Don Sweeney seems to understand how fortunate he is to have Patrice Bergeron around.
“You’re not going to replace Patrice,” he said. “That just doesn’t happen. You have to grow the next player and hope that, you know … Jed Clampett, striking oil somewhere, right?”
Not every day you hear someone with a Harvard economics degree and 33 years of NHL playing and managing experience comparing himself to a famous TV bumpkin who struck black gold. We’ll allow the comparison, even though the 55-year-old Bruins general manager, like all of the reporters he was addressing at last week’s press conference, is only old enough to have seen “The Beverly Hillbillies” reruns.
Sweeney, whose job status was in question as recently as the March trade deadline, starts his recently signed multiyear contract with the gift of two top-six centers making a combined $8 million in average annual value. Both Bergeron and David Krejci essentially took scraps of salted possum to run it back with the B’s.
Given Sweeney’s spotty record of drafting and developing talent — replacements for either aren’t walking through that door — he’d better be grateful.
If the Bruins went into the season without Bergeron and Krejci, they might as well have signed Jethro Bodine to play center. They’d be going nowhere.
How many other GMs have two stars at key positions telling their agents to avoid chasing maximum dollars on a contract? That’s what both Bergeron (Philippe Lecavalier) and Krejci (Jiri Hamal) did. Calgary GM Brad Treliving, who will pay new acquisition Jonathan Huberdeau $10.5 million a season over eight years to keep him happy in Alberta, could only dream of it.
Bergeron, who last week signed on for one more year at $2.5 million and another $2.5 million in performance bonuses, is now tied for 192nd in the league in average pay. If the Bruins wind up deferring his bonuses to next season, there will be 373 NHL players who make more than the reigning Selke Trophy winner.
At full freight, there are 55 centers in the league who make more than Bergeron’s $5 million AAV. Forget the money, just names: if you are putting any of them in your 1C spot next season, you’d certainly take Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews or Nathan MacKinnon (the latter on a bargain $6.3 million expiring deal). But how many more would you take over Bergeron? Aleksander Barkov or a healthy Jack Eichel? Sure. Sebastian Aho, Brayden Point or Sidney Crosby? Probably. Elias Pettersson, Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes? Probably not.
We’re just talking about pure talent here, not intangibles, leadership, or culture-driving elements. Bergeron has consistently taken less in the interest of building winning teams.
“To me, hockey is all about the team success and ultimately winning,” he said. “And that’s what really makes the difference between a good career and a great career. It’s the friendships that you build. It’s the memories that last a lifetime.
“The dollar sign obviously, I’m not going to say that we’re not well paid. We are, extremely, and beyond what I ever dreamed of, as far as salary goes. That being said, I think leaving a few [dollars] on the table to make sure you’re a competitive team and you’re a good team and that it carries on for years, I think that to me makes a big difference. And I think that’s how we want to play the game.”
Perhaps few GMs in NHL history have been as lucky as ol’ Mike O’Connell and his crew were when Bergeron bubbled up at No. 45 overall in 2003. Sweeney’s allusions aside, that pick was more than someone with dumb luck shooting into the ground.
Credit goes to general manager O’Connell and assistant Jeff Gorton, Quebec scout Daniel Doré and European scouting director Nikolai Bobrov, who identified a kid who needed only one year of development in the Quebec Major Junior League before he was ready for the pros. They had a first-round grade on Bergeron, and since they felt they were mostly alone in that assessment, they used their first pick (21st overall) on Mark Stuart. Their second choice that year goes down as the best draft pick in Bruins history.
Slam dunk, that is. Easy call. No other argument.
Aside from Ray Bourque, other Bruins Mount Rushmore contenders came to town outside the draft. Bobby Orr’s arrival was foretold in the scriptures (and the doggedness of Milt Schmidt’s scout, Wren Blair, who camped out at the hotel Orr’s mother worked at until he could get the 14-year-old’s name on a contract. Different times). Phil Esposito and Cam Neely were traded here. Zdeno Chara signed here.
Unlike Bergeron, Bourque was seen as one of the top prospects in his class. In 1979, the Bruins, who had traded goaltender Ron Grahame to the Kings in exchange for the No. 8 overall pick, were considering Bourque and another defenseman, Keith Brown. The Blackhawks made their choice for them by taking Brown at No. 7. Brown had a solid 16-year career, while Bourque spent two decades as a franchise cornerstone.
