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Sweeney: 'Unequivocally, We're Moving Forward with Our Group'

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BUFFALO — Though Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney officially confirmed on Friday that Claude Julien will remain Boston's head coach, Sweeney insisted it wasn’t much of an announcement at all.

He decided quite a while ago that Julien is the right person to continue leading the Bruins, and Friday simply presented him with the first good opportunity to share that information.

“I would have addressed this before I had left for the Combine if I had the opportunity in a group like this,” Sweeney told reporters gathered in Buffalo on Friday for the annual Scouting Combine. “I had really good discussions with Claude and all of our staff, and unequivocally, we’re moving forward with our group.

“I know there’s been speculation, so I want to make sure to put that to bed. I’m fully supporting this staff and looking forward to working with them all.”

Sweeney said that in the last few weeks, he has granted himself some time to adjust to his new role as general manager. He needed to take a few weeks to analyze his team — its successes, its areas of improvement and its future. He did his due diligence, and that, he said, is why the official news regarding the coaching staff was a bit delayed.

“The success we’ve had as an organization is a result of a lot of [their] hard work, and I wanted to make sure I took that all into account as I was speaking with them at a different level for me,” Sweeney said. “It might not be as different for them. Obviously, it’s a different voice, but it’s different for me. This is a new role for me. It’s my first opportunity to talk with coaches as general manager.

“[I’m] not going to apologize for taking a little time to go through that process, to be honest with you. I think it was right for me to do that, and I’ve been completely respectful, as I’ve said, [of] their success, and I’m going to use that to my advantage. They’ve been part of a group and they work hard, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it.”

Shortly after being hired on May 20 as the eighth GM in club history, Sweeney admitted that moving forward, there had to be some changes to the Bruins’ style of play. He admitted that the team’s style and structure must evolve.

Julien, he said, is the right choice to lead the way as that evolution comes into fruition.

“He’s got a great accountability, structure … he’s had a lot of success,” Sweeney said. “He’s a veteran coach that I’m going to look forward to learning from as I stay in my new role, and he communicated to me that he had already been thinking of some of the changes that I had spoken about and he was looking forward to attacking that.”

Sweeney said he plans to meet with the entire coaching staff on Saturday to begin tackling the ways in which they can implement some of the necessary changes he mentioned — most notably, changes to the transition game and ways of increasing offensive production.

That certainly does not mean that the Bruins are going to abandon the defense-first approach they have come to thrive upon in recent years, but that being said, there will be a bit more of an onus on generating offense.

“We’re going to look at all three zones, and how we attack, and certainly address why some of the [players] didn’t score at the same level they did in previous years,” Sweeney said. “So there’s not going to be one area that we’re just going to pick on. We’re going to look at all three zones, as well as the roster, to say, ‘This is how we need to play and put forth a real good game plan.’

“I love the structure and accountability that [the coaches] bring to our table defensively. We’re not going to abandon that as a hockey club. I think our forwards work extremely hard; I just want to be able to get into the flow of the offensive game a little quicker. And again, some of it is going to be personnel, and some is going to be system stuff that we have to address and utilize to the best of our ability.”

One way in which Sweeney will look to improve the club — at least in terms of personnel — will be through the 2015 NHL Draft, which will take place in Florida at the end of June. This week, he and members of the Bruins’ management, scouting and training staff met with a number of prospects in Buffalo, hoping to solidify a list of players who could be good fits in Black & Gold.

Some of those players may be able to help out in the immediate future, just like David Pastrnak did last year. Others may require more time to flourish.

But no matter what, those players will embody the skills — mentally and physically — that Sweeney and his staff believe are necessary in order to succeed in today’s NHL.

“They’re extremely talented,” he said. “There’s some big kids, fast kids; obviously, I think it’s a deep draft, and we’re looking forward to making sure we select the players that will help us going forward.

“We have some positions that we’re going to need to fill, and I’m looking forward to talking to our group. I think we all identify the areas we need to continue to improve upon. … I want [the staff] excited about the players they want to select. That’s what it’s about for me. It’s not just about getting a list in order; get the list in the order that you want to draft.”

This year, the Bruins will select 14th in the first round, which provides them the opportunity to snag a high-end player who can truly make a difference. It is an opportunity, Sweeney said, that must not be squandered.

“I don’t think we’ll go into it need-based; we really want the best player that fits what we want to do going forward,” he said. “Certainly, we’ve identified within our group [and] within our organization that we have needs in areas that we’d like to address. But you’re not going to force-feed a player into that, or shoehorn him into that situation.

“We’re going to get a really good player at 14, and throughout the draft, I think there’s depth there. We’ve met some tremendous kids here throughout the week, and they’re well-coached, they’re well-prepared in these situations. They’ll be poked and prodded here in the next couple days [from] a fitness standpoint. It’s all part of the process. Each and every one of us are fully invested in [it].”

Sweeney has said it many a time since he assumed the role of GM a few weeks ago: He believes there is one key characteristic that marks the difference between an average player and a great player, a Bruins-caliber player. It is a characteristic he possessed during his own NHL career, and it is what drove him to such tremendous success, even if he wasn’t the biggest or the strongest player on the ice.

The players who have that characteristic are the players he and his staff will be targeting at the end of June.

“The will part, for me — the will to want to play, and play the right way — I don’t care what size or shape you’re in, but it’s got to be there,” he said. “It’s got to come from within you as a player, and I think that my history as a player will hopefully help in that regard, to some degree.

“Clearly, we want talented players, but you’ve got to want to win. Boy, there’s just nothing that replaces the ability to have a chance to win.”

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