During exit meetings in April, Bruins president Cam Neely spoke with defenseman Dougie Hamilton about the year that was and his future in Boston.
At the time, Neely did not get the impression that Hamilton was unhappy. When initial negotiations went sideways, Neely recognized that Hamilton’s preference was to go elsewhere. Like general manager Don Sweeney and everybody else within the organization, the Bruins president was blindsided by Hamilton’s feelings, which were apparent during negotiations. Neely said he didn’t know why Hamilton would want to leave.
“I really didn’t get any indications of anything negative in exit meetings,” Neely said. “So I was surprised. I thought Don did some really good work on comps around the league. He put a lot of time and effort into making fair offers and show them we were serious about trying to sign him. We didn’t want him to get to July 1.”
The Bruins made three separate offers of four-, five-, and six-year terms, said Neely. The salary was not far off the $34.5 million Calgary invested in Hamilton on Tuesday over six years.
“We wanted Dougie,” Neely said.
Once the Bruins determined negotiations were going nowhere, Sweeney initiated the trade process. The Bruins wanted 2015 picks. They did not want to wait for a possible offer sheet, which, had they declined to match, would have likely netted first-, second-, and third-round picks in 2016.
Neely said Eastern Conference teams were involved, even though he acknowledged the desire to limit the number of games Hamilton would play against his former team. The objective was to land enough of a return for Hamilton to land in the top 10, Neely said.
The Bruins wanted to draft one of the three best defensemen: Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, or Zach Werenski. Calgary sent them the No. 15 pick and two second-rounders. That package, along with the team’s other assets (No. 13, Martin Jones, and Colin Miller, courtesy of the Milan Lucic trade), was not enough to move up.
Werenski, the last of the three defensemen picked, went to Columbus at No. 8.
“We certainly didn’t want to make that move,” Neely said of trading Hamilton. “It was apparent that we had to do it.”
In acquiring Zac Rinaldo, Neely said the Bruins needed a physical presence after trading Lucic.
When free agency opens at noon Wednesday, the Bruins planned to search for a No. 2 goalie and top-nine help up front. Neely said they remain active in the trade market.
“I know the passion of our fans,” Neely said. “I can appreciate and understand that. Everybody wants to win. I love that. But we still have time to improve our club. We improved the organization beyond this year. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to try and keep improving our club going into the season and during the season.”
Follow Fluto Shinzawa on Twitter at @GlobeFluto.