Bruins

Haggerty: Time for Bruins fans to put their full trust in Sweeney

Haggerty: Time for Bruins fans to put their full trust in Sweeney

It may not be quite up to “In Donnie We Trust” levels yet, but the time has arrived for fans to feel good putting their full trust in general manager Don Sweeney, and consequently in the direction that the Bruins franchise is headed these days.

The latest blue check mark for Sweeney arrived earlier this week when he and his staff stood their ground armed with comparable players and fancy stats as far as the eye could see, and found a way to sign David Pastrnak to a six-year, $40 million contract extension. It was obviously a good deal that gives Pastrnak one of the biggest deals handed out to a player coming off their entry-level contract.

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But for the Bruins, it was a coup allowing them to hone in on Johnny Gaudreau as one of the lead comp players for Pastrnak, and avoid overextending to other comparable contracts given to Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5 million per season) and Leon Draisaitl ($8.5 million) over the last few years. Sweeney and Co. shied away from the seven- or eight-year offers that would have pushed Pastrnak’s annual cap number over $7 million. In doing so, they made certain their own internal salary structure was still held in place with the 21-year-old falling short of the salaries for Cup-winning, long-established veterans like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.  

Above and beyond that it also continues a commendable run for Sweeney when it comes to retaining his own players, and making sure the B’s talent no longer gets sprinkled around the rest of the league. Instead, the Bruins now have their top two offensive players locked up long-term with each of them being paid under $7 million per season, and they hold over $3 million in cap space this season with an eye toward their bright future.

“It’s a testament to the work and time, not only looking at comps across the league but also in discussions with their representation explaining why he’s come up with his [figures]. It’s really trying to find a fair landing spot, but you also need to forecast when other players come out of their entry-level deals and forecasting the salary cap,” said Bruins President Cam Neely to CSN New England. “It’s a personality trait of believing in how you ended up with the number that you did [for a contract]. With Don it’s always about how do we start off with something fair, and then go from there.”

"Fair" is a word you hear quite a bit when you ask around the league about Sweeney, who has now had dealings with most agents and most of his fellow 30 league managers at this point as he enters his third season managing the Bruins. Agent Murray Kuntz has worked closely with Sweeney with both Matt Beleskey and Ryan Spooner currently on the B’s roster, and says his fairness is the one overriding thing more than anything else he’s come to expect when doing business with Boston.

“I have always enjoyed dealing with Don, he's fair and you always know where you stand,” said Kuntz, who nearly went to arbitration with the Bruins over Spooner prior to an eleventh-hour deal this summer.

That’s a long way from the rookie GM that snapped off a third-round pick in exchange for the useless Zac Rinaldo, and consistently fell short in his efforts to land a young top-4 defenseman before eventually drafting and developing his own in 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy and 20-year-old Brandon Carlo.

In less than three full years, Sweeney has gone from inexperienced executive learning on the job to a tireless, methodical manager that benefits from the exact same driving work ethic he formed as an undersized NHL defenseman out of Harvard University.

Bruins President Cam Neely told CSN New England that watching Sweeney attack the GM job on a daily basis has been a pleasure to watch, but isn’t a surprise given what he knows from their time sharing the same Bruins dressing room as players.

“Knowing him as long as I have and having been witness to the time and effort he put in to become an NHL player and to go all the way to playing 1,000 games in the NHL, it all happened for a reason. It happened because his work ethic is as high as it is, he’s methodical and he understands what he needed to do there,” said Neely. “The time and the effort that he puts in [to the GM job] isn’t a surprise to me. The [Marchand and Pastrnak] contracts are very important parts of our hockey club, and he’s putting that same level of work and effort into executing them.”

These days the mistakes and ill-fated decisions have become lessons Sweeney now uses to inform his choices. He has undoubtedly gotten the hang of running the day-to-day hockey ops for the Black and Gold, and has developed enough confidence to show patience when it’s called for in a patently impatient business. The job goes beyond the B’s securing their own homegrown players like Marchand or Pastrnak, of course, and Sweeney has really begun putting together a good track record in all aspects of the job.  

