BOSTON (CBS) — So, you’re never going to believe this, but as it turns out … sometimes in Boston, we overreact. Occasionally, we rush to judgment, and we don’t demonstrate patience or a willingness to take the long view at times when it seems like the walls are burning down around Don Sweeney.
So it’s only right, a week after odorous droppings appeared to have started to hit the fan, for some of us — OK, me — to admit we were wrong.
That’s not to say that everything Sweeney has done has been aces, but nobody bats 1.000. His work over the past few days has shown that he’s been able to learn on the fly rather quickly in what are still his earliest days as an NHL general manager.
Armed with more clarity with some of the situations surrounding the moves, here’s a more enlightened look at the moves Sweeney has made in the past week.
1. Trading an asset to acquire Zac Rinaldo
You do not need to give up an asset in order to acquire a player like Zac Rinaldo. He’s Zac Rinaldo. If you really want Zac Rinaldo, you can find any old maniac, strap some skates on his feet and tell him to aim for the other guy’s jaw. Rinaldo plays so dirty that even Philadelphia fans grew sick of him. So giving up a third-round pick remains Sweeney’s most perplexing move — albeit a relatively minor one — to date.
2. Trading a fifth-round pick in 2015 (135 overall) for a … fifth-round pick in 2016
Again, not a huge deal. But … when you trade away a pick to another team, it’s typically because that team wants the pick. So usually, the price tag for that pick is a price that’s a bit higher than the pick itself. Yet Sweeney traded a fifth-rounder this year for a fifth-rounder next year — a pick that could be later than No. 135. This was just a head-scratcher, one that made you question Sweeney’s ability to think on his feet on the second day of the draft.
1. Signing Adam McQuaid to a four-year, $11 million deal
Adam McQuaid is a good player to have on the roster, mostly as a bottom-pairing guy who can stay at home and deliver the boom every now and again. He does bring an element of size and strength, and he’s also a good guy who’s got his head on straight. There’s really no issue with keeping him around from that standpoint. But he’s not a great D-man, and he wasn’t able to stay healthy for the third straight season, yet the Bruins gave him a raise of more than 50 percent. That’s an overpay, which is exactly what got Peter Chiarelli in trouble with the cap.
2. The draft picks
It would be wrong to dismiss the research and time that Sweeney and the scouting staff puts into their jobs by saying they made poor draft picks. We won’t know how many of the 10 draftees pan out for a number of years. Certainly, the first-round selections of Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn raised many eyebrows, especially considering Senyshyn was projected to be available in the second round. So for now, these go in the “questionable” category, if only because it really seemed as though Sweeney did not want to use all three of the first-round picks yet ended up being forced to make them.
1. Trading Dougie Hamilton for a mid-first-round pick and two second-round picks
Moving a disgruntled young player who doesn’t take well to hard coaching is part of life in the modern-day NHL, you’d just like to do better when trading him (see: Kessel, Phil). When Peter Chiarelli traded Kessel, he nabbed two first-rounders and a second-rounder in return, and both of those first-rounders turned out to be high picks (No. 2 overall, used to select Tyler Seguin; No. 9 overall, used to select … Dougie Hamilton).
In this instance, acquiring at least a top-10 pick would have been preferable. And Sweeney seemed intent on moving up into the top five, maybe to draft Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, but he couldn’t. Perhaps this was a hard lesson learned on dealing in the NHL for Don, but still, Zboril, DeBrusk, Senyshyn and the rest of the draft class might never even make it to the NHL. So losing a 22-year-old D-man who’s already proven to be able to make an offensive impact in the NHL without at least acquiring a replacement-in-waiting is a loss for the team.
1. Trading Milan Lucic, eventually for two first-round picks and a defensive prospect
At first blush, the Lucic return didn’t seem great, considering Boston was still paying $2.75 million of Lucic’s $6 million contract. The impetus to trade a player like Lucic was to shed his cap hit, so retaining that much money while still needing to pay RFA goaltender Martin Jones, prospect Colin Miller and $2.75 million to Adam McQuaid seemed to be a net loss in terms of salary.
But Sweeney traded Jones to San Jose, acquiring the Sharks’ first-round pick next year — a pick that could end up being a top-10 selection. (San Jose finished with the eighth-worst record in the NHL this past season.)
