GM Don Sweeney says Bruins remain a work in progress

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General manager Don Sweeney believes many of the Bruins’ recent breakdowns have been self-inflicted.
General manager Don Sweeney believes many of the Bruins’ recent breakdowns have been self-inflicted.John Tlumacki

In a five-day span last summer, Dr. Don Sweeney carved into his patient to perform painful but necessary surgery.

On June 26, Sweeney traded Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for a first-round pick and two second-rounders. Later that day, Sweeney moved Milan Lucic to Los Angeles for Colin Miller, Martin Jones, and a first-round pick. That night, Sweeney tapped his draft capital to pick 10 youngsters, including six in the first two rounds: Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, Zach Senyshyn, Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, and Jeremy Lauzon.

On June 30, Sweeney flipped Jones to San Jose for a first-round pick and prospect Sean Kuraly. A day later, the first-year general manager settled his affairs. He signed Matt Beleskey to a five-year, $19 million contract. He traded Reilly Smith and Marc Savard to Florida for Jimmy Hayes.


Sweeney executed these transactions to address two soft spots: perpetual snugness against the salary cap and a diminishing pool of future talent. He achieved the former, although the Bruins are carrying $13 million of idle cash on injured reserve. Sweeney is confident he did the same with the latter.

"We clearly went through a difficult transition this summer," Sweeney said. "As a result, I think our outlook going forward looks pretty darn good, assuming those players continue to develop and hit their high side.

"But it took some pain to get through that, organizationally and personally as well. I've always been committed to the development process. I feel it's even more paramount to grow your own players and be fully invested in that."

Half a season later, however, his patient is still healing from the intensity of the activity.

After beating Toronto, 3-2, Saturday night in Boston, the Bruins are who they are: a team fighting to remain above the Eastern Conference's playoff threshold.

The win lifted Boston to sixth place in the tight Eastern Conference with 51 points, 1 point ahead of Tampa Bay and Montreal.


"All teams go through injuries," said Sweeney, referring to the ailments that have sidelined David Krejci (upper body) and Adam McQuaid (concussion). "I think it gives you the ability to assess players that may or may not be capable of filling holes, whether or not they can step up and replace those players. This represents one of those segments."

Sweeney offered his perspective prior to the win over Buffalo. The Bruins were coming off two straight losses, to the Flyers and Rangers. They blew third-period leads in both games. They played well enough to win. But to Sweeney's eye, they found a way to lose.

This stretch without Krejci and McQuaid has given Sweeney the opportunity to evaluate his roster in a high-pressure environment. His players know how important it is to stay above the surface while Krejci and McQuaid heal. They have not performed to the level Sweeney expects.

Brett Connolly went from Nov. 27 until Friday without scoring a goal, a streak he busted with an empty-netter. Hayes didn't do much during his one-game promotion to the first line on Wednesday. David Pastrnak has missed the last three games because of an upper-body injury, but the rookie still has work to do to reclaim NHL pace. Brad Marchand put his team in a hole with his three-game suspension. The No. 1 left wing is scoreless in his four games since returning from his banishment.


"It's not systematic, for the most part," Sweeney said. "A lot of the breakdowns have been self-inflicted. Those are the things we need to clean up. That's part of the evaluation thing. We're in a critical period of time here. If guys can't get it done, then shame on me for identifying them as such that they might be able to. Then we'll have to look elsewhere."

When Sweeney and his colleagues made their forecast for this season, they expected to be in the playoff chase by the season's midpoint. They have met that expectation. But their sixth-place standing is not comfortable.

"Playoff positioning in the East at this time of year was something we were expecting," Sweeney said. "We're in that. But we're leaking a little oil. We need to make sure we clean that up."

Sweeney wants his group to improve. If the team needs help, he will pursue it. Two deficiencies keep Sweeney up at night: No. 1 right wing and defense.

The rotation of Connolly, Hayes, and Pastrnak has not created traction. It's been mostly Marchand and Patrice Bergeron performing the three-zone heavy lifting.

On defense, the Bruins are seeking top-four help. Zdeno Chara remains a dependable shutdown presence. Torey Krug is a power-play dynamo. But Dennis Seidenberg, Kevan Miller, Zach Trotman, and Colin Miller are subject to peaks-and-valleys play.

"Our back end has been a work in progress all year," Sweeney said. "I don't think any team wouldn't say, if they could find the right fit there, they [wouldn't improve]. It's not a disparaging comment about the guys. But you have to have realistic expectations that if you can improve your hockey club, that's what you have to do."


The Bruins have tradeable assets. Loui Eriksson will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The expected return would be a first-round pick and a prospect. The Bruins could also put one or both of their 2016 first-rounders into play.

"If it's the right piece, I'm going to present it to Cam [Neely] and the ownership group and say, 'This is what I think we should do,' " Sweeney said. "They've been supportive in that regard. Hopefully they'll continue to do that. But I know I'm not going to leverage things to the point of putting ourselves in a bad situation going forward."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.