk of the work in the early going and see where Tuukka comes, or we go to augment our group and create internal competition and then reevaluate how Tuukka's doing coming out of the rehab process."
Sweeney went on to say that turning the load over to Swayman and Vladar full time would be a "tall task." The duo has combined for just 16 NHL games and two playoff appearances, both in relief.
"Again, time's going to tell whether or not one of them is going to be a No. 1 goaltender in the National Hockey League," said Sweeney. "I think we're very comfortable with the depth in the organization having those two young players. We're in the early stages of learning if Tuukka has decided to have surgery, and we have to make a decision.
"If we're going to go to market and bring in a player that we feel is ahead of those two players, certainly from an experience standpoint, or we do roll the dice a little bit, allow those guys to see if they can handle the workload, which is a tall task. Make no mistake about it, it's a tall task."
Swayman shined in his 10 games with the big club over the season's final few weeks as he filled in for the injured Rask and veteran Jaroslav Halak, who was sidelined by COVID. The rookie netminder went 7-3-0 with a 1.50 goals against average and .945 save percentage.
Vladar put forth a similarly strong showing in limited time, posting a 2-2-1 record to go along with a 3.40 GAA and .886 save percentage - numbers that were skewed by the B's 8-1 drubbing at the hands of the Capitals in April.
"Small sample size of Jeremy, he played extremely well," said Sweeney. "Daniel played well in his starts. Obviously, had an overall hiccup as a team, I think we were pretty beaten up the one night when we played Washington at home. But Daniel acquitted himself very well, particularly against Pittsburgh on the road in that game he played.
"Again, we're still in the early stages and feel comfortable with the depth. But we have a very crucial decision to make and chart a course for certainly the first part of the season as to when Tuukka will be ready. We have to forecast that accurately if Tuukka does decide to come back and play and how he fits in."
Neely added that the team feels "pretty comfortable starting the season" with Swayman in goal.
Video: Sweeney talks following the '20-'21 season
Depleted on Defense
Sweeney revealed that the Bruins had eight concussions on their back end this season. Two of those came in the postseason as both Brandon Carlo and Kevan Miller saw their playoffs cut short after heavy hits left them with head injuries.
The amount of attrition certainly caught up to the Bruins, as the back end struggled - particularly on the penalty kill - without Carlo and Miller over the final three games of the Islanders. Boston was also without veterans John Moore and Steven Kampfer, both of whom underwent season-ending surgeries in the spring.
As such, the message, once again, for Sweeney is that a team can never have a enough depth on defense.
"I think we did an adequate job throughout the course of the year," said Sweeney, referring to the club's decision to integrate young blue liners Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril into the lineup ahead of the season. "We certainly had some challenges. We had eight concussions alone on our back end. So, you're mixing and matching, and we had some players come in like Jarred [Tinordi] and play well in some situations. We added Mike Reilly from a puck-moving standpoint. He acquitted himself well.
"But we realize that you need to have depth in the organization on the back end. And certainly, losing Carlo and Miller for the last series, it definitely presented some challenges. We had some players that had to go on the penalty kill in situations in primary minutes that we had spread that around pretty cleanly with Brandon and Kevan.
"Overall, you have to account the injuries, but if teams lose two of their top six when you're going through a playoff run, it's going to have a residual effect. It's not an excuse because you have to have depth. I think, at certain points, the younger guys acquitted themselves well, and at other times, they may have stumbled. They had some stumbles, they had some roadblocks, and that's to be expected."
Both Sweeney and Neely - as well as coach Bruce Cassidy during his end-of-season presser on Monday - noted the potential need for a minutes-eating defenseman that can play alongside Carlo on the B's second pair, especially if Mike Reilly departs via free agency.
"The elusive left D we've been looking for that can chew up a lot of minutes," Neely said when asked what the B's were looking for this offseason. "Maybe play on the second pairing with Carlo. That'd be more of a shutdown or some puck movement, some offensive blue line acumen. As we saw, you can never have enough D and we never seem to have enough. For some reason or another, we get banged up.
"I think our D this year had maybe eight concussions, which is something I don't know how to combat. But that position is something that we've been looking for, for a while. And hopefully we can do something to grab someone that's going to help maybe play 20 minutes a game for us."
Video: Neely speaks with the media following '20-'21 season
Taking Some Time
David Krejci said last week that he is going to take some time with his family before deciding where he would like to continue his career. The unrestricted free agent, who has played all 15 of his NHL seasons with the Bruins, did say that he has trouble seeing himself playing anywhere other than Boston.
"In David's case, it's very unique in the fact that he would like to continue to play with the Bruins," said Sweeney. "He's [said before that] he may return home [to Czechia] at some point in time, whether that's next year or down the road. His family dynamic is important to him. He's asked to have a little bit of time in the next few coming days to allow him, on his own, to have conversations with his family and then we're going to sit back down and have a real honest conversation.
"I do believe David does want to continue to play and he's made it pretty clear that he if he'd like to continue his career, this is the place he'd continue to play should he chose to stay at the NHL level."
Sweeney said that he had an early conversation with Krejci's left winger, Taylor Hall, and his representatives when the 29-year-old impending free agent arrived at the trade deadline.
"He's expressed interest, mutual interest, to have him back," said Sweeney. "Had an early conversation with his representatives and, obviously, we'll have to see where all of the pieces fit together."
Time to Expand
It may take a while for those pieces to fall into place given the rules of the July 21 expansion draft. Sweeney indicated that it's unlikely he would sign any of the UFAs before then given the effects those deals would have on the club's protected list.
"The preference would be not, given the fact that we have expansion," said Sweeney. "It creates other problems for us. I think, again, we'll have discussions and hopefully be able to find common ground. You run the risk, you get into that interview period and period beyond expansion that may get closer to the deadline, and they find ground somewhere else that they feel is a better fit.
"There's a risk there…you want to keep the strongest roster you possibly can on the depth side of things, and we'll try to do that like everybody else."
Sweeney acknowledges that the team - and every other club across the league - will lose a good player to the Seattle Kraken, a scenario that played out just four years ago when the Vegas Golden Knights entered the league.
"We have tough decision to make all the way across the board, as does every team," said Sweeney. "I think we all experienced that going through the Vegas expansion draft. So, you're going to lose a good player…the rules are there for their benefit and you just have to try and hope that they pick one guy that you might have depth to replace. Or you have to go to market to replace."
Procedure for Coyle
Sweeney revealed one bit of injury news that did not come out of last Friday's end-of-season player availability, saying that Charlie Coyle is set for "an offseason maintenance procedure to get back to the full health and can help drive that third line spot." The Weymouth native played in all 11 postseason games and 51 of 56 regular-season contests, sitting out the final four games with an upper-body injury after blocking a shot in New Jersey on May 4.