Overall, turning Lucic into two first-rounders as well as a defensive prospect who seems at least borderline NHL-ready (62 points in 89 total AHL games last season), that’s a pretty good haul.
2. Moving Marc Savard’s cap hit
There were ways for the Bruins to dance around this cap hit, but ultimately sliding it down the East Coast to Florida, where the Panthers have plenty of cap room, gives the Bruins the type of cap relief they’ve been seeking for years.
What’s better, this comment from Florida GM Dale Tallon on why he took on Savard’s contract really reflected well on Sweeney: “[The Bruins] probably wouldn’t have done the deal otherwise.”
To me, that says Sweeney’s learned a bit about the art of negotiating in the NHL in just a week’s time.
(As an aside, Marc Savard is a legend. It’s a damn shame that he plied his trade in the years just before every single highlight made its way to YouTube, because that guy made some passes that literally nobody else in hockey was making. He also seemed like a real pain in the behind for opponents to have to listen to all game. None of this relates to Sweeney, I just feel that sometimes Marc Savard’s contributions to hockey in Boston are underappreciated. Can’t one of you serial YouTubers get to work to give us more than this stuuuuupid no-look backhand saucer to Glen Murray’s tape?)
VERY GOOD MOVES
1. Trading Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes
Nobody’s saying Jimmy Hayes is Wayne Gretzky, but he scored 19 goals last season. Nineteen goals would’ve ranked him fourth on the Bruins, ahead of the likes of Lucic (18), Carl Soderberg (13) and Smith himself (13).
The Smith contract extension (two years, $6.85) seemed highly questionable when it was signed back in March, and now it seems clear that Sweeney was among the chorus of those doubting its value.
Though Sweeney still has to pay Hayes, it will be less than Smith’s money and the Bruins will, in theory, get a more-inspired effort out of the local guy.
2. Signing Matt Beleskey to a five-year, $19 million contract
The Boston Bruins signed arguably the best forward available on the free-agent market in Matt Beleskey, and they did it for less money than the entire hockey world expected Beleskey to fetch. Did that ever happen during Chiarelli’s tenure?
The worry with Beleskey was that teams would be willing to overpay, based on the thin free-agent market and Beleskey’s offensive outburst in the postseason (eight goals in 16 games). But the Bruins stayed disciplined and still got their guy.
Beleskey may not necessarily be the replacement to Jarome Iginla that the Bruins were never able to acquire last year, but he should be poised to pile up goals if he skates on David Krejci’s wing. And even if he ends up on a line with either Patrice Bergeron or Ryan Spooner, he at the very least gives Claude Julien options to mix and match, if he sees fit.
3. Signing Ryan Spooner to a two-year, $1.9 million contract
Again, this is a very manageable, reasonable rate for a player with potential. We don’t know exactly what Spooner is just yet, but we got a glimpse when he skated with Lucic and Pastrnak for a stretch last season. He’s just 23 years old, and he put up 18 points in 29 NHL games last season. In his AHL career, he’s nearly a point-per-game player (136 points in 150 games).
The modest $950,000 cap hit works best for both the team and the player. The Bruins get to explore a player with potential, and Spooner gets the chance to prove himself worthy of a much pricier deal in a couple of years.
As you can see, the positive moves outweigh the negatives. Of course, it’s not as simple as just enumerating the good vs. the bad — signing a depth forward at a reasonable rate while trading Steven Stamkos for a seventh-round pick wouldn’t count as a washout for an NHL general manager, obviously.
But it’s clear from most of Sweeney’s moves that he has a plan. He’s not afraid to cut ties with players, and he’s been able to sign potential contributors at reasonable rates.
That being said, it must be reiterated that the Bruins were not a playoff team last year, and the moves thus far in the offseason do not make them a top-of–the-conference team right now. They’re not necessarily a real Cup contender either, but they’re on the way to improvement. They’ve filled a number of holes that looked unsolvable as recently as Monday, and they’ve gained something they haven’t had in years thanks to Chiarelli’s bad math: flexibility.
They’re still probably at least one D-man short, but they were careful to not overpay in free agency, and they’re going to give their younger guys (Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow) a chance to stick in the NHL.
Overall, unlike last week, there’s real reason to believe Sweeney is capable of executing his vision on a team that badly needs a course correction.