VANCOUVER — Don Sweeney, who’ll pick 30th in the NHL Draft here Friday night, came up No. 1 in Las Vegas Wednesday when the ex-Bruins defenseman was named General Manager of the Year at the league’s annual awards ceremony at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Sweeney, 52, helped shepherd the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final this season, and became the first Boston GM to win the award since its inception in 2010.
Now four years on the job after replacing Peter Chiarelli, Sweeney’s best move this season came during the late-February trade deadline when he acquired forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, both of whom stabilized the offense and were vital in helping the Bruins reach the Cup Final for the first time since 2013.
“Well, 29 years I’ve been part of the National Hockey League,” said Sweeney, the ex-Harvard blue liner, as he accepted the award, “and this was my first invitation. That probably means one of two things: I wasn’t good enough before, or I was too cheap to buy a ticket.”
Patrice Bergeron, a finalist again for the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, came up short for a second straight season, the award going to Blues center Ryan O’Reilly. Bergeron, who has won a record four Selkes (tied with ex-Habs great Bob Gainey), has been a Selke finalist for a record eight consecutive seasons.
Sweeney, among the three GM finalists who were in attendance, was chosen ahead of Doug Armstrong, boss of the Cup champion Blues, who edged the Bruins in Game 7 just a week earlier, and Don Waddell, GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, who the Bruins swept, 4-0, in this year’s Cup semis.
Sweeney’s other most important maneuverings that impacted the 2018-19 roster came last July 1 with three moves, including the signing of goalie Jaroslav Halak. The backup’s solid work positioned No. 1 Tuukka Rask to have a comfortable workload and be well rested for the grueling Cup run.
Sweeney also added budget bottom-six forwards Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner, both of whom chipped in with some timely goals and defensive grinding over the course of a season in which the Bruins finished with 107 points, ultimately giving them home-ice advantage through all four rounds of the playoffs.
“It’s incredibly humbling to be here,” said Sweeney. “It’s a recognition of my peers, to be perfectly honest with you. Congratulations to Don Waddell, and of course Doug Armstrong and the St. Louis Blues.”
Armstrong, who was general manager of the Dallas Stars (2002-07) in the fall of 2003, brought Sweeney to Dallas, where he finished out his 1,000-plus-game career with one last year on the Stars’ back line.
After returning to Boston in 2004 and working for two years in academic administration, Sweeney was one of Chiarelli’s first hires upon becoming the Boston GM. Nine years later, just weeks after Chiarelli was fired, Sweeney was promoted to the top job.
“I really believe this is an acknowledgment of the Boston Bruins organization,” said Sweeney. ‘’I was very fortunate that Mr. [Jeremy] Jacobs, Charlie [Jacobs], and Cam [Neely] . . . to give me this opportunity. And the incredible, devoted coaches and players — people I get a chance to work with every day — should share this as well.”
Sweeney also acknowledged his twin sons, Jared and Tyler, as inspirations.
“From the time they were born at 1 pound and 6 ounces,” said Sweeney, harkening back long ago to the anxious days of the twins’ birth. “But most importantly, to my beautiful wife — she has been the rock of our family. She has selflessly supported all of my career aspirations and I share this with her tonight as the special person she is.”
Sweeney’s wife, the former Christine Hough, is an ex- pairs figure skater who competed for Canada in the 1988 and ’92 Olympic Games.
“You’re just trying to find potential missing pieces,” Sweeney said after the ceremony, asked to reflect on the Coyle-Johansson acquisitions. “We’ve worked hard the last few years to kind of hone in on some areas that we felt we could fill some gaps. I can’t say enough about what Charlie and Marcus did for our hockey club, coming in and fitting in seamlessly.
“We went on a very good run, but we just fell a little bit short. That’s probably been the hardest things in the last six days, knowing what the players put on the line, having the opportunity to win . . . you are just so proud of ’em.”
The Bruins missed the postseason in Sweeney’s first year as GM, then were knocked out in Round 1 by the Senators in 2017. He replaced coach Claude Julien with Bruce Cassidy in February 2017, sparking the franchise turnaround, leading to what has been three straight postseason appearances.
“I was afforded the opportunity to be in the [GM] chair,” said Sweeney. “We mapped it out in terms of where we thought we could get, and we felt this was our time period, that we had to recommit to a draft-and-develop model. We made a very difficult decision on the coaching change, and it allowed Bruce to implement some of the younger guys he felt comfortable [using]. But again, it comes back to the leadership group supporting those efforts — as well as the organization, Mr. Jacobs, Charlie, and Cam. When you go to ask for something they do everything they possibly can.”