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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Morning Skate: Karlsson on his way out in Ottawa?

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Morning Skate: Karlsson on his way out in Ottawa?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while the reviews from the Last Jedi start pouring in. 
 
-- USA Today takes an early look at the expected 2018 NHL free-agent class, which will be pretty good with players like John Carlson, James van Riemsdyk and John Tavares leading the way. But take a look at 2019: Tyler Seguin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty. That’s the class that NHL teams should be saving their rainy day funds for.  
 
-- Erik Karlsson isn't concerned that he was asked to provide a no-trade list to Ottawa Senators management, but it sure sounds like the Sens are considering some major decisions right now as they struggle following last spring’s playoff run. 
 
-- PHT writer Adam Gretz has the details of Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella basically blowing off the media after an ugly loss on Tuesday night. 

 -- Does Auston Matthews have a concussion right now? That is the million-dollar question in Toronto. 
 
-- Johnny Gaudreau threw out a shootout move against the Minnesota Wild that was so nasty Bruce Boudreau was questioning if it was legal. 
 
-- The Calgary Flames are growing in confidence and building momentum as they forge ahead in the Western Conference. 

-- For something completely different: As the review pour in, here is a spoiler-free Last Jedi review from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Rich Shirtenlieb after he was able to get into a sneak preview earlier this week. 

Morning Skate: Want any cheese with that whine, Isles?

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Morning Skate: Want any cheese with that whine, Isles?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while trying to figure out when exactly I’m going to be able to go see the new Star Wars movie.

*The New York Islanders were crying in their beer over the fact that Brad Marchand side-stepped a suspension and claimed it was because John Tavares didn’t writhe around, kick and scream on the ice like a soccer player. The truth is the play wasn’t the kind of thing that’s going to injure a player under normal circumstances but was clearly a late, uncalled for hit. That’s why it got the five-minute major penalty and nothing more. Threatening to give an award-winning acting performance next time in order to try and get a suspension for an opposing player just sounds like crybaby soup from the Isles. Buckle the chin strap and get ready to play a contact sport next time, particularly if you’re Tavares, who was hacking at Charlie McAvoy’s legs with your stick like you’re Paul Bunyan chopping at a piece of wood. It works both ways, you know?

*The Winnipeg Jets continue to be one of the excellent, unsung stories of the NHL’s first half as they really take hold at the top of the Western Conference.

*Here’s a good piece on Jonathan Quick and what his good health has meant to a resurgent Los Angeles Kings team this season.

*Former Boston College standout goalie Thatcher Demko is way ahead of schedule in the Vancouver Canucks organization, but they’re not looking to rush him.

*Here’s a great video of a youngster playing the Star-Spangled Banner on the violin prior to a New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden. Well done, young lady!

*Pro Hockey Talk as the details of the Ducks and Red Wings getting into a fight on Monday night ahead of the Bruins traveling to Hockeytown for a Wednesday night showdown.

*For something completely different: A list of the 10 actors who could replace Ben Affleck as Batman now that DC has given up the charade that they’re not intending to replace him underneath the cowl.