After a busy draft weekend of trades, General Manager Don Sweeney joined media on the club’s annual conference call prior to the opening of free agency. He was well aware of those weighing in on the organization’s decision making.
“Well, ‘heat’ is the appropriate term, I would say,” Sweeney said on the call Tuesday morning. “I knew going in that the chair would be warm, accepted that challenge, and knew there would be some hard decisions to make.”
“We’ve been in cap purgatory for quite some time and wanted to extradite ourselves from that going forward to improve our club hopefully from this point forward and in the future.”
The GM spoke strongly about the Bruins not being in a “rebuild” mode, though.
“No, I don’t think it’s a rebuild. We didn’t strip this down,” said Sweeney. “We have a tremendous core group of guys that are going to obviously carry an even heavier load here in the short term while these other kids can come in and start to take footing.”
“I’ll use [Ryan] Spooner as an example of that last year - I’ve always referenced that we need patience in terms of development and also, we can’t be impatient in terms of the integration, and that’s what’s going to be going forward.”
Since being hired as GM, Sweeney has been adamant about the integration of young players into the lineup like Spooner, David Pastrnak and defenseman Zach Trotman, who's on a one-way deal for 2015-16.
“We didn’t strip this down," said Sweeney. "This was just situations that we were presented that I felt that we needed to change the course a little bit.”
“A lot of people are looking at it as one or two steps backwards. I look at it like we’re going to try and improve our team between now and September and October going forward as incremental as it may be, but we are also going to be a team for the future as well.”
“Next week, when we get by this time, you go into development camp - that’s the excitement piece that people probably can’t see right now to get past this initial onset.”
The Bruins’ development camp grew in size over the weekend, with 10 new prospects added to the system, including six from the first two rounds.
“We’re going to have a plethora of players that hopefully you and everybody else will turn around and say ‘wow, they’ve got some really good assets and those guys are going to develop into all NHL players,’” said Sweeney.
“And that’s the whole trajectory piece that again, it’s difficult as I sit here today for people to sort of understand, but hopefully when we come through this and we’ve still got a very good team - and we’re going to continue to get better from now and when the season opens.”
More than three months sit between now and when the season opens on Oct. 8.
But first, before the season opener and even before development camp in July, Sweeney and his staff are set to navigate free agency and the trade market that surrounds it.
While the Bruins have already factored into a handful of trades, there has also been no shortage of trades from the rest of the teams around the NHL - as evidenced by the similarly cap-strapped Chicago Blackhawks trading away Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“A lot has transpired over the last little while and we’re now entering free agency with the intent to try and improve our hockey club,” said Sweeney. “It’s never an easy process in the free agent market, but we’re going to look at every different opportunity to try and do that.”
“We set ourselves back in a position now where we have a little bit of cap flexibility, which was paramount in the whole exercise.”
As far as the unrestricted free agent market goes, the Bruins may not be considerably active, though anything can happen. They have spoken with players’ representatives but did not have any UFAs come into Boston.
“I did attack this from looking at cap flexibility and looking at improving our team at some point in time between now and September, and going forward,” Sweeney said of the club’s plan entering free agency. “I think we had to look at some of the situations that we were presented that would maybe put us further behind the eight ball, and wanted to get out from under that.”
“We had to evaluate our own players, and where they were going to stand between now and going forward, and we did some of that as well. We saw a tremendous core group, and we’ve got a number of prospects now that we feel very good about, and I think from that standpoint, you’re setting it up, from a future perspective, as to what some of these deals represented.”
“But we’re now in a situation where we can sort of continue to plan going forward, as to what our team looks like today, how it can get better between now and October, and forward. And then also, the projection piece as to where some of these kids are going to develop and the roles they’re going to play.”
There’s a balance between short-term and long-term visions.
Sweeney did make it clear on Tuesday that he would absolutely not be trading the Bruins' No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask. With Rask solidifying the team in goal for years to come, Zdeno Chara leading the back end (and presumably heading into 2015-16 in superb physical shape, coming off his injury-riddled season) and the Patrice Bergeron-David Krejci tandem providing strength at center, the Bruins still have their core pieces in place. Spooner and newcomer Joonas Kemppainen out of Finland will push to help fill out that position, which has been an asset for the organization for some time now.
“We’re going to hope that we can look at the wing position, and see what we can explore to find to continue to improve our club,” said Sweeney, who noted the Bruins are focused on acquiring goal scorers.
“I would definitely look at players that have the ability to score some goals, that maybe are sort of jumping into that next level of scoring — they might not have had a full body, or maybe they have had a full body. There’s a lot of players, both in the UFA and in the trade market, that can be explored.”
For the top players on the market, there will be significant salary and term commanded. Supply and demand will dictate prices, which are most always high.
“We’re looking at, as I said, every different level; either trades or the free agent market to improve our club,” said Sweeney. “If it doesn’t materialize as of [Wednesday], I’m sure criticism will come again and I understand that. That’s part of the chair that I’m now sitting in.”
“Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop trying to improve our team or I’m going to not look at the development piece coming up with our camp and evaluating it. That’s just the situation that we’re in and I’m going to continue to work with our group at improving our club.”
“Going forward, we’re going to be in a better situation.”