Teams rarely find players like that at draft spot No. 45. Assuming the next Bergeron — or Krejci, taken in 63rd overall in 2004 by the same O’Connell-led group — hasn’t already fallen into their laps, the Bruins will have to bring in help from the outside. Or this 15-year run of success is over.
You may remember where the Bruins were when Bergeron arrived. They’re exactly where they are now: fourth in the market, behind the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics. Not going for it is not an option.
Bergeron and Krejci signing those inexpensive tickets helped everyone in the organization, not least of all Sweeney. We don’t truly know how much job security he has — the Jacobs family and Neely signed off on a multiyear extension — but we do know his job was in question through the trade deadline, and he was allowed to fire one of the most successful coaches in franchise history.
The two franchise centers have allowed their bosses to set a spell, take their shoes off, and try to win another Stanley Cup. Y’all come back now, y’hear?
Cassidy in search of help in net
Bruce Cassidy is looking for a goaltender, any goaltender, with happy hips.
Cassidy, who watched Tuukka Rask retire from hip trouble in his final season behind the Boston bench, will start his Vegas tenure without Robin Lehner. The No. 1 netminder needs hip surgery that will keep him from playing this season. Backup Laurent Brossoit may miss the start of the year while recovering from a surgery — reportedly hip trouble — of his own.
If Brossoit (.895 save percentage in 24 games) isn’t ready — or even if he is — Cassidy could turn to rookie Logan Thompson, who was decent (.914 save percentage and one shutout in 17 starts) down the stretch.
Given the expectations here, after Cirque du Stanley ended its five-year residency on The Strip, you’d think Vegas would try to bring in another act.
Certainly a trade offer including Thompson, an undrafted 25-year-old with three years left on a bargain deal ($766,667 per), and the rights to big, mean defenseman Nic Hague, a restricted free agent without a contract, would surely cause other teams to perk up.
The market for goalies, though, looks drier than your nearest green space in this droughty New England summer. Goalies entering the last years of their deals (Lehner has three years left at $5 million) include Joonas Korpisalo ($1.3 million), who has had two brutal seasons in Columbus since shining in the 2020 playoffs; Semyon Varlamov ($5 million); Mackenzie Blackwood ($2.8 million); and Tristan Jarry ($3.5 million). Maybe Seattle could be convinced to offload third goalie Martin Jones ($2 million).
Maybe going with Thompson as the ace-in-training would be a wise move.
Even after dumping Max Pacioretty’s $7 million cap hit on the Hurricanes — after the trade, it was revealed Pacioretty will miss six months after Achilles’ surgery — the Golden Knights are still some $6 million over the cap, before putting Lehner’s $5 million AAV on long-term injured reserve.
Curious about this: If Vegas can’t see a way to keep the left-shooting Hague, would they have interest in any of the left-stick defensemen — perhaps Mike Reilly or Matt Grzelcyk — that Cassidy tutored in Boston? The Bruins sure could use Hague’s truculence, particularly at that size (6 feet 6 inches, 230 pounds).
Ivan Ivan Ivan (that’s his name) easy to root for
The World Junior Championship tournament is typically packed, especially when held in Canada. But a small group, mostly the scouts, family members and the teams, showed up to Rogers Place in Edmonton for the opening games last week.
What? You didn’t know they were having a World Junior tournament? Yeah, that makes sense.
Hockey people typically check out around this time of year. For those who watch a lot of games all year, it’s a good time to get outside the rink and/or step away from the TV. For the unaware, this is a do-over of the one COVID canceled last December.
As is customary at the World Juniors, everyone has something to prove. Every player in the tournament is trying to make the NHL. One of the hopefuls for the 2023 draft was a fleet, willing Czech forward with a unique name.
Ivan Ivan Ivan played in last year’s WJC, then put up 31 goals and 65 points in 65 games for Cape Breton of the QMJHL. The thrice-named winger has a fantastic attitude about his memorable moniker.
“A lot of people are thinking my parents did it on purpose,” he told EP Rinkside. “My parents love me and they did it because they want me to be special.”
Easy guy to root, root, root for.
