BOSTON -- General manager Don Sweeney said there's more work to be done after the Boston Bruins qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014 but lost in six games to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference First Round.
The Bruins went 44-31-7, finishing in third place in the Atlantic Division, before losing to the Senators. Each of the six games was decided by one goal, including four in overtime.
"We have a lot of work to do as an organization still," Sweeney said Thursday. "We want to become a deeper, more talented team from top to bottom. Taking one step forward in my opinion is not successful. It's a good step, but we have work to do in a lot of areas that we want to continue to get better."
Sweeney's first move was to retain Bruce Cassidy as coach on Wednesday. The Bruins went 18-8-1 after Cassidy took over for Claude Julien on Feb. 7. Now he'll shift his attention to the players.
Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak emerged as one of the best top lines in the NHL, and the Bruins had several forwards contribute on the fourth line.
"I think the middle part of our lineup, the consistency of scoring and depth, I think is an area, whether that's second, third [line], I think that's an area we need to continue to get better at," Sweeney said.
Pastrnak is the Bruins' most important restricted free agent as of July 1 but is not eligible for arbitration. Forwards Ryan Spooner, Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller also are restricted free agents; Spooner has arbitration rights after finishing with 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in 78 games. Forwards Dominic Moore and Drew Stafford are unrestricted free agents.
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Sweeney said he wants to continue to look for upgrades on defense who can help with transitional play. DefensemenJohn-Michael Liles (unrestricted) and Joe Morrow (restricted) didn't contribute much for the Bruins until the playoffs.
The Bruins got a glimpse at their future when defenseman Charlie McAvoy made his NHL debut in the playoffs; he had three assists and averaged 26:12 of ice time in the series. Rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo averaged 20:49 of ice time in 82 regular-season games before a concussion in the final game of the regular season kept him out of the playoffs.
Boston struggled to find a backup goaltender to Tuukka Rask when Anton Khudobin didn't perform well during the first four months of the season. Khudobin turned around his season, winning six of his final seven games to let Rask rest and finish strong. Rask went 4-0-1 and allowed four goals in his last five regular-season games and had a .920 save percentage in the playoffs. Khudobin, who is signed for one more season, could be pushed by prospects Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban, who played briefly in the NHL this season.
There could be other prospects in the mix next season, but no one is guaranteed a spot. Sweeney said he plans to keep scouring the NHL for help in addition to determining which prospects will be ready to take the next step.
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"We're going to look at everything," Sweeney said. "I don't think just putting a young player in the lineup for the sake of just describing the fact you want to play young players in is the right thing to do. They have to be good players in order to do that, they have to deserve the opportunity and take advantage of the opportunity. They have to push another player out of a job. And I've always felt that way."
The Bruins' injuries are unlikely to affect them at the start of next season. Bergeron (sports hernia), Rask (groin) and defenseman Kevan Miller (shoulder/bicep) were waiting to hear if they will need surgery, Sweeney said. Defensemen Torey Krug (knee) and Adam McQuaid (neck), and center David Krejci (knee) will not need surgery. Forward Frank Vatrano, who played 44 games in the regular season and six in the playoffs after returning in December from foot surgery, will be re-evaluated.
The Bruins must submit their protected list for the NHL Expansion Draft on June 17; they will lose one player to the Vegas Golden Knights, and Sweeney did not rule out using a contract buyout in June. However, If Sweeney has one singular focus this offseason, it's building the accomplishments of 2016-17.
"The commitment to winning in this organization, that's the first thing that our core players, that have won and have lifted the Stanley Cup, that's the first thing they ask, they make sure that the commitment top to bottom is there," Sweeney said. "Our younger players need to continue to understand that and they need to grow."