Sweeney played last season’s trade deadline perfectly when he gave up just a fifth-round pick for hired gun Drew Stafford, who jumped in and helped the Bruins make the playoffs last spring before giving way to young wingers like Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk this fall. That’s the natural cycle for veterans and rookies in the NHL salary cap world, and the Bruins have fallen right in line with that after not always doing so under Peter Chiarelli. Clearly, Sweeney had also taken a lesson from the season before when he gave up a bevy of draft picks for rentals in John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak. He then watched as the Bruins fell short of the playoffs in 2015-16 after giving up those draft pick assets. He made certain not to repeat the same mistake twice.  

Sweeney also had the courage to make the biggest decision of all last season in relieving Claude Julien of his duties, and breaking the Bruins away from the most successful head coach in the franchise’s history. That was a significant risk for a GM that carefully deliberates over such decisions, but it overwhelmingly turned out to be the right move when Bruce Cassidy stepped in, energized the team with a creative, risk-taking approach and helped push them into the playoffs.

So it’s another right move in a growing line of them as of late for Sweeney and the Bruins. It feels like more are on the way given the B’s draft-and-development pipeline starting to pump out talented NHL players on the regular. Now feels like the time to stop complaining and cease grinding the ax about miscues made early in Sweeney’s tenure as GM, and instead trust that Bruins management in is qualified, fair hands for the foreseeable future.

It may not be time to say “In Donnie We Trust” quite yet, but it’s certainly high time everybody showed a great deal more faith in the promising direction Sweeney has things pointed in with good move made for the Black and Gold. 

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Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

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Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

After a blip in Vancouver, the Boston Bruins got right back to business.

Brad Marchand scored his 22nd goal 3:36 into overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday, less than 48 hours after the Bruins lost 6-1 to the Canucks.

"We ran into a hot goalie in Vancouver. Their goalie played great tonight, but we were resilient," Marchand said. "We were much better in the defensive zone and had a better game overall."

David Pastrnak also scored for Boston (36-13-8), which moved within one point of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who are 12-1-2 in their last 15 road games, have two games in hand on the Lightning.

Boston has lost only three times in regulation in the last 28 games (21-3-4).

"It starts at the top with leadership, and just having that constant belief we can do it, we can get the job done regardless of who we're playing against," Riley Nash said.

After TJ Brodie's turnover deep in the Flames end, Nash's pass sprung Marchand on a breakaway and he made no mistake, slipping the puck through the pads of rookie goaltender David Rittich for the ninth overtime goal of his career.

"(Nash) made a phenomenal defensive play," Marchand said. "I knew that they had three guys low and I just tried to get out of the zone. He made a great play to get it up."

Brodie accepted the blame.

"Tonight was on me," the Calgary defenseman said. "I tried to pass to Johnny (Gaudreau). I could have passed it to (Sean Monahan), I could have shot it. It's one of those things that looking back now, I definitely could have done something different."

Matthew Tkachuk scored for the Flames (30-21-9), who fell to 1-3-4 in their last eight home games. They began the day one point out of third place in the Pacific Division.

"It's like any slump - the harder you try, the more you grip the stick, the worse it is," Brodie said. "It's not like we've been playing bad at home. We've gotten chances. It's just one of those things where a bounce here and there, we could be talking about the same record as the road."

With the teams meeting for the second time in six days, Calgary was territorially outplayed by a wide margin in the first period but Rittich kept the Flames in it.

Calgary tied it 1-all at 5:28 of the second, scoring on the power play. Monahan's shot was stopped by Tuukka Rask, but as the puck lied at the feet of Zdeno Chara in the crease, Tkachuk knocked in his 22nd goal.

Rittich was starting his fourth game in a row, with veteran Mike Smith (lower body) still sidelined. Rittich was pulled Saturday night after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

"Huge bounce-back for Rittich," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "That team is a hard team to beat. You look across the league, not many teams are beating them. You can't really beat them without goaltending and we got it tonight and it gave us a chance."

The 25-year-old Czech goalie was especially sharp in keeping the score even at 1.