Amid wondering how many fans stayed away because they were disgusted with the ongoing Hockey Canada investigation, it was easier to notice USA Hockey’s contribution to World Junior commercial programming: “Relax, it’s just a game,” was the message. The ad spot had a shouting hulk of a dad banging on first-floor school classroom windows (“You wouldn’t do it there, so why do it at the rink?” was the tagline) … The Bruins have three prospects at the WJC, including rising winger Riley Duran. The Providence sophomore-to-be from Woburn had two goals and an assist in his first two games, showcasing a heavy shot while playing on the fourth line. A sixth-round pick (182nd overall) in 2020, Duran has raised his profile. “He’s really grown into his body and he’s maturing as a player,” Sweeney said. “That’s exciting for us” … Swedish winger Fabian Lysell, who has an outside chance to make the Boston varsity, had a secondary assist in a quiet opening game against Switzerland, but turned it on against Austria on Friday. Lysell (1-1–2) oozed confidence, recording a power-play assist on a perfect cross-ice setup and a no-angle snipe-shot of a goal … Fourth-round (2022) Bruins pick Dans Locmelis filled the 2C role for Latvia, which wasn’t expected to make any noise. He had an eye-opening assignment in the first week: try to stop future NHL superstar Connor Bedard (the projected ‘23 top pick) and the Canadians, then deal with Joakim Kemell and the Finns. Kemell, drafted 17th overall by the Predators, is a major threat offensively … Finnish winger Roby Jarventie, who scored a right-circle PPG against Czechia on a one-time bomb against the grain, is yet another Senators prospect who can shoot it. He spent last year in the AHL … Winnipeg draftee Brad Lambert, who fell amid concerns his wheels are his primary NHL tool, made a few nice plays in the first week … Former Bruins skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold, now an assistant coach for Jay Pandolfo at Boston University, said he was eager to get into the college coaching and recruiting side of things, while maintaining the player development role he had carved out with the Bruins. Sweeney, in his trademark management-speak, said they “were in the process of looking at expanding his role in our footprint here” when Brandvold took the BU gig … Mark Stuart, who played for the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise after the Bruins traded him, recently signed on as an assistant coach under Jay Woodcroft in Edmonton … Where are the men who drafted Bergeron now? Nikolai Bobrov joined the Canadiens last year as co-director of amateur scouting, and was involved with Jeff Gorton (his former boss with the Rangers) in picking Juraj Slafkovsky first overall. Daniel Doré remains a scout with the Rangers, entering his 16th year. Mike O’Connell, the longtime Kings adviser, remains with the Flyers as an adviser following front-office changes that kicked GM Chuck Fletcher upstairs … Good luck to the newly promoted Bruins management, including Dennis Bonvie (director of pro scouting), Ryan Nadeau (director of amateur scouting), Dean Malkoc (associate director of amateur scouting), and Darren Yopyk (assistant director of amateur scouting) as they try to find the next No. 37 … Fox made more than a few baseball viewers uncomfortable by having a hologram version of late Chicago Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray lead a round of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at last week’s “Field of Dreams” game. If there’s any NHL team that would try something like that with its departed legends, bet on the Canadiens … Jonathan Huberdeau, a creative passer and tough competitor, has a wealth of offensive talent. Interested to see what Flames coach Darryl Sutter can get out of him defensively. Huberdeau seems like a candidate to go from 115 points to, say, 85, and improve his play on the other side of the puck … Matthew Tkachuk’s contract with the Panthers follows the trend of players signing lockout-proof deals. Tkachuk will get $68 million of his eight-year, $76 million deal in bonuses, paid every July 1, and make $1 million in biweekly salary during the season. The lump-sum bonus checks are guaranteed, so he risks far less if games (and thus, game checks) are canceled. The current CBA runs through Sept. 15, 2026 … Entering the weekend, Phil Kessel and P.K. Subban remained on the free agent market. Kessel, (982 consecutive games played, seven less than record-holder Keith Yandle) could help a playoff hopeful looking for a bottom-six, secondary power-play scorer … The Rangers, without a captain since trading Ryan McDonagh in 2018, gave hard-hitting blueliner Jacob Trouba the “C.” The last teams to win the Stanley Cup with no captain in place: the 1972 and 1970 Bruins … One of the most admirable things about Borje Salming, who revealed the sad news last week that he has ALS, comes from Hockey News writer Ian Kennedy: “In 1987, when no one else would, before the IIHF would even sanction women’s hockey, he funded Sweden’s women’s team to travel to Canada for the first ever women’s international competition, the World Women’s Hockey Tournament.” Salming, the first European born-and-trained player to make the Hockey Hall of Fame (1996), helped pave the way for his fellow Swedes.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, Mike O’Connell’s employment status was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. O’Connell is employed by the Philadelphia Flyers.