Now that Don Sweeney has officially been named the eighth General Manager in Boston Bruins history, it’s time for Sweeney to shape the 2015-16 Bruins into a group of coaches and players that can help bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston.
Meeting the media for the first time as GM a week ago, Sweeney made one thing clear: from coaches to players changes are coming.
“There will be some changes going forward, personnel changes, there will be staff member changes,” said Sweeney. “When we decide to make those will be in due time, but I’ll make the right decisions based on what’s the best decision for the organization, not necessarily the easiest one, but I’ll make what I think is the best one in conjunction with the great number of people that I have a chance to work with.”
Obviously the biggest decision on Sweeney’s plate is the future of head coach Claude Julien. After failing to make the playoffs for the first time as the Bruins’ bench boss, Julien’s hot seat is as hot as ever. Sweeney made it clear last week, Claude is indeed the team’s head coach, at least for the time being.
Sweeney wouldn’t say whether or not Julien would still hold that position in October when the season starts.
“I’ve spoken with Claude, I know it’s been reported that I had spoken to Claude as a prospective General Manager candidate; that also is true. I spoke to Claude again this morning, and I spoke to him as a person now in a General Manager’s seat,” Sweeny told the press. “So I have some things that I want to sit down with Claude and go through in a very orderly fashion as to where I think needs to change and what direction we need to change as a group.
“As I said, some of that will involve personnel decisions. Some of that will involve staff member decisions and or changes. That’s to be determined. He’s the coach of the Boston Bruins as of today; that’s for sure.”
Coaching changes will certainly come easier than player changes. Former General Manager Peter Chiarelli left town after putting the Bruins in salary cap hell. Sitting with about $10 Million to spend this offseason and some key free agents of their own looking for new contracts, Sweeney has his work cut out for him.
To go along with player changes, it seems as if Sweeney is looking to change the identity of the Bruins. Looking for more speed, skill and grit, the B’s are heading toward the mold of their Atlantic Division rivals like the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“You can have skill in any different fashion. Patrice Bergeron is a tremendously skilled player, but he’s a hard skilled player. All of our players have to understand that the four teams that are playing this week [in the Stanley Cup Playoffs] all have different attributes of skill, size, speed, grit — but they have a sacrifice level that it takes to win in the playoffs. You have to have a blend of that to get there; we have to have more aggression in our game,” added Sweeney.
Sweeney acknowledged a few negatives from last season that he saw that he hopes to change and pointed a few things from the past that he would like to see the Bruins get back to.
“I looked at a Calgary game this year in February where a team that was as hungry as what we used to be steamrolled us in the third period,” said the new Bruins GM, “We created very, very few scoring chances, if any. They were in our end the whole night. They ended up winning the game on somewhat of a fluky bounce, but they had turned the tide of the game, and there were too many nights where we weren’t able to do that. In years past, we had been able to do that.”
If any Bruin on the current roster isn’t ready to show that killer instinct, then Sweeney will find players who are willing to do just that.
“We need to get back to that mentality, and we certainly have a number of players to lead in that direction and that charge,” Sweeney said, “and if other players aren’t willing to do that, then we’re going to make sure we find and identify the players that are.”
Without moving pieces from the current roster, Sweeney’s hands are virtually tied. Flexibility in bringing new blood into the locker room is simply not an option due to the Bruins salary cap issues.
Despite those issues looming large, Sweeney hopes to get back out in front of the salary cap issue and not remain stuck behind it. Getting in front of the issue will make Sweeney’s job a heck of a lot easier, especially come trade deadline time.
“Well, I referenced flexibility as an issue that we need to get back out in front of. There’s a difference between cap compliance and cap management, and I think we need to make sure that we’re very cognizant of the latter rather than the former,” Sweeney stated. “Everybody in the league has to deal with cap compliance, but the teams that are in position to have some flexibility to make some changes, being at the deadline — the opportunity to make trades exist when other teams, you have a trading partner.”
From the faces behind the bench to the ones sitting on it to the style of play on the ice, the 2015-16 Boston Bruins are going to look much different than the 2014-15 version.
That can only be a good thing.