BOSTON - Don Sweeney knows exactly where his club stands as the postseason approaches. As the top team in the National Hockey League through 61 games, the Bruins have established themselves, yet again, as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
As such, Sweeney's top priority is to make sure he puts his club in the best position possible to finish off the job. That was clear on Friday afternoon with his acquisition of winger Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for David Backes, defense prospect Axel Andersson, and the team's 2020 first-round pick.
"The Boston Bruins are really excited to be adding Ondrej Kase to our current team," Sweeney said during a conference call following the deal. "Ondrej is a young, solid player, been a significant producer while at 5-on-5, has shown versatility to be able to adapt his game and complement different lines, his shot volume has increased over the years. For us, I think it addresses a need."
Kase, in the midst of his fourth National Hockey League campaign, has seven goals and 23 points in 49 games for the Ducks this season. The 24-year-old notched a career-high 20 goals and 38 points in 2017-18 and was on pace to exceed those marks last season before a concussion and shoulder surgery limited him to just 30 games.
Nevertheless, Sweeney was enthusiastic about the Czech native's potential, pointing specifically to the 6-foot, 190-pounder's five-on-five production, scoring ability, and versatility.
"Adds to the speed and offensive ability to our hockey club," said Sweeney, while noting that Kase is likely to play alongside either David Krejci or Charlie Coyle. "For us, we've addressed what we think we need and it also doesn't take away from any of the players we have on our current roster, or the players that have been pushing down below from a depth perspective, to continue to have our club staying healthy throughout the last 20 games and into the playoffs."
Video: Check out highlights of new Bruins winger Ondrej Kase
Sweeney began his conference call by thanking Backes for his contributions to the club - both on and off the ice - over the past four years. Backes, who finishes his Bruins career with 39 goals and 94 points in 217 games, has one year remaining on his contract at $6 million after this season. As part of the deal, Boston will retain 25% percent of Backes' salary.
"I'd like to start by thanking David Backes and wishing [his wife] Kelly and their family the very best," said Sweeney. "David will soon be able to resume playing in Anaheim. Tremendous person and leader, helped with the development of all our players."
Backes was placed on waivers just prior to January's All-Star Break but did not report to Providence after clearing as his representatives and Sweeney worked to find the veteran winger an opportunity elsewhere.
"Appreciative of [Backes' agent] Wade Arnott and all the work that he's done in staying in communication with me over the past month or so," said Sweeney. "He indicated to me that there were some potential opportunities if talks would progress in finding an opportunity for David. Again, I'm thankful that in this case they expanded their overall [no-trade] list and we were able to find a deal."
Sweeney went on to address Kase's health, noting that the winger will not join the Bruins in Calgary or Vancouver this weekend as he recovers from flu-like symptoms that have kept him sidelined for the last five games. Kase, who skated with the Ducks on Thursday, is currently on injured reserve but expected to practice with the team in full on Monday morning at Warrior Ice Arena.
"We'll get him in, he'll be on the ice with us fully on Monday," said Sweeney. "And then we'll make an evaluation on how comfortable he is in getting back to playing. The injuries are what they are. He's had shoulder surgery, he's had a concussion in the past. So, we're just trying to make sure he feels good and ready to go.
"He's excited, happy to join our team. Knows players on our team and speaking with him today, he'll be ready to go on ice. But we'll just make sure he's 100 percent before he is. That's the benefit of having our current team where they're at right now, hopefully it stays that way from a health perspective."
Video: After B's Trade, Pastrnak Talks About Ondrej Kase
Sweeney noted that another upside of the move was Kase' contract which runs through the 2020-21 season at an annual NHL cap hit of $2.6 million. The ability for Kase - a seventh-round pick of the Ducks in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft - to continue to grow his game as part of this group was an appealing piece of the puzzle for Boston's GM.
"He's a 24-year old player that has a lot of offensive upsides and talent overall," said Sweeney. "But we think with the speed of the game and the speed he plays at, that he can continue to grow into our group and add another dimension to our hockey club…I think the more we can add to our group, which is what we've tried to do - add to our group - and allow the depth of our hockey club to hopefully be a strength, that's what we worked to adjust with adding Ondrej."
Bringing in a player with term on his contract also made it a bit easier for Sweeney to part with this year's first-round pick, as well as Andersson, who was drafted in the second round (57th overall) in 2018 and is currently playing with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
"It cushions the blow from our pro staff and all the work that [our pro staff] did to identify Ondrej as a player that would be a good fit for our hockey club," said Sweeney. "It does not cushion the blow for our amateur staff - I sent a note to each and every one of them to make sure that they understood that in no way, shape, or form is that indicative of the hard work that they've done. They put us in a position to try and acquire these players because of the work they've done.
"Albeit, your team when they're playing well, they want to win, they want to continue to have people that can add. And hopefully we've done that for them in this case. That's what the ultimate goal is."
Given that the team's ultimate goal is to finish the job after last spring's trip to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Sweeney might not be done. But for now, he is quite pleased to have Kase on board through at least next season.
"I don't know what will be or can be done," Sweeney said when asked if another deal could be coming. "We'll continue to make calls and look at different opportunities that may exist… I was looking at players that would continue to grow, complement our group because we're in it to win.
"There's no question we're in it to win like everybody else. But we don't know where those opportunities lie and moving forward, we'd like a player that you can move forward with."
Video: After B's Trade, Cassidy Talks About Ondrej Kase