SUNRISE, Fla. — In a franchise-changing few hours, the Bruins traded defenseman Dougie Hamilton and left wing Milan Lucic Friday afternoon.
It was an explosive start for new general manager Don Sweeney, who has been on the job a little more than a month.
Hamilton went first on Friday afternoon to the Calgary Flames in exchange for the 15th, 45th, and 52d picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, which began Friday night and continues with Rounds 2 through 7 on Saturday at the BB&T Center.
Lucic was gone less than two hours later, sent to the Los Angeles Kings for the 13th pick in Friday’s draft, 25-year-old goaltender Martin Jones, and prospect Colin Miller, a defenseman. The Bruins retained $2.75 million in salary on the Lucic deal, without which the Kings would not have consummated the deal.
Jones, Jonathan Quick’s backup, is a 6-foot-4-inch, 25-year-old who had three shutouts in 15 games last season. He is a restricted free agent.
Miller, 22, was a top prospect in the Kings’ system. The right-hand shot defenseman had 19 goals and 33 assists in 70 games for the Kings’ AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H. Miller recorded the hardest shot in the 20-year history of the AHL All-Star Game’s Skills Competition in January, hitting 105.5 miles per hour.
But even with Sweeney shipping out two of the Bruins’ top players, the newbie GM insisted he is not rebuilding a team that is just one season removed from a President’s Trophy and two removed from going to the Stanley Cup Final.
“Our expectations are to make the playoffs, absolutely,” Sweeney said Friday night. “With our goaltending, with the core group of our guys, our strength up the middle of the ice — we had players that didn’t score to the level they were supposed to last year. Are we going to continue to look to improve our club? Absolutely.”
The Bruins, though, were not improved on Friday, at least not in the near future. They traded two major talents under the looming threat of free agency and salary-cap constraints. With the re-signing of defenseman Adam McQuaid, the Bruins have $59,341,667 committed to 15 players for the 2015-16 season.
Although the Lucic trade was not a stunner, the Hamilton trade was a surprise. Sweeney met with Hamilton’s agent, J.P. Barry, Wednesday night in Florida, and had made what the general manager termed a “very significant contract offer” to Hamilton, one he believed was in line with comparable players. The Hamilton camp countered with a number that was not in the same region.
“It didn’t lead us to where we thought we’d be able to [sign him] with him being comfortable being part of our group long term, so that sort of changed the course a little bit,” Sweeney said.
If Hamilton signed an offer sheet, Sweeney later added, “We were in a position to be able to react accordingly if we felt that was necessary. I think the more important part was I don’t believe . . . that Dougie would have been comfortable in Boston going forward, long term.”
Asked if that meant Hamilton wanted out of Boston, Sweeney said, “No, he didn’t ask out.”
Coach Claude Julien, for one, was critical of a system that allows Hamilton to ask for such a contract with just three years in the NHL.
“Everybody’s in their right with the way the CBA is,” Julien said. “To me, I find it as a coach, I find it to be very unfortunate that players that have played maybe three years in the league all of a sudden are looking to be up there with the top-paid players. I preferred the other way, when they worked their way up with years and service. That’s not to say he wasn’t in his right.”
The return for Hamilton seemed light for a defenseman who could be a cornerstone for the Flames, a defenseman with mobility and offensive skill, a defenseman who can be brilliant on the power play.
There remained the possibility of another team signing Hamilton to an offer sheet, knowing how strapped the Bruins are under the salary cap.
Had a competitor offered between $7,305,316 and $9,131,645 per year for Hamilton, the Bruins would have received two first-round picks, a second and a third in the 2016 draft. Had a team offered between $5,478,986 and $7,305,316, the Bruins would have gotten one first-round pick, one second, and one third.
Instead, Sweeney took the sure thing.
As for Lucic, he had started to believe he might have seen his last days as a Bruin. He was following along with the situation on Twitter on Thursday. “I kind of had that nervous, anxious, excited, sad all-in-one feeling going on in my stomach, especially this morning, that something big was going to happen,” he said.
And it did, with Lucic, 27, ending his tenure with the only NHL team he has known.
It was, both Sweeney and Lucic said, a very emotional phone call on Friday.
“I can’t tell you how difficult the call was to make, and I expressed that to Milan,” Sweeney said. “I’ve been part [of this with] Milan from Day One, since he arrived in our group. That was a very, very difficult conversation to have.”
Sweeney said the Bruins would not have been able to sign Lucic, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Sweeney did say the sides never exchanged numbers.
The team the Bruins will have next season will be younger — or at least more inexperienced. That will mean getting more out of the players they have waiting in the wings, more out of defensemen such as Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow, more out of the potential left wings, a position where the Bruins are very thin.
“We’re in a position going forward where we have to have our younger players in this situation step forward and be given an opportunity and grow and develop,” Sweeney said. “I feel confident our coaches will be able to do that.”
Said Julien, “We’re going to move forward and move forward in the right direction. I think the fans just need to know that this is not necessarily a step backwards. I think we’re going to make some improvements here and we’re still going to be a competitive team.”
Sweeney had clearly been busy over the last few days, including chatting with former general manager Peter Chiarelli, now the GM of the Edmonton Oilers. It was suggested that Chiarelli knows the Bruins roster well.
“He built most of it,” Sweeney said. “As of today. It’s not necessarily the case going forward.”