WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Don Sweeney played over 1,100 games across 16 seasons in the National Hockey League. During that time, he formed countless friendships and bonds with teammates, coaches, and staffers. It is a camaraderie and brotherhood that he - and every other former NHLer - does not forget. And it is for that reason that the business side of hockey often stings.
Difficult choices are often required, which Sweeney - in his fifth season as Bruins general manager - now knows well. As such, the decision to waive veteran winger David Backes earlier this month may be, perhaps, among the toughest he's had to make during his tenure.
"If you've been in those locker rooms and have an understanding of what it means to be a teammate, you never lose the personal side of it, regardless of whether or not you have to make trades or roster decisions," Sweeney said during a press conference on Friday morning at Bell MTS Place. "And those ones, they just don't sit well with you. They keep you up at night and you realize that you've impacted people's families and lives, and that's not what your intention is to be.
"You signed this player, you brought him in here and he's beloved by his teammates and very well-respected by each and every one of us in the hockey operations department. It does not sit well, at all."
Backes, signed to a five-year contract worth $30 million on July 1, 2016, had one goal and two assists in 16 games for the Black & Gold this season before being waived on Jan. 17. The 35-year-old cleared the following day and was afforded the nine-day bye week before having to make a decision on his future.
When the Bruins returned from the break on Thursday, Sweeney announced in a statement that both sides had agreed that Backes would not report to Providence.
"That's our decision. David's preference is obviously to be playing in the National Hockey League - he still believes he can play, he's fit to play, but at this time we're not going to have him play," said Sweeney. "We're going to see what options we may have between now and the deadline and certainly moving forward. For the time being he won't be playing, and we'll see where it goes from there."
Though he will not play in Providence, Backes is on the P-Bruins roster, providing Boston with some cap relief, which could be more expansive should Sweeney be able to pull off a trade before next month's deadline.
"I'm going to explore everything that's an option to us," said Sweeney. "I don't have a crystal ball as to what's the best-case scenario that may present itself. We are in the situation here, we had roster decisions to make, and that's really where this ultimate decision was made.
"He was healthy, able to play, and we had other players that the coaching staff, the organization, that we were going to put in situations to try, and that's the decision we had to make."
Video: Sweeney talks Backes situation, team going forward
Sweeney noted that while Backes has not formally requested a trade, the Minnesota native still believes he can play in the NHL and would "like a different opportunity if it's not going to be here."
"His primary focus would be to re-establish himself here - it's always been that, that's why he signed here," added Sweeney. "But at this stage, we have roster issues. We felt we had other players that would go in and play a role, and that's the decision we made… David would report and play, but I think he would prefer not to at this stage and see whether or not he could possibly get back on our roster or somewhere else."
Given Backes' standing among his teammates and the NHL as one of the league's most respected veteran leaders, Sweeney - who has spoken with Backes in person and on the phone on multiple occasions - went on to say that he is trying to be as respectful as possible throughout the process.
"He's been nothing but a professional," said Sweeney. "That does not come as a shock or a surprise that he has handled that as well as he has… he's been a great teammate. Despite what people may or may not believe about him as a player and such, he's made an impact in our hockey club.
"He's taken it personally in that regard, but sometimes a roster is what it is and we're trying to figure out going forward. And I'm trying to be as respectful to him, because he deserves it."
With the NHL's trade deadline less than a month away, Sweeney said he is continuing to have conversations with other clubs, but that his focus for the time being is to see how the Bruins re-establish themselves coming out of the bye week.
"[I] have continued conversations around the league like everyone else is doing at this time to see what's available - how we can improve our hockey club, if we can improve our hockey club," said Sweeney. "We have prospects and such that we're very unlikely to move unless the deal is just absolutely appropriate, and that's part of the business. We'd like to improve and add, but we may not. It just might be the situation.
"We have a good hockey club, and we feel good about our players. We may have to use it internally; there's us and several other teams that are tight against the cap, so it's not an easy time to be making deals.
"Obviously, we're in it to win. Would I say no to anything? Absolutely, we evaluate everything accordingly and hopefully we make the right deal. Whether or not we do remains to be seen, but that would be our intention."
Sweeney expanded on the updates coach Bruce Cassidy provided on Thursday on injured defensemen Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller, saying that Clifton is "much further ahead than Kevan." Both players have resumed skating, but Miller is in the midst of a very deliberate process after having suffered multiple setbacks with the broken kneecap suffered last April in Minnesota.
"Kevan's got a long, slow progression in front of him and we're going to be very cautious in how he goes about that," said Sweeney. "We've got a plan laid out. Those are week-to-week updates as opposed to day-to-day updates with Kevan Miller, so check back in a couple weeks to see where we are, and we'll have another one.
"But again, he is back on the ice - probably will not be integrated back into practice for some time. We just need to give him the proper time to hopefully re-insert himself into practice, and then we'll go from there. Connor, I think, will be more on the shorter side of things."
Sweeney said that there were "no updates" on contract negotiations between the Bruins and defenseman Torey Krug, who is set to be an unrestricted free agent following this season.
"Consider we have conversations with Torey and other guys that are in situations contractually, but I think you guys know well enough that if we have an announcement we'll give it to you," said Sweeney.