BOSTON - This week has been all about the future for Don Sweeney.
While keeping an eye on the team's prospects from his office above the rink at Warrior Ice Arena during the organization's annual Development Camp, Boston's general manager has also been working the phones as the July 1 free agency period approaches.
Some two and a half weeks removed from the Black & Gold's loss in the Stanley Cup Final, Sweeney's focus now is solely on the 2019-20 Boston Bruins.
"We've been in the interview period, so we've had a lot of discussions and some planning," Sweeney said on Friday afternoon following the final on-ice session of Development Camp. "Obviously, our entire staff has been here all week. We had several [conversations] in and around the draft as well. We're doing what the other teams are doing, having conversations with representatives, gauging interest, trying to fill the holes that we feel we need to fill and being cognizant that we have to deal with our RFA players.
"As I've said all along, I don't have a timeline for that, but they'll be playing for Boston at some point in time this year prior to December 1. That's the only real deadline we face, but we'll be at it. We've been at it for a while with those guys. But as far as July, we'll be adding some players, for sure, come July 1."
Which players is still to be determined, but whatever moves Sweeney makes - or doesn't make - on Monday will, no doubt, be affected by the team's current RFA situations. As Sweeney noted, the Bruins could be in it for the long haul when it comes to finding new deals for blue liners Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo and winger Danton Heinen.
"Very prominently," Sweeney said when asked how those negotiations will factor into his July 1 operations. "It was a reason why we had tried to be in front of things, but as I said, there's no timeline to find a deal. Two sides have to find it, and there's been a patient…overall plan, but it's pretty apparent around the league that the RFAs are being patient in that regard.
"There's been a few…Philadelphia signed their defenseman [Travis Sanheim] the other day. So, I'm hopeful that our players would see it that way, but I can't force them to see it that way."
Video: Sweeney chats about Free Agency
Ultimately, Sweeney is heading into this summer knowing he has a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup once again. As such, complementing the core of the roster will be his primary goal.
"I obviously would like to bring back a team that won one more game, to be perfectly honest with you," said Sweeney. "It's never going to be the same team. Year-to-year there's always changes that occur. Do we feel comfortable? I think we have a really good hockey team. I think they proved it throughout the course of last year…I'm not concerned about where our hockey team is at.
"I would like to see our hockey team improve in areas…I'm not saying that Marcus [Johansson] is leaving or Noel [Acciari] is leaving, but there might be opportunity there. There are several players that really should have their eyes wide open, be able to take the next step. And sometimes that's what it takes to get you over [the hump].
"We've had other players in the last two, three years that have done that as well. That's what we have to look at, but we'll be bringing in some other players to create that internal competition, which I do believe our group will need and will benefit from."
Here are some other highlights from Sweeney's pre-free agency press conference:
Deep in Conversation
Sweeney said he has continued to have talks with Johansson's agent, J.P. Barry, about a deal for the winger, who was one of Boston's most consistent players during the postseason. He also acknowledged it could be hard to find common ground because of the uncertainty surrounding the Bruins' RFAs.
"It's awfully difficult to extend beyond our interest and be more definitive heading into July 1 given the landscape of what we have to deal with," said Sweeney. "That's as forthright as I can be now."
Sweeney added that he has extended offers to Acciari and that the team "would like to have him back."
"We've extended offers to Noel prior to the interview period, continue to," said Sweeney. "But Noel's put himself in a good position, and he's going to hear what's around league for what's best for he and his wife."
Easing Back In
Some of Sweeney's decisions could be influenced by Boston's potential approach to this fall. After a long playoff run with a core of veterans, the Bruins are likely to be careful with putting too much of a burden on those players, particularly Tuukka Rask, who played in all 24 postseason games.
"They'll have to take the necessary rest to ease themselves back into it," said Sweeney. "We have several players that obviously played 100 games this year. That's a lot of hockey…we'll probably be more cognizant of that come September and be in a better place and be in a real good place come October because you can't play uphill.
"I think we referenced that [Jaroslav] Halak will be part of that…maybe he takes the ball earlier in the year. But again, that depends on where Tuukka's [Rask] at."
With that in mind, Sweeney also noted that the team will be in the goalie market on Monday.
Sweeney said he is open to taking a look at youngsters Jack Studnicka and Oskar Steen - both participants in this week's Development Camp - on the wing during training camp.
"Jack's a natural centerman. Oskar's played both," said Sweeney. "[Steen] did have a really good year and productive year at center, so we want to make sure he's coming over to [North America] to a new environment he feels very comfortable at, but I do see the fact that he has a lot of attributes as a winger that would translate.
"Jack, I think we're going to leave him in the middle of the ice…he has a skillset that we would like to see develop offensively. Jack has a lot of similarities [to David Krejci], being able to slow the game down or play with pace, protect the puck and gets pucks to people in offensive situations. I would like to see him develop that rather than try to fast track his opportunity."
Video: Studnicka speaks during Bruins Development Camp
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy had knee surgery on Thursday and is "doing well," according to Sweeney.
"Good, up and around," said Sweeney. "Bionic, says he can probably get back out there and maybe improve his golf game, too. I don't know…he's a pretty good golfer. He's great. He's doing well."