Haggerty: Sweeney, Bruins opt for 'patient mode' as free agency opens

Haggerty: Sweeney, Bruins opt for 'patient mode' as free agency opens

BRIGHTON, Mass – Don Sweeney certainly didn’t go the Boston Celtics route and promise anything resembling fireworks when NHL free agency opens at noontime on Saturday.

Instead, the Bruins general manager predicted the B’s would be mostly quiet as opposed to the last couple of off-seasons when they were among the biggest spendthrifts with large free agent deals for Matt Beleskey and David Backes. In hindsight, both signings were overpaying at premium rates for a bottom-6 grinder in Beleskey, and for an aging workhorse in the 32-year-old Backes. The big, strong Backes is a born leader and a necessary physical presence on the roster, but he will also be hard-pressed to maintain his level of play throughout the life of a five-year contract that’s about two years too long. So Sweeney will instead be content to wait it out in “patient mode,” seeking a good deal that fits Boston’s needs, and blends in well with their salary cap structure.

“We’ve been in this market the last couple of years, and I’m in a patient mode. I think we’ve positioned ourselves with the strength of our prospects and commitment to our prospects that we feel excited about that,” said Sweeney. “Development camp is coming up next week and I’m really looking forward to seeing where some of our players are at. So, to answer your question, supply and demand usually dictate when you have to jump [into the free agent pool].

“The ultimate goal is to continue to improve our team. Picking the team on July 1 is probably not what we’re going to do. We’ve got some players that are going to come in and challenge for some spots and some opportunity, and we feel they’re ready to do that. We made the decision obviously in qualifying all of our players that we felt would come back and add to the strength and depth of our hockey club. There’s a couple of areas that we have been looking at and to continue to add to the depth and improve the club. I’ve certainly been in a lot of trade conversations with clubs looking at our prospects and swapping in that manner, so I’ll continue to do that. That doesn’t necessarily happen today or tomorrow; that can happen throughout, and it happens and players have changed teams.”

The Bruins certainly kicked the tires on Minnesota’s tandem of Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville before they were ultimately dealt to Buffalo, but the sense is that Jonas Brodin is the Minny D-man that Boston really wanted. Instead, Sweeney and Co. continue to search for a left-shot defenseman for their top-4 and join several other teams including Tampa Bay and Montreal in their league-wide scouring for such a player.

The Bruins may also take a look at top-6 left wing options for David Krejci, but the expectation is one of Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen could “pop” during training camp. If not then the B’s can revisit that need during the season ahead of next season’s trade deadline just as they did this past spring with Drew Stafford.

The B’s hope to pair off Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in the grand 2017-18 scheme as a shutdown duo, and then find a left-shot defenseman to pair with 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy in a mobile, up-tempo defensive duo. Certainly they could swing Kevan Miller over to the left side after he got his feet wet on his weak side last season, and Torey Krug remains a possibility for more top-4 duty if they need more time in-season to find the player they’re looking for.

Sweeney stressed that the Bruins are “comfortable” with the right side of their defense on the NHL roster, and would only be looking for a right-shot defenseman in a depth capacity in case injuries hit Boston hard. In essence and completely unsurprisingly, that means the Black and Gold are not going to be invested in the Kevin Shattenkirk sweepstakes. Instead they will be honed in on a left-shot solution that could bridge them to a time when Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon are ready for NHL duty. Sweeney didn’t want to discount potential NHL chances for Matt Grzelcyk or Robbie O’Gara either, but the Bruins would be wise to get another frontline left side D-man considering that their only truly legitimate top-4 guy on the left side is a 40-year-old Chara.

“We’d like to continue to explore [outside options] or have one of our lefties step up, yes. The answer to that is yes, we have been exploring,” said Sweeney. “I don’t know whether or not it’s going to come to fruition here in the next day and a half, but we also know that both [Rob] O’Gara and [Matt] Grzelcyk have played [NHL] games. Tommy Cross has played games. We have guys internally that would like the opportunity to see if they can take that stop and play. Again, we feel very comfortable [with the current group] on the right side.”

