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Sweeney: ‘We’re in it to win’

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins — The opening of free agency came and went on Friday, and as a result, the Bruins bolstered their team for the 2016-17 season and beyond.

In signing free agent David Backes to a five-year deal, the Black & Gold brought in a 10-year NHL veteran with the St. Louis Blues and a long-time captain whose scoring, grit and physicality are only surpassed by his leadership.

“Obviously the Bruins are very excited about several additions that we added to our roster and organization,” Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney told media on a conference call the evening of July 1. “We went out to identify a primary target in David Backes as a center, right wing candidate.”

“[The Blues] went for a real deep run. He’s hungry to have another opportunity to win,” said Sweeney.

Backes has 49 games of playoff experience, and he’s fresh off 20 of them with St. Louis’ 2016 push.

“During our conversations, he spoke about knowing our team and how hard they are to play against, respecting our leaders and our club,” said Sweeney. “He’s done his due diligence with a number of players that we have on the horizon. He knows this was a full commitment from the ownership, you know, with Cam [Neely], Claude [Julien] involved, players involved.”

“We went about our business to identify David as a player that our other players want to play with and set examples — I don't think you can have enough of those, and strength up the middle of the ice is paramount.”

The Bruins identified Backes as the type of player who would play with, and complement, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, whether on the wing or down the middle.

In addition to signing Backes to his five-year deal (worth $6 million annually), the Bruins signed 6-foot-1, 200-pound forward Riley Nash to a two-year deal worth $900,000 per year.

Riley Nash, you look at possession, you look at versatility to play both center, wing, PK, go up and down the lineup,” Sweeney said of the forward who completed his fifth NHL season with Carolina in 2015-16, recording nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points.

In addition, the Bruins brought back backup goaltender Anton Khudobin, who had spent the past three seasons with Carolin and then Anaheim, on a two-year deal.

Anton Khudobin addressed an area that we seemed to have chased for a little while and possibly with Malcolm’s [Subban] injury, we needed to address that for the next couple of seasons,” said Sweeney.

Subban is healthy again after his throat injury, but Sweeney and his staff had to lock in an NHL goaltender to back up Tuukka Rask from the get-go.

“It’s unfortunate that Malcolm had an injury last year, missed the bulk of the games coming down the stretch for us to continue to evaluate his development as a result of that injury,” said Sweeney. “That’s no fault of his — I think signing Anton provided a comfort level. We were committed to playing whoever was in that position a certain number of games to offset Tuukka, and we’re going to do that…If Malcolm rolls through the door and he’s ready to go, then he’s going to play.”

The Bruins also brought back defenseman John-Michael Liles.

John-Michael Liles is a player that we acquired last year [at the trade deadline] that really added a lot to the mobility and the transition game and we’re excited about bringing him back,” said Sweeney.

Amid those signings, Sweeney also announced that Tyler Randell would be back for 2016-17, on a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 at the NHL level.

In addition, he re-signed longtime member of the organization, defenseman Tommy Cross (one-year, two-way contract through the 2016-17 season worth an average annual value of $600,000 at the NHL level) and brought in New Hampshire native and former Providence College forward Tim Schaller, who finished up his second NHL season with Buffalo in 2015-16. Schaller will be on a one-year, two-way deal worth an AAV of $600,000 at the NHL level.

Tim Schaller was a local boy at Providence College that we went out and identified — another size, strength, left-shot, penalty kill and continued to add depth,” said Sweeney. “Tyler Randell emerged last year, was on our roster all year long, contributed and was a real hard-nosed player, sticks up for his teammates, was able to contribute goals, albeit not necessarily in the lineup every night, bringing balance.”

“And Tommy Cross and the leadership qualities he brings to Providence for younger players to continue to develop — he found himself playing in NHL games, acquainted himself very well, just a real quality person across the board,” said Sweeney. “So I think the overall philosophy of [Friday] and going into the free agent period was to address some needs and we did that.”

“But we’ve created what I think is a real internal competition for our younger players to step up and emerge around what I think we’ve added to the core group of our players,” Sweeney continued. “They should be excited about this opportunity and I think going forward for the next foreseeable future and number of years, I think that we now have core players that are driven to win.”

The 2016-17 Bruins will be formed around veterans, like Bergeron, Krejci, Rask, Brad Marchand, and now Backes; younger players carving out their roles, like David Pastrnak and Colin Miller; or players pushing to earn spots, like Brandon Carlo, Sean Kuraly, Danton Heinen, and a myriad of others, now that Boston has stocked its system.

“We can go up and down the lineup — we’re just excited about the players that we have, taking a step back in terms of acquiring the picks and taking prospects that should be really, really excited where we’re headed,” said Sweeney. “[With] David Backes, [the signing identifies] to our current players that we’re trying to win.”

“We’re trying to win at all costs, you know, as far as being patient about the process, but we’re in it to win.”

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