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Sweeney: 'We're Going to Explore Ways to Improve Our Club'

Bruins general manager looks ahead to unusual offseason

by Eric Russo @erusso22 / - Bruins general manager Don Sweeney indicated on Wednesday morning that he expects his goaltending duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak to be back together again next season.

Speaking during his end-of-season media availability, Sweeney did not seem concerned about Rask's status moving forward. The veteran netminder left the club before Game 3 of its first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes to attend to a family matter and did not return to the bubble.

"I haven't had a conversation subsequent to when Tuukka left," said Sweeney. "We checked up on him to make sure him and his family are doing well, and our reports are that they are indeed doing well. I have zero reservations about where Tuukka will be both on and off the ice for us.

"We feel we've had strong goaltending the last couple years, we've done a good job of mapping out the health of both players and preserving when they're at their best. We continue to want to do that going forward and I think we're in a really good spot with our goaltending. We'll address needs as we see them going forward.

"I think we've got a couple of younger players in [Daniel] Vladar and [Jeremy] Swayman, and [Kyle] Keyser coming back off of injury, that will battle for playing time and we'll allow those guys to continue to battle for playing time."

Rask will be 33 when next season begins and is entering the final campaign of the eight-year deal he signed in 2013. He remains one of the top goalies in the NHL and is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which will be awarded later this month.

"I have zero reservations," Sweeney said, reiterating that he believes Rask will return to for the 2020-21 season. "If you look at Tuukka's actual play - I do believe he's a Vezina finalist this year. For me, that pretty much dictates everything. Obviously, his own personal life, we all have matters that at times we have to deal with, and he's been given the opportunities in a couple instances to make sure he feels good on and off the ice.

"I think any player, any manger, any person involved in sport or in life would respect - has to respect - that people have to tend to their own personal business. How he chooses to do that is his own decision and his alone. We provide resources for all of our players to work through any issues that they may or may not have on and off the ice and then provide support accordingly. And we're not going to deviate from that.

"You have to respect his privacy and allow him the latitude to take care of it. And ultimately it hasn't affected his play on the ice. We have good goaltending and we'll continue to do so."

Video: Don Sweeney addresses media on Wednesday morning

Unusual Offseason

Sweeney and his staff are preparing to begin, perhaps, the most unusual offseason in team history. The pandemic has altered significantly the process surrounding the NHL Draft, and the economic impact - the salary cap will remain flat - will, not doubt, effect free agency. Nevertheless, Sweeney and the Bruins' scouting department must conduct its business as close to normal as they possible can.

"The in-person and the opportunity to meet in that environment has certainly changed for all of us in every walk of life," said Sweeney. "I think we've managed that pretty well and pretty effectively. We've met, on an amateur side of things, exhaustively in terms of using Microsoft Teams and being very, very regular, being in small groups, main groups, breaking down video."

The NHL Draft - which will be virtual - is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 6-7 with the Bruins holding single picks in the second (58th overall), third (89th), fifth (151st), sixth (182nd), and seventh (213th) rounds.

"Obviously, missed opportunities at the end of the year, as all teams did, of seeing critical games, tournament environments, the U18's," said Sweeney. "Extra reference points that obviously add layers to every decision, relying solely on video in that sense can be a little misleading at times. But I think we've had enough views over the course of the year to balance things out. So, we've done an effective job draft-wise, we're well prepared for that. We're in the final stages as we re-evaluate our list heading towards the actual draft day."

Free agency, meanwhile, will follow on Oct. 9, during which the Bruins will be busy with a number of high-profile free agents, including Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug, as well as restricted free agents Jake DeBrusk and Matt Grzelcyk.

"As far as the pro-environment, being able to meet with guys, again, is obviously productive and it's an advantage when you're in person," said Sweeney. "You can break into small groups and have meetings on the side and such. But I think we've done a really good job of communicating overall and having some similar drawn out discussions. We're a group, from a collaborative approach, every voice needs to be heard and every opinion needs to be heard.

"In this business you're paid for, really, your opinion and experience and we need to utilize each and over one of us…we've tried to do an exhaustive approach. We're going to break it down with the coaches in this coming week and we're going to continue to peck at the areas that we want to improve at.

"We're not playing. We have to get better and we'll attack it as such. But I think we've used our tools effectively and we'll have to continue to do so."

Changes Coming?

Whether or not Chara and Krug remain in Boston is still to be determined, but Sweeney did acknowledge that there are likely to be changes coming to the Bruins roster ahead of next season as he tries to improve the club following its second-round exit.

"There are a lot of teams that are up against the cap in a flat cap environment," said Sweeney. "We actually have the space to do the things that are necessary to do internally. Whether or not we do those or execute those, that still remains to be seen. We're going to explore ways to improve our club between now and that date you referenced and see what transpires. We're looking to make some changes in our group.

"I feel very good about overall as an organization where we are and how competitive we are. But…I'm not doing my job if I'm not looking to improve our hockey club on a daily basis without being dissatisfied. I know our group needs to be pushed and have hopefully some internal growth with some players that are coming up on waivers and they have to have an opportunity to make our hockey club.

"Otherwise, we make hard decisions. I do believe the free agency period will be dictated by whether we make any transactions prior to that."

While some external additions may be necessary, Sweeney is also hoping for some continued growth from the team's younger crop of players, including Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, Zach Senyshyn, and Jack Studnicka.

"There's been plenty of talk of teams trying to move pieces around and players to improve their own clubs and we're going to do the exact same thing," said Sweeney, who also mentioned not having David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase at full strength after both missed training camp due to quarantine restrictions. "Having conversations, I'm pretty aware of how teams are valuing players on our roster. So, I have to look at it and say, 'OK, does that mean we have the internal growth available to fill that spot?' Anytime you look at moving players in and out, you're robbing Peter to pay Paul in the situation. We have to understand that.

"Where we have depth in our organization and where we're trying to improve is an area that we have to understand and there is always expose and risk associated with that. Generally, you know your own players better than anybody else's but you're trying to learn what the other player can bring to the table and where he fits. We did that at the deadline. It worked in the Carolina series and it didn't work in the Lightning series perhaps as an organization.

"Again, we didn't play our best hockey and we weren't at full strength [against Tampa]. It's really incumbent upon me as a manager to improve our club. It's on me to explore every opportunity we have to improving it. There are certain players I certainly want to avoid because they are part of what we are trying to accomplish right now and in the future. And we'll try to do that, but I have to explore to continue to improve our club."

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