Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney met with the media Thursday and once again uttered the sentence, “We’re going to look to improve in every way, shape, and form, that we can.”
It has become a constant refrain from Sweeney since the 2015-16 season ended with the disappointment of his team missing the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Sweeney will begin improving the Bruins at the NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo Friday night and Saturday.
In a media update on Thursday, the GM spoke about the draft and other ways that he plans to improve his club.
The GM would like to keep Loui Eriksson in a Black and Gold uniform.
“I’m going to have another conversation with (Eriksson’s agent) JP (Barry) and see if things have changed,” Sweeney told a gathering of media members. “We’ll take one more stab at it to see if he thinks the internal landscape is as green as we think it is or what the outside may look like. Obviously, he’s on the cusp of exploring things. We’re in the position to value Loui and what he brings to the table. We’d like to find a fit but that may not happen. We’ll see if there’s common ground and if there isn’t, we’ll have to move forward.”
As of Friday afternoon, talks were continuing between the two sides.
While some general managers have traded the rights to a player, such as the New York Rangers sending pending unrestricted free agent Keith Yandle to Florida where he signed a seven-year contract, Sweeney has not entertained going that route with Eriksson.
Sweeney also spoke about Boston’s other pending free agents.
“I’m in discussions with Lee (Stempniak) and his group,” Sweeney revealed. “Zach Trotman will not be returning. He’ll be going to the (free agent) market whether or not we re-explore that, possibly. I’ve been in talks with John-Michael’s (Liles) group as well.”
It appears there will be a new backup goaltender in Boston in 2016-17 as Jonas Gustavsson will enter free agency on July 1.
“I’ve spoken with his (Gustavsson’s) camp,” Sweeney said. “Obviously, we’ve got a very strong internal candidate in Malcolm (Subban) but we’re going to look at other possibilities for goaltending.”
Sweeney, who patrolled the blueline for the Bruins for 15 years, said he is exploring the free agent market for a defenseman.
“There’s no hidden fact, we’d like to explore (acquiring) a defenseman,” Sweeney explained. “I’ve said all along that if we don’t find the right fit, these guys (young Bruins defensemen) are going to be given an opportunity but we would like to add (a veteran defenseman) and be in the position to strengthen our team.”
“You have to look at what the cost may be. With the situation we’re in, we have two first-round picks so I’m exploring a lot of opportunities with them. I feel very good about making the two selections, if that’s the direction we go, then we’ll go back into the UFA (Unrestricted Free Agent) method if needed, but I’m pursuing all of it. I’m not going to stop. It’s just a matter of balancing if one is too punitive to wade into.”
Sweeney went on to say a proposed deal would need to be a significant one for him to trade one or both first round picks in this year’s draft.
“I refuse to put us in a situation where we’re leveraged,” said Sweeney. “We have so many good young players on the horizon and you look at certain teams that have allowed those types of players to make their lineup and make an impact and go along. Would I like to accelerate if I can to find the right fit? That’s what our business is about. We’re in a competitive business, in a market that wants to win but I can tell you that nobody wants to win more than I do, but I’m not going to put the team in a bad situation going forward if at all possible.”
When asked about the possibility of drafting a defenseman in place of trading for, or signing a veteran, the Bruins GM spoke of the difficulty in forecasting an 18-year-old’s future impact on an organization.
“Obviously, the forecasting part of the business is difficult,” Sweeney explained. “Whether or not you take a player and you think in two or three years he may be ready or, now. The trajectory of each individual player determines when they’re going to play but it’s delicate because you have to look at what that player is bringing to the table in reference to trading the 14th pick overall and the impact they’re going to have, and whether or not that player’s going to be around and part of what you’re going to do now and what you’re trying to do going forward.”
“We want to be a competitive team that has an opportunity to win each and every year and be in a position that, at certain times, you really feel that your window is there, then you may tip the scales a little bit in terms of leveraging points but until you get there, I think you gotta be patient.”
Sweeney went on to say that, although players such as Alex Goligoski and Keith Yandle have signed with new teams, there are good defensemen who are still available.
“There’s supply everywhere,” Sweeney said. “There are teams that I’ve had discussions with about players that you might not even expect them to be available. (It’s) just a matter of whether or not it lines up. We have targets. We have people that we think are going to improve our hockey club and there are plenty of them still available. I can’t actually say for certain that one’s coming our way but we’re in talks with some of them to see and again, I’m not going to chase it because I think that our younger players are going to push but again, we’re going to look to improve in every way, shape, or form, that we can.”
Sweeney continued to say that he will do all he can to see the Bruins return to Stanley Cup contender status.
“My job is to build the best hockey team that I can possibly build and this year I’m going forward and have the opportunity to win going forward,” the GM said. “We were in position last year, to get into the playoffs, to take a run (at the Stanley Cup). Kudos to Pittsburgh, they found the elixir that worked for them. We have to be committed to the overall process and have some patience to allow some of our players to emerge. We have players that are within a window that want to win and I love that about our players and you want more of that. We have to be very cognizant that we have the opportunity to improve our team and be that competitive team that’s in a position to be in a playoff race and win. That’s the only goal we have. That’s it.”
With all that he has on his plate, Sweeney’s priority over the next two days is the draft.
“We have to prepare for the draft but there’s a lot of things that sort of get set against the wall right up until (draft begins). I don’t know why, necessarily, deadlines drive deals but that’s just the nature of the business that when you draft, that’s when people think the best deals are made so you do have a lot of things you have to process and balance and we’re doing that. The last (few) days, we’ve been in and out of meetings, we’ve been on the phones wanting to know what’s available and exploring every different option, but we’re excited about the draft and that’s what we’re here (Buffalo) for. We continue to build. We have the 14th and 29th pick that are going to materialize with very good players you build with or we’re going to utilize them in the effective capacity that you continue to improve the organizational depth or to improve our team.”
Whether one wants to admit it or not, the Bruins are in a rebuild phase. It began at last year’s draft and it will continue over the upcoming weekend and into the free agency period.
If Don Sweeney can draft a player, or players, that will become impact athletes in the future along with swinging a deal or two to bring in that veteran defenseman that all of Boston is craving then it will be considered a successful continuation of that rebuild and he will prove to his detractors that he is looking to improve the Bruins in all shapes and forms.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.