Don Sweeney

Don Sweeney on absence of Bruins' David Pastrnak, Ondrej Kase: 'Not ideal by any means'

Don Sweeney on absence of Bruins' David Pastrnak, Ondrej Kase: 'Not ideal by any means'

BRIGHTON, Mass. — Practice was underway on Monday morning with a much bigger group of Bruins than it was over the weekend with most of the seven missing “unfit to participate” players from Saturday back with the full group.

But David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase were once again missing while still in the “unfit to participate” category with Pastrnak still in quarantine despite a negative COVID-19 test, and Kase’s status unconfirmed at this point.

The bottom line for the Bruins is that their top two right wings have missed the first week of Return to Play camp, and it’s still undetermined when either of them will return to practice.

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That means young players like Anders Bjork, Jack Studnicka and Karson Kuhlman have been getting reps on the right side for all of training camp, and the Bruins have essentially had to function without both of their top-6 right wings while getting back up to full speed. While Bruins GM Don Sweeney didn’t sound upset or frustrated at the way things have played out for his team, he also readily admitted that it is clearly less than ideal.

“Any player that misses a day here [or there] it’s not a big deal. But when you start missing weeks on end — which we will end up having a couple of players in that category — you certainly have rust as a problem,” said Don Sweeney. “We do have some players that were skating quite a bit leading up to Phase 3, but the timing more than anything, the continuity of your linemates and the situations you have to work through as you go through practice, you’re hopefully going to have to get them up to full speed when you do have them back. And it’s in a shorter period of time.

It’s not ideal by any means, but it’s just what you have to deal with going forward. I think every team is probably going to have to face it at some point in time unless they’re incredibly fortunate. And good for them. We’re not in that situation and I can’t change that. All we can do is worry about the plan with what we have.

Sweeney said that both players were within their rights in Phase 2 to be working out at local rinks up until Monday of last week — as they were according to multiple witnesses — and that wasn’t something the Bruins were going to second-guess.

The big second guess with both Pastrnak and Kase is that they didn’t show up earlier from the Czech Republic to get through the necessary quarantine protocol that would have allowed them to begin practicing with the Bruins at the beginning of last week. If there is one area where the 24-year-old Pastrnak failed to be like the rest of his core Bruins group hellbent on winning a Stanley Cup, that would be it.

But it’s also widely agreed upon that it isn’t going to take very long for Pastrnak to regain the chemistry with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand after they have skated together on the Perfection Line for the last two seasons. There’s also plenty of continuity on Boston’s top power play unit, as Pastrnak led the NHL in power play goals this season.

Clearly his linemates aren’t worried.

“Pasta is going to be back for the playoffs, I’m not really looking too much into it,” said Marchand. “It doesn’t take long for chemistry to bounce back with us. Even when I’m going down [the ice] with [Anders Bjork] now and Bergy, we’re kind of looking [to pass] into the areas where Pasta normally sets up.”

The good news for Pastrnak, Kase and the Bruins is that the first three games in the Toronto hub city aren’t going to hold anything significant on the line as round-robin warm-up games, so the reality is they can be eased into the fold with very little on the line during the first week of play.

However as Sweeney alluded to, the situation is “not ideal by any means” and perhaps something that Pastrnak will learn from while the rest of his teammates are working on the ice and getting ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Don Sweeney admits Bruins face 'some hard decisions' with upcoming free agents

Don Sweeney admits Bruins face 'some hard decisions' with upcoming free agents

The Bruins head into this summer’s Return to Play with plenty of question marks about how it’s all going to turn out attempting to complete the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. But there are question marks beyond that as well, with several key contracts ending once this postseason has been completed by the Black and Gold.

Torey Krug is set to become an unrestricted free agent and the offensive-minded D-man could be the most coveted defenseman on the market should he get there. Jake DeBrusk is a restricted free agent and will be looking at a big raise in his second contract after averaging 20 goals per season as a top-6 guy during his first three years in the NHL.

