SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Boston Bruins eliminated two potentially difficult contract negotiations Friday by trading defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames and forward Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings.
General manager Don Sweeney made it clear in explaining the trades prior to the start of the 2015 NHL Draft that the moves were necessitated by financial concerns. He said he hoped the increased salary-cap flexibility and bevy of draft picks he gained will allow him to make the Bruins competitive for the long term.
As such, he said he feels no pressure to leave South Florida with additional roster players to fill the significant voids left by the departures of Hamilton and Lucic.
"Do I think we need to? We have picks, we have assets that I can now try and turn into that, but I'm not going to force that," Sweeney said. "We shed salary as a result of that as well, so we're in a position going forward where we have to have our younger players in this situation step forward and we give them an opportunity to grow and develop. I feel confident our coaches will be able to do that."
Sweeney began his busy day by trading Hamilton to the Calgary Flames in return for the 15th, 45th and 52nd picks in the 2015 draft.
Hamilton, 22, can become a restricted free agent July 1, but Sweeney said he was not worried by the possibility of another team signing Hamilton to an offer sheet. He said in light of the Lucic trade that was already in the works, the Bruins would find a way to match any offer sheet Hamilton signed, assuming that was what they wanted to do.
"I wasn't necessarily afraid of the offer sheet all along," Sweeney said. "I thought we would get into a position to match. We extended Dougie a very significant contract offer, and it didn't lead us to where we thought he would be comfortable being a part of our group long term."
Sweeney would not elaborate on why Hamilton would not be comfortable with the Bruins.
"Everybody views Dougie as a foundational-type player. It was indicated to us that might not be the case going forward in Boston," Sweeney said. "He didn't ask out. We were in a position where we felt we would be better served to move in a different direction."
Sweeney also said he was not sure what it would take to get Hamilton under contract, but he did suggest that the Bruins were philosophically opposed to giving out a lucrative, long-term commitment to a player coming out of his entry-level contract.
"It's always going to take two sides to make a deal," Sweeney said. "Clearly there have been a bunch of players who have jumped bridge deals and gone to the next one. It's up to the individual team and the player himself to find that deal to be made."
Boston coach Claude Julien appears to share his general manager’s ideas on handing out big contracts to young players.
“I find it very unfortunate that players that have played maybe three years in the League are looking to be up there with the top-paid players. I prefer it the other way when they work their way up in years of service,” Julien said. “That’s not to say he’s not in his right; he is in his right, he’s entitled to do what he did. I’m not standing here blaming him at all. Would we have liked to have kept him? We would have liked to have kept Dougie Hamilton; he’s a good, promising player. But let’s move on.”
Lucic was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for the No. 13 pick in the 2015 draft, restricted free agent goaltender Martin Jones and minor-league defenseman Colin Miller. The trade gave Boston the Nos. 13, 14 and 15 picks in the draft.
Sweeney was hopeful he could package some or all of those picks to move up in the first round, but instead used the picks to select defenseman Jakub Zboril, left wing Jake DeBrusk, and right wing Zachary Senyshyn.
Lucic has one year remaining on his three-year, $18 million contract, but Sweeney said the Bruins did not attempt to seriously negotiate an extension. He said that in light of what Lucic has already accomplished as a player and his current salary, an extension would have been too expensive for the Bruins.
"I just felt in the situation we were in it was going to be very difficult to extend the offer to the level it would take to retain Milan going forward," Sweeney said. "On a hockey club that has significant dollars tied up in a number of players in that same category, we couldn't add what would be in all likelihood two more players to that group."
One player who will be back in Boston is defenseman Adam McQuaid, who signed a four-year contract worth an average of $2.75 million per season shortly after the Hamilton trade. That leaves Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, McQuaid, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller on the blue line; Matt Bartkowski can become an unrestricted free agent next week.
Sweeney mentioned the possibility of Colin Miller, 22, earning a roster spot. He also mentioned Zach Trotman, 24, and Joe Morrow, 22, as others who could help replace the offensive aspects of Hamilton's game on the back end.
"We have to have younger players in this category step up, especially on the back end," Sweeney said. "Adam McQuaid re-signing with us is a big plus. He's a big part of our organization, a tremendous leader on and off the ice. He brings an edge and physicality that we need to maintain. Our forward group is going to be young in some areas, but they're ready for that next challenge as well."
That forward group will be missing someone who was seen by many as the perfect representative of the Bruins' identity. Lucic was not a perfect player, but his combination of size, skill and toughness was unique in the NHL, and it is difficult to replace.
Sweeney said when he was hired as general manager that the Bruins needed to get back to their traditional identity of tough hockey. But the player that best represented that identity is gone.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily looking to get away from our identity just because Milan Lucic is gone,” Julien said. “A guy like McQuaid is still there, and there’s still more time left before the season starts. We could be bringing in some other people, who knows? I have to let management continue to do their job and bring the players they feel will help us be a competitive team and also give us the identity that we want to have.”
Lucic's departure did let Sweeney shore up what he felt was a position of need by adding Jones. He said he was not comfortable with how often starter Tuukka Rask had to play this season as the Bruins pushed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We felt all along that Tuukka was put in a tough spot last year, and we're very comfortable now with Martin potentially part of our group," he said. "I think there's real depth in the organization."
With two significant pieces leaving the roster, what the Bruins are doing could be seen by some as the start of a rebuilding process. Sweeney does not see it that way at all.
"Our expectation is to make the playoffs," he said. "With our goaltending, the core group of our guys, our strength up the middle of the ice. Our young players didn't score at the level they were supposed to last year. We're going to continue to look to improve our club as well."