Bruins management doubling down
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, Cam Neely was searching for Peter Chiarelli’s replacement. A few weeks later, Don Sweeney was named the new general manager of the Bruins.
Here we are again a year later. A year where the Bruins failed to make the postseason, again, marking the first back-to-back playoff misses since 2005-06 and 2006-07.
Instead of making more changes, the Bruins appear to be doubling down on their approach entering another off-season of uncertainty.
In Sweeney’s first year, the Bruins were in transition from a veteran team to a “rebuild on the fly.” The plan was to implement some of their younger players while keeping core players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci, intact while competing for a playoff spot.
That did not happen, however. From their disappointing performances in pivotal games to a defense that regressed and a lack of secondary scoring and some rather questionable moves by Sweeney during the off-season and the trade deadline, the Bruins are left scratching their heads over another late regular season collapse.
Overseeing all of this, one would think that Bruins management would want to make some changes to the approach. Instead, just days after Sweeney announced that Claude Julien would return as head coach, Cam Neely, Charlie Jacobs and Jeremy Jacobs backed the rebuild on the fly outlook during their season-ending press conference on Wednesday.
“The plan that Don put in place wasn’t a one off-season fix,” Neely said about Sweeney’s approach during a 25-plus minute press conference inside Legends on Wednesday. “It’s not easy during the course of the season to make deals to try to improve your club, but a lot of things happen in the off-season. So we’re going to need to make it work this off-season.”
Of course, it’s hard to judge whether a new GM fully incorporated his plan in just the first year of his job. After all, Sweeney inherited a few leftovers from Chiarelli’s regime of veterans and prospects, including Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton who were traded last off-season to the Kings and Flames, respectively.
Netting two first round picks, Colin Miller and Martin Jones (who was later traded to the Sharks for Sean Kuraly and San Jose’s 2016 first round choice) in those transactions, Sweeney tried to use those picks to move up in last year’s draft. That didn’t work and instead of moving up to select BC’s Noah Hanifin, Sweeney settled with Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn and Jake DeBrusk with picks 13, 14 and 15.
That, along with trading for Zac Rinaldo and in hindsight Jimmy Hayes left the Bruins with a roster that had missing pieces to the puzzle. At the very least, Sweeney did clear some much-needed space to give the B’s a little more salary cap flexibility.
“As you saw, we had the [Milan] Lucic and the [Dougie] Hamilton and others that were actually cap issues that we don’t have this year going forward,” Jeremy Jacobs said. “Space has been cleared. Now, whether or not or how it’s used is going to be up to Don and Cam and the group together, but they have coalesced together, have come to a plan where that may not have been the case before.
Sweeney’s vision will stay the same in year two, but will the results be different?
“I don’t think that it would be appropriate to address this without speaking to that issue of incorporating youth into our lineup. In speaking with Don and understanding the prospects that are in our system, the expectation is that we can integrate this youth and still be a playoff team,” Charlie Jacobs said. “That’s the expectation from where I personally sit.”
With Julien, Sweeney and Neely all back next year, improving the roster needs to be treated with a sense of urgency. Their biggest priority unquestionably is improving a Bruins blue-line that spent much of the year in transition.
Arguably, the Bruins have some good prospects like Brandon Carlo that could help the team the next few years. In the immediate term, however, bigger questions remain including whether or not veterans like Zdeno Chara or Dennis Seidenberg or free agents like Kevan Miller (UFA) and Torey Krug (RFA) will be in the fold again.
“Well listen I don’t have any concerns about his work ethic to try and improve the club over the offseason. So we know what our back end is all about so we need to find, if we can, we need to really improve that area of our team,” Neely said about one of the Bruins’ summer priorities. We’ve got a lot of good young forward prospects up and coming. Whether they make an impact this year or not remains to be seen, but our back end is something that I know he’s going to be very focused on.”