The two players combined will easily command over $10 million per season with their next contracts, and the Bruins will have to figure out new contracts for Zdeno Chara, Matt Grzelcyk and Anders Bjork among others. Complicating matters will be a flat salary cap for at least the next couple of years at $81.5 million with a chance it might go up a nominal amount in the third subsequent season after the NHL and NHLPA agreed to a CBA extension earlier this week.

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It will be interesting to see just how much the market corrects for a player like Krug that could have been looking at a payday in the $8 million per season range, and whether or not a player like him would take a shorter deal to remain in Boston and wait out the financial fallout headed for all of pro sports over the next couple of seasons.

Don Sweeney wouldn’t rule out negotiating deals with those potential free agents while Phase 3 and 4 roll out over the next few months, but also cautioned that the Bruins weren’t going to be “overly aggressive” given how much is still unknown about the way player contracts will be impacted moving forward.

“I’ve never stated that we’d never have conversations, so ultimately I think we’ll have [contract discussions] case-by-case. I’m not going to be overly aggressive as we get into Phase 3 getting ready to play and then into the playoffs. But if something makes sense then we’ll do it. If there are some players that are very particular and don’t want to have those conversations until we’re done [with the games] then I respect that as well,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney during a zoom call with reporters on Sunday.

“I think I’ll just touch base with each and every one of [the free agents], and that includes RFAs that want to know where they’re going to be. There will be some conversations that will take place in terms of how we’re going to position contracts and how we’re going to structure contracts, and how you fit it together. Ultimately, we’re all going to have the $81.5 million for the next two years. We’re going to start to have conversations.  

“We’ve had to run simulations and still [get to a place] where we’re treating every player fairly from a compensation standpoint. But we have some decisions to make and we may have to make some hard decisions just like every other team in the league now that we have the parameters of the cap and how the mechanisms of the new CBA are going to work.”

Those “hard decisions” could mean they have to decide between Krug and DeBrusk when finding a way to get under the cap for next season, though it should be noted that the Bruins have a lot of cap space opening up two seasons from now when the current deals for both Tuukka Rask and David Krejci (almost $15 million in cap space) will be off the books.

Don Sweeney commends Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara's actions for racial justice

Don Sweeney commends Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara's actions for racial justice

Hockey players across the NHL have been rightfully applauded for the thoughtful way they’ve handled an unquestionably uncomfortable topic when it comes to the "Black Lives Matter" protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

Current NHL players like Evander Kane have expressed what it feels like to be a minority in the largely white National Hockey League, and past Black NHL players like Kevin Weekes, Anson Carter and Jarome Iginla have been valuable voices in the steps that the NHL can continue to take in the fight for justice and equal treatment.   

But it’s going to take everybody to make the last few weeks a movement that will last with meaningful impact, and that means thoughtful, influential NHL players like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara getting involved as well. They both did that with meaningful, real statements over the last week and by getting involved whether it was Bergeron’s $50,000 donation or Chara marching in one of the "Black Lives Matter" rallies on the streets of Boston last week.

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Both players have long been compassionate, hard-working uniters when it comes to the Bruins dressing room, so it was no surprise to B’s general manager Don Sweeney when he saw them getting involved as both hockey players and human beings.  

“You know I was reading articles this morning on Anson Carter and a couple of the players I played with that are getting involved, Trevor Daley, and having a higher profile. I applaud each and every player for their individual efforts and support them. They have the complete backing of the Boston Bruins,” said Don Sweeney last week during a Zoom video call with Bruins reporters.

“From an organizational standpoint and a personal one, I applaud each and every players’ individual efforts in their own lives outside the realm of hockey. They’re human beings and they’re acting very, very well from the standpoint of humanity. I think [they both] acknowledged the listening aspect of this and the realization that we all can continue to do a much better job of that to mobilize our efforts.”

The key for Bergeron, Chara, and the rest of the NHL for that matter, is to keep these commendable efforts visible, impactful and ongoing as the business of the NHL starts to get going over the next couple of months. There’s no doubt that will happen given how plainly obvious the need is for change and reform when it comes to making certain that everybody working, playing and living in the United States is treated equally in their pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.