Don Sweeney

Haggerty: Youth will be served on this year's Bruins

Haggerty: Youth will be served on this year's Bruins

BOSTON --The motto for this year’s Bruins team might come out of what’s now considered a classic rock Guns N’ Roses song: “Take it slow and it'll work itself out fine, All we need is just a little patience."

Clearly Axl Rose didn’t have the B's in mind when he took pen to paper to write “Patience,” but that’s exactly what Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy and Cam Neely have signed on for this season with a major influx of young talent. Not only is the talent flush in numbers -- with rookies Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Sean Kuraly starting the season with the Bruins -- but all of those first-year players are expected to fill major roles for Boston.

It certainly makes for an exciting time for a Bruins group that should again compete for the playoffs this season, and might only be a year or two away from building really something special.

“It’s exciting,” said Bruins president Cam Neely. “It’s been a few years in the making, to see some of the young kids being able to push for jobs. It looks like a couple [of youngsters] have done that.

"[You] have to give credit to drafting properly. Then once you draft them, you have to do a good job developing them. It starts with our development camp, and having these younger players understand what our expectations are of them, where they need to work on their game to get to the NHL level.

“I think we can really build off what we did last year. I saw a little different style of play, and the league has gotten faster. Our coaching staff has helped us become faster with the way we practice and how Butch [Bruce Cassidy] wants us to play. I think, even though we lost in the first round, it was a close series. I think it was the first time for some of our players to play in the playoffs. They haven’t – understanding what it’s like to play in the playoffs, and they got a taste of it. I hope they are hungry for more.”

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Bjork is slated to be top-line right wing, and use his blazing speed, high-end skill and good instincts to produce plenty of offense and points with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. DeBrusk will start the season at left wing alongside David Krejci and David Pastrnak, and will fill the power-forward role of net-front finisher and winner of battles that has often been successful with the playmaking Czech center throughout his career. McAvoy will start the season in a top-4 role paired with Kevan Miller, but the 19-year-old is going to be a workhorse playing in all situations, moving the puck and shouldering a heavy burden for a D-corps that’s probably still a year or two away from being a truly dominant group again.

The role for Kuraly still isn’t completely defined, but it’s clear that he’s got a friend in David Backes after the two big-bodied forwards showed chemistry and production during the playoffs together. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him settle into a third-line role with Backes, where he can work up the same straight-line, north/south game that proved so successful in the postseason against the Senators.

Certainly it’s all adrenaline and reality setting in on the coolness of being an NHL player for these young guys, but for most, if not all, there will be ups and downs as they navigate for the first time through the sometimes unforgiving world of the NHL.

Much is expected of these prospects and more of Boston’s youth movement in Sweeney’s third season guiding the Bruins franchise, where his five year plan should be fully entrenched with the draft-and-development effort paying dividends.

“I think we do have to have some patience, and some understanding that we’re going to go through some of those [rough] time periods,” said Sweeney. “We have a core group that’s going to pull us through those periods, and we have depth during those times when guys do stub their toes where we can withstand some of those times of struggles. But the results also take over from here, to tell you the truth. That’s what this league is and we have to be cognizant of that while balancing the patience part of it.”

Certainly the teaching style that Cassidy employed for close to a decade at the AHL level in Providence is going to be an asset with the younger players. The head coach will preach aggression and creativity within a controlled systems environment, and mistakes will be tolerated as long as they’re not repeated and devolve into chronic issues on the ice.

That’s a far cry from Claude Julien, who seemed to no longer have the patience to live through youthful mistakes when a conservative, defensive-minded option could be at the ready. The other factor working in Boston’s favor is the established veteran core that’s embracing the infusion of youthful talent that they so desperately need.

Brandon Carlo went through the rookie experience with the Bruins last season, and he said that a big part of his successful season was the unflinching faith that both Bruins management and his veteran teammates showed.

“It was great,” said Carlo. “I definitely needed it at times, and for them to show trust in me definitely helped me keep my confidence up when I wasn’t playing as well. Getting that opportunity was pretty special, and allowing me to stay in the lineup and learn from my experiences was beneficial. [Zdeno Chara] was definitely a big help during those times. At practice he could tell I was a little frantic at times because my confidence wasn’t all there, and he would tell me to take a step back, realize that I’m in the NHL right now and wasn’t going anywhere. I just needed to work on my game. [Chara’s words] were so helpful for me.”

Certainly the Bruins may not hit with all of these young players, and there will be growing pains with a pair of rookies among their top-6 forwards and two more first or second year players in their top-4 on defense. But patience isn’t going to be a dirty word for the Bruins this season as they mix their draft-and-development future with the established players of the present while looking for just the right mix for success.

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Sweeney: Watching Subban get claimed on waivers "is a loss for us"

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Sweeney: Watching Subban get claimed on waivers "is a loss for us"

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins took a gamble that Malcolm Subban wouldn’t get claimed on waivers while trying to pass him through this week, and the Vegas house wins as it almost always does when gambling is involved. The Vegas Golden Knights claimed the Bruins former first round pick off the waiver wire on Monday at noontime, and will take on the 23-year-old goaltender that just appears to be coming into his own as a late bloomer of sorts.

Subban was 2-0-0 with a .889 save percentage during the preseason, and impressed the Bruins with his improved maturity and poise between the pipes after some well-chronicled struggles over the last few seasons. Some of it was due to a scary throat injury suffered a couple of years ago on an errant shot during warm-ups, and some of it was Subban’s train-wreck appearances for the NHL club where he was unceremoniously yanked from both of his starts.  

It was clear the Bruins would go with a Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin tandem to start the season with little appetite for an unproven Subban as the main backup goalie, and that left Bruins GM Don Sweeney with some tough choices. He could carry three goalies on the NHL roster while shorting himself at either forward or defensemen, or he could try to slip Subban through waivers with most NHL teams set at goaltender this late in the preseason.

Vegas plucked Subban despite already holding Marc-Andre Fleury and Calvin Pickard on their NHL roster, so it’s unclear how he’s going to fit in with the Golden Knights in the immediate future. The Bruins were disappointed they lost a former first round pick for nothing on the waiver wire, but Subban held no trade value coming off his previously awful NHL appearances.

"I had my fingers crossed that it wasn't gonna happen,” said Sweeney, who also could have lost Subban for nothing when he left the goalie unprotected in the summer expansion draft as well "But that's part of the business, and we wish Malcolm obviously success in the opportunity that he's going to get. But it's a loss for us.

“Am I surprised? I think Malcolm has taken a step, and I’m not surprised in the situation. Vegas is doing what they’re trying to build. Obviously Zane [McIntyre] had experience last year and had a very good run. Daniel [Vladar] probably, if Malcolm does stay there, will get an opportunity to back up in

Providence and get the exposure there at the next level. It’s disappointing. We’ve had a lot of time invested in Malcolm, and we were seeing him grow as a person on and off the ice.”

Unfortunately for Subban, that growth came a little too late in his stint with the Bruins for him to contribute to the team that drafted him five years ago. It remains to be seen if Subban is ever going to become a late-blooming NHL-caliber goalie, or if he will go down as one of a number of awful, wasted first round picks during Peter Chiarelli’s tenure running the 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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