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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David Krejci, Adam McQuaid forced out of Bruins win with injuries

David Krejci, Adam McQuaid forced out of Bruins win with injuries

BOSTON – The Bruins returned Patrice Bergeron and David Backes to good health and their lineup on Thursday night, but they also saw a few more players get banged up in their win over the Vancouver Canucks. 

David Krejci exited Thursday night’s 6-3 win over the Canucks with an upper body injury after scoring a power play goal, and Adam McQuaid also had to leave the game after dropping to one knee to block a shot with his right leg. McQuaid was also already banged up after taking a shot off his knee in last weekend’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, so taking another shot off the leg certainly wasn’t a helpful development. 

“He blocked a shot, so he’ll get evaluated tonight or tomorrow. I don’t know how serious – he blocks a lot of shots. This one stung him obviously so we’ll see how it turns out. Adam [McQuaid] has been doing that for years around here. He’s one of the unsung heroes in that locker room. Doesn’t get a lot of credit for what he does, the tough parts of the game, blocking shots, sticking up for your teammates,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He actually manages the puck very well. He’s not a flashy player. He’s not a guy that just throws it away either. He makes good decisions with it, and every team needs an Adam McQuaid. We’re certainly fortunate to have him.”

With Krejci it appeared that he suffered some back spasms after getting cross-checked, and that’s what ended up forcing him out of the win. Cassidy doesn’t foresee it being a long-term thing with Krejci, who finished with a goal and two points in 8:21 of ice time centering Jake DeBrusk and David Pastrnak.  

“He has an upper body; he had to leave. He wasn’t feeling too terrific today, and then he got, I think there was a cross-check there. He tried it, but couldn’t continue [playing]. I think he had some spasms, but I don’t think there’s anything long-term there at all.”

It remains to be seen if either McQuaid or Krejci will miss any time with the bumps and bruised suffered on Thursday, but it goes without saying that the Bruins hope they can stay in a lineup that’s beginning to take shape with the full group. 

Haggerty: Patrice Bergeron returns as game-changing force for Bruins

Haggerty: Patrice Bergeron returns as game-changing force for Bruins

BOSTON – To the surprise of absolutely nobody, the presence of Patrice Bergeron is a major game-changer for the Boston Bruins. 

Bergeron finally felt good enough to return to the B’s lineup after missing the first five games of the season with a lower body injury, and the impact was immediate and unmistakable with a goal and four points in a 6-3 win for the Bruins over the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden. It was also a far-reaching impact with the Bruins center pumping life back in the B’s power play with a return to his bumper position, returning a top penalty killer to the Bruins rotation, bringing normalcy back to the forward group by slotting fellow forwards back into their rightful spots and simply giving the B’s their best all-around player back. 

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Clearly it was a joyous moment for Bergeron to get back on the ice and play after getting a couple of good days in on the practice ice leading up to Thursday night. 

“It’s hard no matter what it is. You know, when you’re missing games, when you’re missing time, it’s… you miss being out there with the guys and battling with them and going through what we have to go through as a team. It’s good to be back,” said Bergeron. “You don’t know what to expect obviously [after a long layoff]. You’re trying to hope for the best. I don’t want to say I was surprised [at his high level of play] because you want to be at your best every time you step on the ice.”

Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork finally skated together for the first time after building chemistry all throughout training camp, and they finished with four goals, 10 points, a plus-6 rating and 13 of Boston’s 35 shots on net for the game. It was the way that the Bruins roster was drawn up headed into the season before they had a five-game detour due to the injuries, and the hope is that’s the way it will continue to look for the Black and Gold moving forward. 

“I mean it’s pretty evident, you know, the way [Bergeron] played out there. He just, it’s incredible the way he came back and dominated the game after being out for that long, you know?” said Brad Marchand, who finally has his longtime partner-in-crime back. “He’s just such a big part of the group. He’s able to calm things down in the room, on the bench, and he leads by example. He just does everything that a top guy does.”

Perhaps most striking of all was the emotion and organization that the Bruins played with having Bergeron and David Backes back in the lineup. The breakouts, reloading counter-attacks and defensive zone coverage all had more noticeable structure, and the Bruins were able to get the wave after wave attack from their forward groups that spurred on goals both during 5-on-5 play and when special teams were involved. 

Some of that is getting two highly talented players like Bergeron and Backes back from injury, and some of it is getting an important, tone-setting leader like No. 37 back for everything he does off the ice as well. 

Bergeron set up the important answering goal in the first period by firing a puck that created a rebound for Bjork to clean up, he did the same for David Krejci’s power play to close out the first period scoring, he created the turnover that led to Marchand’s goal in the second period and then he sniped home his own goal from the bumper spot to finally clinch things in the third period. It was clear that Bergeron is still navigating through discomfort and some level of injury while playing at this point, but his hockey IQ and his gritty toughness are allowing him to still be a highly effective player. 

“I think it was self-evident out there that the play on the ice, first of all, built a matchup against whoever we really want. The Power play obviously [was a] big impact there. I think it’s just morale as much as anything, on the bench and in the room,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Those intangibles, leadership, first shift of the game, he’s standing up. They had scored a goal and [he’s] kind of settling the troops down, talking about the details of the game. 

“[He’s talking about] finishing your routes on the fore-check and reloading all the way to our zone.

[It’s the] stuff that coaches preach a lot, but goes in one ear and out the other sometimes. When you hear it from the leaders of the group, it means so much more. To have that back in the room and along with David Backes, those are guys that are just vocal players that bring a lot in that aspect. It’s generally, a quiet group. That doesn’t mean you can’t be effective and win as a quiet group, but it just helps sometimes to have a little bit of that energy.”

While it was a clearly a feel-good story to see Bergeron back in his proper environs on the ice, it was also just as apparent there’s still some lower body discomfort with the Bruins center. He looked like he was in pain or laboring at times out on the ice, and admitted after the game that the lower body injury might be something he’ll need to manage for the time being. That would tend to mean that once again this isn’t something that’s going to go away anytime soon, and Bergeron will again need to grind his way through the pain. 

“That’s the million dollar question, right? I don’t know what to say to that. I guess yeah, I mean I’m feeling good,” said Bergeron. “But there’s… we might manage a little bit for quite a while. But I’m feeling good and tonight was no issue.”

Clearly Bergeron and the Bruins will gladly take it if he can be a difference-maker like he was on Thursday night with a four points, eight shot attempts and plenty of hard-working shifts in his 20:58 of ice time for the game. They’ll just need to keep their fingers crossed that No. 37 can keep suiting up and playing at a high level, and that the 32-year-old can avoid any further problems after already sitting out the first five games of the regular season.