Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has endured plenty of criticism for everything from his 2017 trade-deadline moves to squandering three first-round picks at the 2015 draft. But Sweeney is making all the right moves of late, plugging in young players like Ryan Donato to help stem Boston's barrage of injuries. So we asked our team of experts:
Given the Bruins' success this season, do we owe GM Don Sweeney an apology -- or has he just been lucky?
Greg Wyshynski, senior writer: I don't think an apology is necessary because Sweeney earned his early heat. It wasn't just the criticism the Bruins received for their three selections in the 2015 NHL draft, as my colleague Chris Peters chronicles below, but the other moves they made during Sweeney's first summer at the helm.
The Dougie Hamilton trade on June 26, 2015, netted the Bruins barely more than what they would have gotten if the Calgary Flames had offer-sheeted him. Sweeney had called Hamilton a "foundational player," but, per Bruins tradition, the defenseman's reputation was trashed after the cap-strapped team couldn't afford his free-agent contract demands. Sweeney did well in getting Martin Jones, a 2016 first-round pick that was used to select center Trent Frederic, the No. 13 overall pick in the 2015 draft (which netted the Bruins defenseman Jakub Zboril) and defenseman Colin Miller for Milan Lucic. The GM did not do so well in trading a 2017 third-round pick for Zac Rinaldo, who has three points and 83 penalty minutes in 52 games as a Bruin.
To his credit, Sweeney handled that heat, preached patience and said there was a plan in place for the Bruins, even as they saw a seven-season playoff streak end as he took over the GM gig.
"I don't think it's a rebuild," he said in June 2015. "We have a tremendous core group of guys that will carry an even more tremendous load while we wait for these young players to find their footing."
Hey, look what happened: By 2017, the Bruins were back in the playoffs, having augmented a core of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask with players like 20-year-old David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo (also 20) -- and then adding Danton Heinen (22), Jake DeBrusk (21), Charlie McAvoy (20) and Ryan Donato (21) this season. So in summary, a core group surrounded by young players who found their footing.
Give credit to Sweeney for a plan that has come together. But no apology necessary.
Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: Since it's my rookie season covering hockey, I don't have any "What is Don Sweeney doing?" hot takes to dig up. I will, however, self-report this passage I wrote about the 2017-18 Boston Bruins: "This is a team that has stumbled early and has enough talent to scare some teams down the stretch, but there are too many holes in the Bruins' lineup for them to finish off teams come playoff time."
Yes, I wrote that three months ago. No, it did not age well. The thing about a sportswriter's rash opinion is that it can be similar to a poor decision by an NHL GM -- just on a far smaller scale. If you own up to your mistake, you can learn from it, and recover.
Sweeney has had some swings and misses during his first three years on the job. He flubbed his first draft in 2015 (no need to rehash, but ... trading two key roster players then taking three passes on selecting Mathew Barzal? Really?). Sweeney rebounded with more astute selections the next year, including taking Charlie McAvoy at No. 14 -- and making a few of the teams drafting before him look silly. He overpaid for Matt Beleskey (five years, $19 million) and Jimmy Hayes, (three years, $6.9 million) -- and owned up to it by buying out Hayes and shedding Beleskey's contract to the New York Rangers -- but did not screw up when it counted on the David Pastrnak negotiations.
And so it goes. Since inheriting the job from Peter Chiarelli in April 2015, Sweeney's mission has been to rebuild while still somehow staying competitive -- perhaps the most difficult balancing act in sports. That has led to some tough decisions, especially involving veterans, but it's hard to critique the results these days. If anything, the narrative shifting on Sweeney is a friendly reminder that reputations aren't built by one or two moves. We need to wait and analyze the body of work. Of course, that's easier said than done.
Chris Peters, NHL prospects writer: A lot of the Sweeney criticism over these past few years goes right back to that 2015 NHL draft, as Emily notes. That got Sweeney off on the wrong foot in Boston because the team got killed for those decisions, and it wasn't just Barzal after that trio that has yielded only Jake DeBrusk at the NHL level so far. It was Kyle Connor, Brock Boeser, Thomas Chabot and Travis Konecny among the notables still on the board at that point. To be fair, the Bruins did get every-day defenseman Brandon Carlo in the second round of that draft. Hindsight is 20/20 and you can do that same kind of thing with so many draft picks over the years. You just can't often do it for a team that had three in a row. I know you didn't want to rehash it, Emily, and that was awfully kind to Bruins fans, but I'm rehashing it because I think that really was central to the early notion that Sweeney was in over his head. I still remember sitting at that draft wondering what I had just witnessed.
Sweeney has done a more than admirable job in his role and only seems to be getting better. His biggest and most important move to date, in my mind, was not only parting with a Stanley Cup-winning coach in Claude Julien, but elevating Bruce Cassidy from the AHL to replace him. It doesn't always work seamlessly doing that, but Cassidy has won 63 of 99 games behind the Bruins bench. He's helped shepherd in new players like DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly and Matt Grzelcyk -- players he had helped develop in Providence -- and had the confidence to throw Charlie McAvoy right into the Stanley Cup playoffs last year. It's somewhat similar to what happened when the Tampa Bay Lightning elevated Jon Cooper and suddenly many of his AHL guys were making a big impact at the NHL level. It was oddly a big shake-up at the top, but it allowed the organization to retain some continuity, and I think that's as big a reason as any that this team is playing as well as it is.
Sweeney still has some murky waters to navigate going forward like what to do about Zdeno Chara after this season, and the Bruins should probably start thinking about McAvoy's next contract, too. Otherwise, much of the core is locked up long term, so a lot of what Sweeney will have to do in the coming years is more roster maintenance than heavy lifting. This organization was not in an easy position when Chiarelli was let go. Sweeney turned it around faster than anyone thought possible, and it's starting to set up for a brighter future, too. He definitely deserves some recognition and maybe an apology or two.