BRIGHTON, Mass – While it was ultimately disappointment for the Boston Bruins in their chase for big ticket free agent John Tavares, it wasn’t the kind of crushing blow that will discourage Don Sweeney in his offseason team-building efforts.
Tavares picked the Toronto Maple Leafs team he grew up rooting for on Sunday afternoon while deciding between six teams including the New York Islanders team that drafted him No. 1 overall almost ten years ago. The 27-year-old Tavares signed a seven year, $77 million contract with the Leafs after spending his weekend mulling the decision, and by most accounts left money on the table with better offers from teams including the B’s, Stars, Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Clearly the addition of Tavares to an already strong Toronto core group significantly improves the Maple Leafs, and that leaves the Bruins as the third best team in the Atlantic Division behind both the Leafs and the Lightning. That’s the most disappointing part for Sweeney, who took it as an organizational compliment that Tavares considered Boston in the first place.
“I would’ve preferred [Tavares] not be in our division. The overall process was a really good process to structurally have somebody else dive inside our own team. We were thankful for the opportunity to present,” said Sweeney. “Pat [Brisson] and his group and John himself were really good about it, and he was well prepared. We felt we were.
“We put our best foot forward and it didn’t fall our way. But, again, to be in that situation is something that our group should be happy about, and it’s probably a reflection of what we’re trying to do and trying to accomplish…but I wish it had fallen our way.”
The good news is that the Bruins don’t have to go through the salary cap gymnastics that would have been mandatory had they signed a player of Tavares’ caliber. Sweeney admitted earlier this week that he had moves already set in place if they did somehow land the elite center, and it was expected that either David Krejci or David Backes, or perhaps both, would have been on the move if those dominoes started falling.
Now the Bruins have less urgency from a salary cap perspective with their current roster with roughly $4 million in cap space after entering the NHL free agency market. They still need a second-line winger to add some scoring punch to their attack up front, but sounds like it might be a slow play on the trade market to eventually get that player.
On this day, though, it was about the Bruins shooting for it all by chasing Tavares in free agency, and falling short again after they took a similar swing at Ilya Kovalchuk during NHL Draft weekend as well. The Bruins are falling short in closing the deal on these elite players, but there’s also something to be said with Boston being in the mix at all with game-breaking players.
“It’s obviously a reflection of our current players and a testament to them. I think stylistically, to our coaches, to the organization, to the support from ownership, with this [new practice] facility, overall, it’s a reflection of our entire organization,” said Sweeney. “I’ve said all along, it’s about winning. That’s the mandate that we’re trying to put forward to all of our players, whether it was the development camp guys or the highest-level free agency players that we’re trying to attract and to be a part of what we’re trying to do.”
That was obviously part of the Boston sales pitch with Tavares that included a phone call from Patrice Bergeron, but eventually fell short of the rival Maple Leafs getting much, much better in NHL free agency.