BOSTON -- Bruins general manager Don Sweeney has a plan. But we still don’t know what the end result will be.
With free agency opening July 1, and plenty of questions raised about what the Bruins have done in the last few days, Sweeney remains confident.
“It’s difficult, as I sit here today, for people to sort of understand, but hopefully when we get through this and we still have a very good team, and we’re going to continue to get better between now and when the season opens,” Sweeney said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters.
Prior to last weekend’s NHL Draft, Sweeney traded defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames, and in a separate deal traded forward Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings. As part of the Lucic deal, the Bruins acquired goaltender Martin Jones. But on Monday, Sweeney traded Jones to the San Jose Sharks for a first-round draft pick next June, plus the rights to unsigned prospect Sean Kuraly.
When the Bruins acquired Jones last Friday, some thought he might be targeted as a No. 1 goalie and that maybe Sweeney would consider moving Rask to free up more cap space. But Sweeney wanted to make it clear he was not moving Rask this offseason.
“Absolutely Tuukka Rask is not on the market,” Sweeney said.
When Sweeney & Co. returned from South Florida on Saturday, many in the hockey world, including opposing teams, were wondering what direction the Bruins were going in. Many fans have been irate with the moves so far.
“Heat is the appropriate term, I would say. I knew going in the chair would be warm. I accepted that challenge and knew there would be some hard decisions to make,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney admitted the organization remains in cap purgatory and he’s trying to remedy that. The Bruins have $969,000 in overages against the cap, according to Sweeney. The Bruins also retain $2.75 million of Lucic’s contract for next season.
“A lot has transpired over the last little while and we’re now entering free agency with the intent to improve our hockey club,” Sweeney said. “It’s never an easy process in the free-agent market, but we’re going to look at every different opportunity to try and do that. We set ourselves back in a position now where we have a little bit of cap flexibility, which was paramount in the whole exercise.”
Sweeney refutes the notion that the team is rebuilding. He called it an evaluation process. It’s now about getting more from the organization’s younger players and prospects, as well as the core group, he said.
“I don’t think it’s a rebuild,” he said. “We didn’t strip this down. We have a tremendous core group of guys that are obviously going to carry an even heavier load in the short term, while these other kids come in and start to take footing.
“This was just a situation that was presented that I felt we needed to change the course a little bit. A lot of people are looking at one or two steps backwards, [but] I looked at it like we’re going to try and improve our team between now and September. Going forward, as incrementally as it may be, but we are also going to be a team for the future as well.”
Sweeney also discussed the possibility of trading Marc Savard and his $4 million salary to another organization that needs help getting to the cap floor.
“I’ve discussed Savard with a lot of teams,” said Sweeney, who added that it’s still a possibility.
The Philadelphia Flyers did something similar over the weekend with former defenseman Chris Pronger. Former Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli did the same with Tim Thomas a couple of seasons ago when the goaltender’s rights were traded to the New York Islanders during his self-imposed hiatus from the game.
In another questionable move Monday, the Bruins traded for forward Zac Rinaldo. The Bruins gave up a third-round pick in 2017 for the former sixth-round selection. Sweeney said he’s encouraged by Rinaldo’s potential as a skater, a grinder, and as another option for the penalty-killing unit.
“We wanted a little more energy. I talked about playing with a little more energy in our lineup and it’s ready-made in that regard,” explained Sweeney. “He’s a player that’s still young and plays with a tremendous amount of courage. We need to get him to make sure he finds that line, because he’s crossed over a few times, but he has tremendous enthusiasm for the game. Speaking with him yesterday, he was very, very excited about being a member of the Boston Bruins and doing whatever he could to help us win.”
Again, Sweeney defended the transaction.
“You guys are evaluating the prices paid and such, and the rest of us are evaluating the conversation we’re having and what those prices are going to be. When you find a deal that you feel helps your hockey club, then that’s what you’re trying to do,” he said.
In other bookkeeping moves, the Bruins did qualify forward Ryan Spooner and Brett Connolly. Boston did not make qualifying offers to Matt Lindblad, Rob Flick or Adam Morrison, but Sweeney said it doesn’t mean he won’t revisit with those players.