BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins advanced to the Eastern Conference Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018, following a regular season that saw them put up 112 points, the second-most in the Eastern Conference. It was a surprising showing for a team that was expected to be a bubble playoff team, but which outperformed expectations before a five-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
Still, general manager Don Sweeney entered the offseason with the same disappointment 29 of the 30 other general managers in the NHL faced -- all but Brian MacLellan of the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
It is doubly complicated by the fact that Sweeney is preparing for the 2018 NHL Draft, to be held at American Airlines Center in Dallas, with no first-round pick; it was traded to the New York Rangers for forward Rick Nash on Feb. 25. The first round of the draft is June 22 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are June 23 (11 a.m. ET, NHLN, SN, TVAS).
In a wide-ranging interview with NHL.com, Sweeney discussed how the Bruins are attacking the offseason, including their interest in Kontinental Hockey League forward Ilya Kovalchuk, how they're getting ready for the draft and whether defenseman Torey Krug -- mentioned as a potential candidate for a trade -- could be moved out of Boston.
What's your overall offseason plan?
"We've had some talks with pending [unrestricted free agent] guys, we're working on our [restricted free agent] guys, we're going to explore some market stuff. I don't think we're necessarily going too crazy. I mean we've had opportunities, there's been some trade chatter on some players. We've been linked to having conversations with Kovalchuk's group. I think all those things are areas that we're looking at.
Video: Chris Johnston on Ekman-Larsson, Kovalchuk and more
"We continue to hopefully get better in our group. I think we're expecting some continued growth with some of our younger players that got a taste. But we don't necessarily expect them to take huge jumps and overvalue what they brought to the table. We like what they've done, how they've been integrated, and we want to continue to improve. We're not expecting exponential leaps in that group and sometimes you get a tad bit of regression, so we have to be prepared for that."
Is that a delicate balance to strike with those players, like forwards Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, and defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk?
"Absolutely. That's why I made reference to the fact that while we have integrated some younger players and the whole League is doing it, it's not just about putting the next young player in, because that player has to earn that opportunity. And I think all of our players, certainly Jake and Danton, Sean [Kuraly], all those guys, [Grzelcyk] in that way, they all earned the opportunity, taking advantage of the opportunity, and they earned their position on the team."
How do you approach the draft with picks in five of the seven rounds, not including the first round?
"It's painful. You go through the combine, realize that you have buyer's remorse because you didn't win. You traded a first-round pick -- and I said to the guys, I really don't want to be in this position again. You're going through potentially interviewing kids that you have no chance of drafting. That stinks. And so that's first and foremost, but as far as our approach, we have to have our list. We have to look at every different scenario. A bunch of years ago [in 2015], we walked into the draft and all of a sudden had extra picks [No. 13, 14, and 15], based on a conversation that ended at 3 a.m. So you just never know what takes place. You have to be prepared. So you prepare the exact same way, and you expect to be drafting there and when you have the opportunity you want to make the best pick possible.
Video: BOS@TBL, Gm1: DeBrusk undeterred by blocked shot
"I think we've addressed some organizational needs over the last few drafts and I think that we're growing our players, and you have to. Every team is doing this, in terms of integrating, and the draft is really a lifeline for all of us. And hopefully when they're ready, they'll have the opportunity to step in and play. They get to determine that. We like the progression of some of the guys, and the pieces. You look at the center ice position that we now have, with [Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson] and [Trent] Frederic and [Jack] Studnicka, now it's a matter of OK, let's see who gets up to speed and who can help us win."
Is there any hope that you could move up into the first round of the draft?
"It's always a hope. As you get closer, it gets harder and harder because people get attached to the people they may be able to draft, so it does become harder. You never know. Like I said, I walked into the other draft not knowing that I'd end up with three first rounders. It happens. You don't rule anything out. You try and prepare for every scenario and see if you can improve your team."
Do you foresee any blockbuster-type trades for the Bruins this summer?
"I make calls and field calls and try to throw some ideas around that maybe you find a fit. I think there's more hockey chatter right now, in terms of hockey trades that teams are looking to sort of shake things up on their own teams. We have some players that we feel would be marketable. People have called, and rightfully so, we also have a group of players that it would really take an awfully big deal to get us to move. But I have to listen and I have to make calls."
Krug's name has been mentioned as a possible trade chip. Is that a possibility for you?
"Look, you never know. I'm not actively shopping Torey. People call on a lot of different guys that we have. I have private conversations with each and every general manager, but we value what Torey brings to the table. It's very difficult to replace a 60-point guy. He's grown with our organization. He's grown into a leadership role on and off the ice. He's a big part of our success. I'd say it's unlikely."
Video: BOS@TBL, Gm2: Krug buries sharp-angle wrist shot
Given the success of the team this season -- seemingly ahead of schedule -- how does that affect your offseason planning?
"We're not going to change the course. Obviously, we felt our group needed to be rewarded and to try to add to it, being in the position we were in, knowing the hill we had to climb as well, knowing we were probably playing Toronto and Tampa, to try and get through our own division, which is a tough hill. We took a swing. I think our players put themselves in a position to deserve that opportunity. We were trying to be a successful team and get into the dance.
"Now we hope that we're going to continue to be a successful team, year in, year out. You've got to stay healthy, you've got to have people perform. You've got to have continued growth -- when you go to integrate a younger player, you have to have some growth. We've had some growing pains as a result. Who are the next guys that can take that step and help us get there? And I think the organization from players and feedback and such is that they're excited about our hockey club, but we need to temper it.
"Because guess where we are? We're right back down at the bottom of the hill with everybody else. It's sobering to think that, that you're 100 points away from making the playoffs. The year hasn't started and you have to realize it's tough. You've got a lot of work to put in. We'll hopefully continue to grow and get an opportunity to be back at it in April."