Bruins’ Retaining Don Sweeney Would Have Positives & Negatives

In the days following the Boston Bruins‘ elimination in the First Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games, general manager (GM) Don Sweeney said that he had discussions towards the end of the season where his path would be and what the future might hold with the team he played for during his career. Two days later, team President Cam Neely echoed those statements saying that he had discussions with team owner Jeremy Jacobs and they were expected to give Boston’s GM a new contract.

While it appears that the Bruins are going to bring Sweeney back, is that the best move? Here are some reasons to bring back Sweeney and some reasons why it might be best to move on from him.

Positives to Keeping Sweeney

At the top of the list should be the ability to work out contract extensions with some of the Bruins’ top players to keep in Boston. First, he extended Charlie McAvoy last October with an eight-year, $76 million extension. Locking up McAvoy was a must as he is becoming one of the top defensemen in the NHL and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before he wins a Norris Trophy. After losing Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara in the last two seasons, locking up the future was a must and Sweeney did so.

Bruins General manager Don Sweeney (Photo: Bill Sikes/Associated Press)

Sweeney did the same with left-shot defenseman Hampus Lindholm after acquiring him from the Anaheim Ducks in a trade on March 19. Less than 24 hours after the deal, Sweeney locked him up as McAvoy’s partner for nearly the next decade with an eight-year, $52 million contract that carries a $6.5 million cap hit, which is a good deal.

Related: Bruins Extending Lindholm Solidifies Defense

Speaking of the Lindholm deal, Sweeney has been better at trade deadline moves the last three seasons. In 2019, he acquired Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild and Marcus Johansson from the New Jersey Devils. Both players played a huge role in the playoffs for the Bruins in helping them reach Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. Coyle, who signed a six-year, $31.5 million extension in November of 2019, had nine goals and seven assists in 24 postseason games in 2019. Johansson had four goals and 11 points in 22 postseason games.

In 2021, there was another glaring need for more secondary scoring and Sweeney addressed it and bottom-six depth when he acquired Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres for Anders Bjork and a 2021 second-round draft pick. Hall fit right in well with David Krejci and Craig Smith and was signed last offseason to a four-year, $24 million contract that could be easily moved towards the end of it if needed. Lazar was one of, if not the best, Bruins’ bottom-six forwards in the 2021-22 season. He is a free agent this summer and signing him is going to be very tricky as he might have outpriced himself in Boston compared to what another team could throw at him.

Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Not to be overlooked at the trade deadline in 2021 was the acquisition of defenseman Mike Reilly. He was a nice addition to the back end as a puck-moving blueliner who had eight assists in the final 15 games of the regular season. The case could be made that some of these trade deadline deals were because of bad contracts and poor drafts, but in the end, those were deals that stuck out and proved to be big.

The final six months of the 2021-22 season were played with the trade request of Jake DeBrusk hanging over Sweeney and the Bruins. Five hours ahead of the trade deadline, the Bruins announced that DeBrusk agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract extension with a very team-friendly $4 million cap hit, before he was due a $4.41 million qualifying offer this summer. It was thought that the extension would be a very good deal for a team acquiring him, but Sweeney ended up holding onto him. It’s going to be interesting to see how the DeBrusk trade request plays out this summer, as it is most likely that the 25-year-old would welcome a change of scenery. If they hold onto him, he’s locked up under a pretty good deal on the books.

Re-signing players to what can be considered “team-friendly’’ deals is a strength of Sweeney’s and is most likely one reason Jacobs would agree with Neely to bring him back, along with being able to pull off some key trade deadline deals.

Negatives to Keeping Sweeney

The biggest knock on Sweeney is his lack of drafting and developing prospects. Yes, he has hit on some picks with McAvoy, Jeremy Swayman, and Brandon Carlo, but his lack of success with the 2015 Entry Draft will haunt him and the Bruins for some time. Yes, it was his first draft as GM, but he set himself up for three consecutive first-round picks at numbers 13, 14, and 15. Of those three picks, Jakub Zboril just signed a two-year extenstion, but only has 54 NHL games under his belt, while DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn were picked after Zboril have requested to be traded. DeBrusk’s situation was covered above and Senyshyn was moved in a March trade with the Senators that acquired Josh Brown.

Related: Bruins 2015 Draft Failure Will Haunt Them for Years

Some of Sweeney’s draft picks are highly touted, like Fabian Lysell in last summer’s draft, and Ohio State defensemen Mason Lohrei in 2020, but there have been more misses than hits. Over time, the lack of drafting talent that makes it to Boston is going to catch up with the Bruins.

Don Sweeney Bruins
Don Sweeney, Boston Bruins GM at the 2018 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Boston never addressed Krejci leaving last summer with a No. 2 center behind Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins captain still has not made a decision about his future. Regardless of what Bergeron decides, there’s a need for significant additions up the middle this season for the Black and Gold. It needs to be addressed either through a trade or some roster movement to free up money for free agency. Last year, there were players available in free agency that Sweeney passed on, instead spreading out the money over three bottom-six forwards. Christian Dvorak was a name that could have been had in a trade, but he ended up with the Montreal Canadiens.

Speaking of free agency, it has not been a strength of Sweeney’s during his tenure as GM. David Backes was given a five-year, $30 million contract in the summer of 2016 and that turned out to be a disaster. Sweeney was able to move him in a trade deadline deal, along with Axel Andersson and Boston’s 2020 first-round pick with the Ducks for Ondrej Kase. While it was nice to get Backes’ contract gone, it came with a disappointing result as Kase never was able to get his feet wet in Boston before not being given a qualifying off last season and leaving for the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency. Then there’s the John Moore contract. Sadly, it never worked out the way Sweeney, Moore, and the Bruins had hoped.

Last July’s free-agent additions struggled this season and no two big than veterans Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek. Erik Haula turned into an important piece and Derek Forbort got better as the season went on. Then there’s Jack Studnicka who is a restricted free agent (RFA) this summer and has got mixed results from the Bruins the last couple of seasons. If he’s not part of the roster this season, could he be the next prospect that requests a trade? Either he’s part of the Bruins’ future or it’s time to move on.

The Jury Is In

Looking at both sides of it, the Bruins are going to play it safe and keep Sweeney. They have been to six straight postseasons and they have their top-pair defensive pairing set for the foreseeable future. Some work still needs to be done locking up Pastrnak, but you have to think that’s coming soon. Could more have been done at the deadline to add forward depth to the roster this season? Yes, but Sweeney decided to stay pat and go with what they had and it ended up hurting them. Sweeney is the best option the Bruins have right now to move forward with as a GM. Name someone else out there that’s better to work with Neely and Jacobs?

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