So where does this leave the Bruins?

Certainly they will be interested and ready to discuss any options when/if young, left-handed defenseman like Noah Hanifin become available on the trade market. It remains to be seen if a theoretical package surrounding next year’s first-round pick, Ryan Spooner and perhaps a prospect like Zboril would be enough to get something like that done. But there are also short-term free agent options like Dmitry Kulikov, Trevor Daley and Michael Del Zotto on the market starting at noontime. Kulikov, in particular, makes sense given his youth, potential affordable price tag coming off a down year in Buffalo and Boston’s previous trade interest in him when he was a member of the Florida Panthers.

The Bruins have upwards of $14 million in salary cap space, so price isn’t going to be a problem even if 21-year-old David Pastrnak is going to eat up almost half of those reserves when he eventually signs a long-term extension.

But whatever it is might not be an immediate solution for the Black and Gold as Sweeney moves into “patient mode” for the first time as Bruins GM during the free agent frenzy period, and simply waits for the right solution to present itself to the organization.

Cannonballing into the overpriced free agent pool hasn’t exactly worked for the B’s in the last three years, so they’re going to try a different approach this July with an ascending hockey club that’s got a foothold after last spring’s playoff appearance. Only time will tell if it’s the right call, but it certainly plays into Sweeney’s strengths to opt for the drafting and development over the quick fixes in free agency. 

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

It’s hard being an NBA fan and not thinking about the Celtics on St. Patrick’s Day.

All that green, the shamrocks and the libations that so many of us enjoy even more today than most days, it’s pretty cool and certainly something – well, for me at least – to be thankful for.

The Celtics, yeah, they got a few – quite a few - things to be thankful for as well.

So what better day to point a few of them out than the unofficial holiday of the Celtics, St. Patrick’s Day.


When Danny Ainge drafted Terry Rozier three years ago, I admit I wasn’t a believer. You had guards, Danny Ainge. What do you need another one for? Draft Sam Dekker from Wisconsin, or UVA’s Justin Anderson. Hey, that kid Bobby Portis from Arkansas looks pretty good, too.

Ainge and the Celtics took a look at all those guys and came away convinced that Rozier was the best fit for what the wanted both in the short and long-term from that draft.

While Rozier has not emerged as a star, he has shown us all more than enough to know that he’s a pretty damn good player.

And throw in the fact that the dude was born on St. Patrick’s Day - as was Ainge - how can this guy not have a little bit of luck on his side?


LeBron James’ timing has been impeccable when it comes to leaving for greener pastures. So, when Kyrie Irving let the Cavs know he wanted out of Cleveland, it took a minute to sink that they were about to be LeBron’d by someone other than LeBron. But in making his desire to be traded, Irving was giving the Cavs an opportunity to get something in return for shipping him out to who knows where. The Cavs eventually wound up with a couple of draft picks, with one being a coveted first-rounder via Brooklyn in June’s NBA draft along with a trio of players headlined by Isaiah Thomas who was still on the mend from a hip injury.

The injury took longer to heal and the Cavs wound up trading Thomas and ex-Celtic Jae Crowder to teams out West.

Today, Cleveland is treading water as a middle-of-the-pack club that has shown very few signs of late that they will be nothing more than first-round fodder for some team with deep playoff aspirations and a roster ready to make that happen.

And Irving?

He was named to his fifth All-Star team and has spent most of this season playing for a Boston team that until recently held down best record in the East and currently sits in the No. 2 spot.

Irving is dealing with a sore left knee that has limited him recently to not playing, but it doesn’t appear to be an injury that will significantly impact what he does in the postseason for a Celtics team that, despite all their injuries, still holds out hope of making a strong postseason run.


Whenever you ask Brad Stevens about his decision to leave Butler for the Celtics in the NBA, he makes it clear from the outset how difficult a decision it was for him and his family.

