How Don Sweeney might reshape the Bruins
Their depth kept them near the top of the Eastern Conference through myriad injuries to front-of-the-line players. Their versatility helped them defeat hard-driving Toronto, hard-edged Columbus, and hard-working Carolina. St. Louis was 60 minutes better, but the only construction zone on Causeway Street this summer will involve the rink, not the roster.
“If we don’t make any changes,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Monday during an end-of-year press conference at TD Garden, “we’re bringing back a damn good hockey club.”
In the same breath, Sweeney noted that the idea of him standing pat is “very, very unlikely.” The Bruins had enough to get to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but reaching that stage is unlikely in 2019-20 without addressing several areas.
“We played four different teams throughout the playoffs, and we matched up pretty well against all of them,” Sweeney said. “Did we score enough five-on-five? Heck no. Everyone would say that throughout our lineup.”
His first priority is to reach extensions for restricted free-agents-to-be Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen. The Bruins have some $14.3 million in cap space in advance of those negotiations, according to CapFriendly. Those three young talents could eat up a large chunk of the available dollars, if not close to all of them.
Which is a major reason the Bruins’ three UFAs — Marcus Johansson, Noel Acciari, and Steven Kampfer — may have to accept less than they might get on the open market to return. All three are candidates to bolt, given the raises in paycheck (Johansson, Acciari) and playing time (Kampfer) they might find elsewhere.
Johansson (4-7—11) tied for 24th in playoff scoring, and will likely get a half-million bump or more from his $4.583 annual ticket. The rock-solid Acciari, who played through a broken sternum and heel injury in the Final, could double his salary ($750,000). The emergence of Connor Clifton as a right-side option leaves Kampfer on the outside looking in.
Losing Johansson would leave Boston looking for a left wing on the third line — Heinen, a natural lefty, could flip from the right side — but a top-six winger is a more pressing need. The Bruins have been looking for a proper finisher for David Krejci’s slick setups for what feels like forever.
“We had a lot of discussions this year about Pasta [David Pastrnak] staying there,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, who tried a rotating cast on Krejci’s right that included Jake DeBrusk, Heinen, Pastrnak, David Backes, and Karson Kuhlman. “I don’t know what the right answer is when you lose in Game 7. Should we have made a [different] decision? I thought we made a lot of good calls this year.”
If would be easier if someone emerged to play with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who have excelled no matter the right winger. Heinen had a brief run there, but wasn’t consistent enough for Cassidy’s liking. Anders Bjork. whom Sweeney said is expected to be healthy for training camp in September, has played there. Johansson was injured days after arriving at the trade deadline, or he might have gotten a look. Charlie Coyle could move from third-line center to top-six right wing, if a Trent Frederic or Jack Studnicka emerged as a legit third-line center.
“We hope we have that internal option,” Sweeney said of a top-six winger. “Or we’ll look outside the organization.
“I don’t think I can sit here today and say I absolutely have the perfect identity player, but that doesn’t mean we won’t find him between now and then. We’re good with the options we have.”
Backes will not be one of the options, even though he spotted in as Krejci’s right wing in the playoffs. Last year, Cassidy felt the 35-year-old was better-suited for a fourth-line role. Should the Bruins be unable to find a trade partner — think a budget team that needs to get to the cap floor — they could buy out the two years left on Backes’s deal, saving $1.3 million over the next four years. Either would be a difficult move.
Not as hard as trading Torey Krug, though. Sweeney conceded he would consider dealing his power-play quarterback, who has one year left on a $5.25 million deal, and could push $8 million with his next deal. The 28-year-old’s market value will never be higher, especially with what he showed from a defensive standpoint this postseason.
“The power play, the points, those things speak for themselves,” Sweeney said. “And have for his time here. He’s a big part of our club. We have an opportunity starting July 1 to open up talks. The RFA market, some of our internal things will dictate the timing of those conversations.
“If somebody blew us away — every player has to be looked at in that way when you’re an organization. You just have to. It would be a disservice if you don’t. But it would take a pretty unique opportunity for us to part with Torey. He’s a big part of the fabric of our group. He’s kind of that next wave of leadership.”
It is the type of move that would reshape the Bruins, which may or may not be needed. Teams that stand pat do not often keep their place at the front of the line.