A minute after Calgary tied it, Rittich slid across the crease to get a glove on Marchand's backhand out of midair after he was set up by Patrice Bergeron.

Late in the second, Rittich stabbed out his glove to rob Ryan Spooner on a breakaway. In the third, the goalie stared down Pastrnak on a breakaway and acrobatically got the toe of his left pad on a dangerous chance.

Rittich finished with 30 stops but fell to 6-3-3.

"It's frustrating," said Tkachuk, who has 14 goals in his last 22 games. "They're a really good team. Didn't give us many chances at all. The ones that we did get, we've got to capitalize."

Rask also was coming off a shortened outing in his previous start, pulled after giving up four goals on eight shots in the first period against Vancouver.

This time, he made 28 saves to improve to 24-10-4.

Boston struck first at 5:59 when Michael Frolik coughed up the puck along the sideboards in his own end and Pastrnak pounced on it, quickly firing a shot past Rittich on his blocker side.

NOTES: Flames D Travis Hamonic played in his 500th career game. ... Calgary LW Morgan Klimchuk, drafted in 2013, made his NHL debut on a line with C Matt Stajanand RW Curtis Lazar. Every player selected in the first round of that draft has now played an NHL game. ... The Bruins improved to 9-1-3 in their last 13 games against Calgary. ... Boston is 23-1-5 when scoring first.

UP NEXT

Bruins: Tuesday night at Edmonton.

Flames: Wednesday night at Vegas

Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

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Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak busted out of a mini-slump with a nice performance as he scored the B’s first goal of the game, and made a nice play picking up a loose puck off the side boards before curling to the net and beating David Rittich down low. Pastrnak finished with a team-high four shots on net, blocked a whopping three shots and generally played a committed, intense 18:38 of ice time after showing some quirks in his game over the last three or four weeks. Pastrnak still has just two goals in his last 12 games after Monday afternoon’s lamp-lighter, so the Bruins could use their 21-year-old right winger going on a scoring binge now that he’s broken through.

BLACK EYE: It was a pretty well-played game on both sides, so there aren’t a lot of easy, ready-made candidates, so Michael Frolik gets it by process of elimination. Frolik was stripped of the puck along the side boards by Patrice Bergeron, and that kicked a loose puck out to David Pastrnak for his successful scoring curl to the net. Frolik finished with a couple of shots on net, had a couple of giveaways in his 17:19 of ice time and wasn’t much of a factor for the Flames in a game where one mistake turned out to make a huge difference. All that being said, it was mostly a well-played game for both sides with Frolik’s early miscue playing a major role. 

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was about Tuukka Rask holding strong in the third period and overtime after he’d been just okay over the last week, and he did that with a good effort in the third period (12 saves) and a superhuman effort in overtime (five saves) when he stoned Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk prior to Brad Marchand’s game-winner. The overtime session was extremely impressive for Rask as he stood tall with a very important result on the line in terms of the defense/goaltending earning a good result after some subpar performances lately. Without Rask standing on his head, the Bruins don’t get the two points at the other end near the end of the overtime session. 

HONORABLE MENTION: With Pastrnak nailing down top honors after breaking his slump, Brad Marchand gets the honorable mention by “just” ripping home the game-winner in overtime on a breakaway. Marchand made his typical forehand-to-backhand maneuver and picked a spot on the five-hole through the leg pads of David Rittich, who was otherwise outstanding for the Flames in a tight game for Calgary. Marchand finished with the goal and a plus-2 rating, and finished with seven shot attempts in a whopping 21:38 of ice time. Both Marchand and Pastrnak had been pretty quiet as of late as the physical intensity has ramped up on them lately, but they responded well by powering the offense against Calgary.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – With Monday afternoon’s OT game-winner, left winger Brad Marchand now stands second all-time behind Dit Clapper and Glen Murray for the most overtime winners in Bruins franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You just stay patient and hope that the puck hits you, and it did.” –a matter-of-fact Tuukka Rask to reporters in Calgary on the overtime session where Rask did more than that in stopping five shots prior to Brad Marchand’s overtime game-winner.