Just imagine if Stevens had won a national title instead of having a pair of national runner-up finishes to his name? Leading a mid-major like Butler to an NCAA title, which would have meant slaying UConn or Duke in the process? Stevens would have been more than just a big deal on the Butler campus. He would have been seen as a basketball god who would have had an even tougher time walking away from what he had helped build at Butler.

So Celtics fans, be thankful for Duke and UConn because without their national title game wins over Butler, there’s a very good chance that Brad Stevens would not be coaching the Celtics now.


Remember back in 2013 when Danny Ainge had the serious basketball man crush on Duke’s Justise Winslow, a player that he was willing to trade plenty of draft picks (reportedly as many as four first-round picks) to acquire the rights to draft?

Ainge suspected the Miami Heat would select him with the No. 10 pick, so Ainge tried to swing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets who were in the No. 9 slot.

Charlotte liked Winslow, but they were more smitten with Frank Kaminsky. Because of that, they wouldn’t do a deal with the Celtics.

Not doing that deal allowed Boston to have the kind of assets to eventually acquire Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Irving, moves that have collectively led to Boston’s surge towards the top of the NBA standings despite having the fifth-youngest team in the NBA.

Winslow, selected by the Heat with the 10th overall pick, has come nowhere close to being the impact player Miami was hoping they would get. And while Kaminsky has had some decent stretches, he too has been a bit underwhelming. Meanwhile, Boston kept its 16th overall pick and used it to select Rozier who as it turns out, has arguably been the best player among the trio.

Having a good scouting staff is important, of course.

But a little luck every now and then doesn’t hurt, either.




Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Beating one of the few teams already eliminated from the playoff race is in itself not that big a deal.

It’s called doing what you’re supposed to do.

But for these Celtics, their 92-83 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night was more than just another victory.

It was the latest installment in a season filled with teachable moments and lessons that can bolster in some fashion their chances at a deep playoff run.

While there’s no way they’re going to go far without their core guys Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, getting guys to fill in for them and still manage to win, is important in this team’s overall development in both the present and future.

No one on the Celtics’ roster can score like Irving, the league’s 11th-ranked scorer at 24.4 points per game.

Still, getting his fill-ins Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin to go for 17 and 10 points certainly helps.

And Jaylen Brown’s ability to play both ends of the floor at a high level is huge, but rookie Abdel Nader has shown he too has some potential to be a solid two-way talent.

Smart’s defense sets him apart from others, but the Celtics collectively were able to make up for that with an impressive defensive rating of 83.1 against the Orlando.

And their collective efforts serve as yet another teachable moment for the Celtics.

Here are five takeaways from a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might lead one to believe: 

There may not be another Celtic whose stock has risen more than Terry Rozier’s this season. He has become a reliable two-way talent off the bench whose capable of giving you starter-like production when needed. He had 17 points against the Magic along with seven rebounds and five assists.

With Marcus Smart (right thumb) out for the rest of the regular season, Terry Rozier in the starting lineup along with Marcus Morris, those are three really big chunks of Boston’s second unit no longer coming off the bench. The second unit players might have been different, but that didn’t affect the Celtics’ bench from impacting the game in a significant way. Against the Magic, they outscored Orlando’s backups, 39-28. 

He signed with the Boston Celtics at a time when a role for him was far from defined. His patience and Boston’s faith in him has paid for both as Larkin continues to be that utility player that Brad Stevens has leaned on at times. Larkin was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points.

This may be one of the closest Coach of the Year votes we have ever had in the NBA. Regardless how short the list may be, you can bet Brad Stevens will be on it. The way he has been positioning the Celtics to be among the last teams standing despite all the injuries they have endured this season, speaks to his ability to not just draw up X's and O’s but also his ability to develop players who when called upon to play, are more than ready for the challenge.

It’s fair to expect the Celtics are going to be short-handed for the rest of the season, which means those still around have to step their game up – Horford included.

For Horford, stepping up involves being more assertive as a scorer and not rely as much on his skills as a play-maker. We saw that from Horford on Friday, as he tallied a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds but more important, he took a game-high 18 shot attempts.