Bruins President Cam Neely and newly minted CEO Charlie Jacobs both referenced an “exhaustive search” for the B’s new general manager after announcing Wednesday that Peter Chiarelli was no longer running things on Causeway Street. So one would expect that will at least take a few weeks of meetings, discussions and interviews before a new GM is vetted, hired and then introduced to the masses at TD Garden.
Neely and Jacobs weren’t really tipping their hand as to what they’re looking for in prospective candidates, but it seems pretty obvious it will need to be somebody willing to accept all manner of input from the club president. Neely said that the Bruins will be considering both internal and external candidates for the GM gig, and there have been many, many whispers around the team for the last few months that Don Sweeney would be getting the gig were Chiarelli to lose his GM job.
That would make sense given that both Neely and Sweeney were longtime teammates with the Bruins, and both men have a prideful, meaningful view of what it is to be a member of the Spoked-B tribe, and what the expectation is for the organization is each and every year.
“That’s something that Charlie [Jacobs] and I talked about,” said Neely, when asked if there would be internal candidates for the Bruins GM job. “Obviously we’re going to have both internal and external interviews to replace Peter’s role as General Manager.
“The thing that I like to see have happen is communication amongst the group. You’ve got a dialogue of everybody’s thoughts of our hockey club, especially guys that have been around for a while. Those happen quite often, but it’s going to continue to grow.”
With that in mind, here’s a look at the main candidates for the Bruins GM job with the opening little more than 48 hours old:
Don Sweeney – This is the overwhelming favorite for the gig. The longtime Bruins defenseman has been a key cog in player development for the Bs over the last nine years, and has risen all the way to assistant GM in the last couple of years. Sweeney has handled contract negotiations, trade discussions, player promotions and demotions and has the kind of institutional knowledge that someone would need to properly run a franchise. Beyond that, he’s a bright innovator with a Harvard degree. Sweeney was the brainchild behind the B’s summer development camp for their prospects, and that’s been a major success over the years. This past season it was the week that opened the Bs brass’ eyes that David Pastrnak could indeed help the team this year. Sweeney was a candidate for the GM job with the Washington Capitals when it opened up last summer, and it really feels like it’s finally his time to take over an NHL franchise. It’s expected that if Sweeney were to take over that much of the infrastructure would remain the same with the Bruins, and that Claude Julien would stand a pretty good chance of remaining the head coach for next season. The only question is whether Sweeney is willing to operate with Neely sure to be taking a much more active role in hockey ops decisions moving forward.
Ray Shero – the former Pittsburgh Penguins GM has a Stanley Cup win on his resume with the Penguins, and Shero certainly didn’t lack for guts when it came to pulling off big trades at the deadline for a Pens team that was constantly in the hunt. The biggest negative with Shero is that the salary cap issue is something that really hurt him in Pittsburgh. He had a top-heavy roster with little depth, and had traded away many of the organization’s prospects and draft picks for short-term roster improvements. But he’s a highly regarded hockey man with the ideal experience to potentially take over a club like the Bruins. There’s also the added bonus fact that Shero was Boston’s top choice back in 2006 when they replaced Mike O’Connell. Shero ended up rebuffing the B’s offer to take the Penguins gig, and that left the Bruins to hire their third choice in Chiarelli. One other question with Shero: would he be willing to co-exist with an influential club president in Neely, or would he be looking for some level of autonomy in his next job running a hockey team? If the Bruins go outside the organization, Shero is the name that’s been most often mentioned as a big candidate. He was also spotted on the ninth floor of TD Garden quite a bit during this past season to the point where one had to wonder if there was a Bruins-related reason for it.
Jeff Gorton – Gorton was the assistant general manager under O’Connell at the time he was removed from the job, and it was the current New York Rangers assistant GM that drafted Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand in a dynamic 2006 draft class. He left the B’s organization shortly after the arrival of Peter Chiarelli, and has done an excellent job with the Rangers as the executive-in-waiting once longtime New York GM Glen Sather decides to finally call it a career. The question with Gorton is whether he’d be willing to leave the Rangers organization, where he is the heir apparent, to make his return to a Bruins team he helped build so many years ago. It should be noted that Gorton, along with the rest of the candidates named from this point forward on the list, would cost the B's a third round pick in exchange for his hire as he's under contract with another NHL team.
Julien Brisebois – The assistant GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning has been considered as a candidate for multiple GM positions, and is an interesting candidate with qualities similar to that of Chiarelli in some ways. Brisebois doesn’t have a professional hockey background, and is instead a lawyer by original profession that is renowned for his mastery of the CBA and salary cap. He’s exactly the kind of young candidate that could work paired with the experienced hockey minds already in place within the Bruins organization, and would theoretically be open to Neely’s directions. Brisebois has done an excellent job running AHL franchises for both the Montreal and Tampa Bay organizations, but is also short on actual GM experience just like Sweeney.
Paul Fenton – The Springfield native is another good hockey man with plenty of local ties, who has been an assistant GM with the Nashville Predators since all the way back in 2006. Fenton has been a key figure in the Nashville success story as a draft-and-development franchise, and has been in charge of Nashville’s drafts and minor league teams for quite some time. He was a grinder-style player with 400 games of NHL experience, and has worked his way up through the Predators organization while building himself into a perennial top candidate for GM gigs when they open up. Fenton would be a fine hire for the Bruins, though there is a sneaking sense he might have some of the same conservative tendencies as Chiarelli based on the defense-minded players that Nashville seems to regularly churn out.
Tom Fitzgerald – The 46-year-old Billerica native played for the Bruins, and currently serves as an assistant general manager for the Penguins. Fitzgerald’s brother, Scott, is a longtime scout with the Bruins, and his son, Ryan, was drafted by the Bruins organization just a couple of years ago. There are connections galore with the Bruins franchise, and Fitzgerald is a respected hockey mind who is considered a rising star in the Penguins organization. He doesn’t have the same kind of experience as some of the other potential candidates, but Fitzgerald knows the lay of the land very well in Boston and could hit the ground running aided by an experienced group around him.
Mike Futa – Futa has been a longtime member of Los Angeles Kings management that helped that organization build a two-time Stanley Cup winner, and he’s learned at the foot of one of the best GM’s in the NHL in Dean Lombardi. Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs this season just as the Bruins did, but Lombardi has built a talented, physical, skilled group with the Kings while also boasting cap flexibility by refusing to give his players no trade clauses. The Bruins ideally want to play similarly to the Kings as they had in past years, and want somebody that could ease the salary cap pain by focusing on draft and development. Those are things in Futa’s wheelhouse, though his lack of experience may hurt him given some of the other candidates in the running.