There were countless conversations about what may or may not take place. But ultimately Sweeney orchestrated two trades shortly before Monday's 3 p.m. deadline, acquiring forward Lee Stempniak from New Jersey and defenseman John-Michael Liles from Carolina, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents after the season.
“They’re both excited about joining the Boston Bruins and the opportunity to get this team back into the playoffs and move forward,” said Sweeney, who expected both players to be available for Tuesday night’s game against Calgary.
Sweeney noted it was not easy to part ways with the four draft picks – two in each trade – that were flipped for the veterans, but the GM was confident the moves would help spur the Bruins during the stretch run.
“You’ve got a lot of conversations going on with a lot of different people,” said Sweeney. “And everybody’s, at times, on a fishing expedition as to what may or may not transpire. It’s a challenge. You have to rely on your staff a lot and our guys were really good from months ago when we started to plan for this and I’m thankful and grateful for them.
“I’m thankful for the support from the ownership, and Cam [Neely] and Charlie [Jacobs] and Mr. Jacobs. It’s not easy to let them know that we’re going to give up a second-rounder for [a player].”
Stempniak comes to the Bruins from New Jersey, where he was leading the Devils in scoring with 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists). The B’s traded a 2017 second-round pick and a 2016 fourth-rounder for the 33-year-old winger, who has been traded six times in his career, including the last three trade deadlines.
“The type of year he’s having I think will complement our group very well. He can play at a bunch of different positions for us,” said Sweeney.
“He’s had a tremendous season and that’s why we went out and made the acquisition because he’s going to fit into our group and hopefully continue to do that.”
Stempniak, who will be playing for his ninth NHL team, is no stranger to New England after starring for four years (2001-05) at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The New York native lives in Boston during the offseason and also practiced with the Bruins during preseason captain’s practices while he was a free agent.
“I’m really excited,” said Stempniak. “I know Patrice Bergeron pretty well, sort of worked out at times together this summer since he was around the city and I skated with him the past couple summers, so I know him pretty well. Brad Marchand, Dennis Seidenberg, a few of those guys, so it makes it easier — Jimmy Hayes is another guy — it makes it easier knowing some of those guys coming in.
“All of the guys I’ve met have been very good people and you look at their team and you look at their roster and there’s a lot of great players, so for me personally, I’m really excited. [It’s] a team where a lot of guys have won the Stanley Cup before and there’s experience there, and that’s a team that’s right in a good spot for the playoff push and I couldn’t be happier to be joining the team.”
Sweeney confirmed that the team did extend the veteran a professional try out before the season and was asked if the team regretted not being able to sign Stempniak at that time.
“Clearly, if we had known that he was going to have 40 points and such, the type of year he’s going to have, I would think that 29, 28 other teams would have felt the same way and might not have made acquisitions that they made,” said Sweeney.
Liles, a left-shot defenseman, was acquired from the Hurricanes for a 2016 third-round pick, a 2017 fifth-round pick, and prospect Anthony Camara. The 35-year-old Michigan State alum tallied six goals and nine assists over 64 games for the Hurricanes this season.
“John-Michael Liles is another player that brings a lot of versatility to our group,” said Sweeney. “I think we will have the ability to have a guy with experience that can move the puck and complement, again, some of the hard and heavy guys that we have and go in and play an important role going forward.”
Sweeney highlighted Liles’ offensive ability and potential to be an important piece on the power play. Liles has 33 goals and 116 assists on the man advantage in his career.
“He’s not what I call a prototypical shutdown defenseman, but again if you spend last time in your own end you don’t have to defend,” said Sweeney. “Hopefully he can bring that to the table. Hopefully he can complement the offensive part of it, at the offensive blue line, be it second power play – or [Sunday night against Tampa Bay] maybe he would have even been on the first one, we went 0 for 6.”
Liles has not been to the postseason since 2013 when his Toronto Maple Leafs fell to the Bruins in Game 7 of the first round and said he is looking forward to being in the middle of a playoff race.
“Honestly, I’m just happy to be joining a team that will hopefully continue making a push for the playoffs and get back in,” said Liles. “I know they’re in a great spot right now and hopefully myself and Stemper can add to that. Once you’re in the playoffs anything can happen and that’s what it’s about. It’s about winning and trying to win a Stanley Cup.
“I’m no different from any other guy in this league, that’s the ultimate goal to start every season.”