I want to be the first to say this; Bruins management had a great year.
The “Fire Neely” and “Fire Sweeney” tweeting and commenting has died down. And now all the Sweeney haters out there can plug their mouths for a little while.
The Bruins organization has finally taken a step forward due to Sweeney’s recent drafting and development starting to pay off. And in the process he avoided costly dumb trades this season. This is otherwise known as “building the right way”. Sweeney has now earned the right to see this thing through.
Management’s 2016-2017 season doesn’t officially start at training camp or on opening night like it does for the players. It started last May when the non-playoff participating Bruins off-season began.
That May Sweeney re-signed defenseman Kevan Miller to a 4-year, $10 million ($2.5 million cap hit) contract extension. When I first saw this signing I was at work (yes, believe it or not I don’t get paid to blog and I need a real job) and due to my reaction my co-worker thought someone in my family had died. But with Miller’s rebound season I now I feel like there was good value in the signing. The B’s paid the going rate for a veteran bottom pairing defenseman that can log heavy minutes and kill penalties. And Kevan Miller displayed growth in his game at the end of the season when Bruce Cassidy took over that I didn’t think a player his age could.
At the NHL Draft in June Sweeney showcased his recent track record of drafting well by absolutely knocking it out of the park. The Bruins took Charlie McAvoy with the 14th overall pick, who we now know will have tremendous positive impact on this franchise moving forward. Then Sweeney selected Big-10 Freshman of the Year, Trent Frederic, who might actually turn out to be a huge steal with the 29th overall pick. Next, with the 49th overall pick, the Bruins selected fellow Big-10 All-Freshman Team member defenseman Ryan Lindgren. Not a bad haul for a single draft.
And let’s not to forget to mention Joona Koppanen who was taken in the 5th round. Koppanen has signed an entry-level contract and is expected in North America next season.
The second phase of management’s work came on July 1st when Sweeney and his team dove into the free agent market. They picked up David Backes, Riley Nash, John-Michael Liles (a re-signing), Anton Khudobin, and Dominic Moore.
One could argue that the Backes signing was bad, largely due to the five-year term for the 32-year-old, but whenever you dip into free agency you are going to overpay. All of these signings in my opinion were ultimately successful. And each one, except for Backes, were cheap veterans to fill a role. Solid deals for all of them.
Then thirdly, amidst a quiet trade market league wide, Sweeney made the best move of his GM career prior to the season starting. He signed Brad Marchand to a eight-year contract extension at a cap hit of $6.13 million per year. If that is not the most team friendly deal you’ve seen for a star sniper let me know because I don’t know of one. Coming off of two straight 30-goal seasons (37 and 39) and an 85-point season this year, Marchand could receive more than $8 million on the open market today.
As for managements late season Claude Julien firing there isn’t much to say that hasn’t been written to death already. We all know it turned out great. Management showed they were confident moving forward without Julien by even allowing him to go to Montreal.
Recently rumors have circulated that the now officially named Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was told by Sweeney back in February that he was their man all along. It was obvious at the time that the locker room was divided with Claude guys and anti-Claude guys. Yet the change in leadership and the up tempo game that Cassidy installed brought them back together and really made the Bruins more exciting and watchable in the process.
As for the trade deadline, management played it perfectly. With Cassidy at the helm and the team heating up Sweeney and crew showed that they were still not going to over spend for a rental when they traded for Drew Stafford. The Bruins only gave up a conditional 6th round pick for Stafford who appeared to fit well with the team immediately. The 6th round price tag could have been as high as a 4th if Stafford played 50% of the remaining games (which he did) and had the Bruins made it to the second round of the playoffs.
Their job is not done but I have more confidence in Sweeney and company today than I ever did before. Certainly Sweeney’s approval rating has risen with his handling of the roster in his second year as GM. Of course there are still a lot of questions left for this off season that to be answered.
As for grades, I am going to give management an A-. In the context of this season, with a near flat cap and an expansion draft on the horizon creating a quiet trade market, they handled things very well. They exceeded my expectations by hanging onto their prized prospects and not deviating from a big picture plan that’s designed for success. And like I said earlier, because of that my trust in them is at an all-time high.
However, giving the coaching staff a grade is tough. It isn’t like Claude did a bad job, but Boston wasn’t a good fit anymore. His firing needed to be done. With that being said, it helps that Cassidy is probably the perfect fit going forward. He provides more offensive freedom and has a development background from coaching in the AHL for seven years that helps with the amount of young players about to arrive in Boston. So I will give the coaching staff a B. Considering a late season change in philosophy, and some of the ingredients they were working with, they ended up cooking a solid meal.
I’m really looking forward to the 2017-2018 season with Cassidy as head coach and a revamped roster more suited to his style of play.
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