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Hagg Bag: Time To Give Sweeney Some Boston Bruins Applause

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Things are going as well as they have all season for the Boston Bruins.

Don Sweeney executed a couple of excellent deals at the NHL trade deadline for honest-to-goodness NHL talent while giving up very little in terms of valued assets, and all three players, Taylor Hall, Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar, have led to a very well-balanced B’s lineup. The Bruins have won four games in a row since the aforementioned NHL trade deadline, outscored the other teams by a 15-6 margin and have done it against quality opponents like the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals.

Even better, seven of their final 13 games in this regular season are against the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils as they make their late season push toward securing one of the top spots in the East Division. They are not guaranteed the playoffs to this point, but it sure looks like it’s near impossible for them to fall out of the postseason picture in the next few weeks.

In other words, things are pretty good right now for the Black and Gold. So, this isn’t going to be a very ill-tempered Hagg Bag. Instead, there may be a few “credit where it’s due” emails to go along with the usual questions and comments. As always these are real questions from real Bruins fans sent to my twitter account using the #HaggBag hash tag, and messages sent to my Facebook fan page. Now let’s crack open the Hagg Bag:

Good day Joe,

I can’t believe that DS made some moves. Year after year Bruins Nation has watched him do a whole lot of nothing. I think that the three players will bring in much-needed help. Let’s hope that Hall can bring his A-game with the support already in place. Lazar should help the bottom 6 and Reilly should really help with the depleted D-corps. Time to get some injured players back and reset for the second half of the season.

Please Donny trade some of our players (Tuukka Rask and David Krejci), and get something back instead of just letting them walk away, i.e., Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara. I also think prior to [this year’s deadline] trades that Ritchie and Smith have to be two of Sweeney’s better moves throughout his GM tenure.

–Bobby Boisclair

JH: So, Don Sweeney has done “a whole lot of nothing” in the past, but you start reeling off good moves that he’s made prior to giving up a second-round pick, a third-round pick and Anders Bjork for Hall, Lazar and Reilly. C’mon, Bob. You’re making me smile. The truth is that Sweeney has made some very good moves in recent years. Certainly, we can all look back disapprovingly at some of the early moves (the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft, bringing in Zac Rinaldo, trading Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes and then signing Hayes to a contract extension sight unseen before playing a game in Boston), and the David Backes contract was always going to be a bad one.

But Sweeney has done really well with contracts to keep his own players, navigated the salary cap pretty well and made some successful mid-tier free agent signings whether it was Smith, Riley Nash or Jaroslav Halak. The Rick Nash deal was the right trade to make at the time, but his concussion issues forcing an early retirement really screwed it all up for the Boston Bruins.

That one took a while took bounce back from after spending a first round pick and Ryan Lindgren to get him with an original plan to re-sign Nash to a contract extension before injuries ruined that plan. Even the Ondrej Kase deal should have worked out better for the Bruins, but once again concussions have turned him into damaged goods for the Black and Gold.

Certainly, we can say Sweeney put himself in a tough spot by letting Krug and Chara walk away without adequately replacing them at the deadline, and a number of mistakes and unfortunate events caused the top-6 winger need that Hall has been able to fill upon his arrival. But he appears to have hit home runs on all three players that were big time needs at this trade deadline and their arrival has given legitimate Stanley Cup hopes for the current core group.

That’s the mission Sweeney is always trying to accomplish until the Bruins are forced to rebuild, and his entire Boston Bruins front office staff got the job done at this deadline.

Hagg Bag: Remember when the Bruins refused to give up Jake DeBrusk in a trade for Ryan McDonough? Ugh

–Marc from Malden (via Facebook fan page)

JH: Pepperidge Farm remembers.

Is Jeremy Swayman still in the mix? Hoping Halak is relegated to 3rd goalie.

–Gregory Lizotte (@GregoryLizotte)

JH: If I were the coach, Jeremy Swayman would be Tuukka Rask’s backup at this point. It’s clear the Bruins are holding their cards close to the vest and they obviously want to treat things delicately given everything that Jaroslav Halak has done for them over the years.

And things could also change with even just one false move by Swayman over the rest of the season if he continues to get NHL starts. But this time of year, is when hockey teams tend to do whatever gives them the best chance to win, and Swayman gives them the best chance to win behind Rask if he can handle the sporadic playing time.

All that being said, the worst-case scenario for Swayman next season should be as Rask’s backup if the No. 1 guy reups for a couple more seasons. If I were Halak I’d be thinking about where I’m going to be playing next season because I don’t think it’s going to be in Boston. A big benefit for the Bruins: The cap space they are spending on goaltenders should go way down next season with a reduced Rask salary and a rookie backing him up.

Joe,

You and I know Bruce Cassidy very well…If you don’t play well and you can’t do simple things and you’ve been asking for playing time…you are not gonna get many breaks from Bruce after that.

–Matthew Wilson (via Facebook fan page)

JH: This is true. Cassidy is very clear with us that when he’s critical of a player in the media it’s only after he’s spoken with them directly about the exact same thing. And whatever the issue that was discussed was never addressed by the player on the ice, and therefore went public. And that goes doubly so for players, as you said, that have asked for more ice time, bigger roles or greater responsibility over the course of the season.

This is why everybody respects Cassidy and what he’s doing behind the bench: He is up front, honest and will tell you exactly what he thinks. That’s all anybody can ask for. I honestly believe this season has been Cassidy’s best coaching job as he managed to keep it together with a roster that, at times, was featuring a lot of non-NHL players due to injuries and some of the management decisions from the offseason. Cassidy, and the Bruins leadership led by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, managed to keep the Bruins afloat and keep everybody together despite probably feeling like things weren’t going to get better without some significant trades.

As it stands, that’s exactly what happened with Don Sweeney and the Bruins at the trade deadline. Lo and behold things are better now and the Bruins look more like the Bruins. It wasn’t easy for Cassidy to hold things together and hold everybody accountable, but he managed to do it until reinforcements arrived. That’s impressive stuff.

The Boston Bruins need speed. I have spoken.

–Cup of Joe (@HUGEU2FAN)

JH: The Boston Bruins now have more speed, skill and depth with Taylor Hall, Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar. Don Sweeney has spoken.

What about Freddy????

–Erin (@JustErinTheFab)

JH: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a mystery with Trent Frederic. He was a regular all season, had some kind of mystery, non-COVID related illness and now he’s been out of the lineup for a few weeks after hitting a bit of a rookie wall in the middle of the regular season. I suspect we’ll see him again when the Bruins need a bigger, tougher presence up front that can bring the energy.

But I also get the sense it might be a situation where Sean Kuraly was told this is his last chance to hold onto his regular fourth line spot with the playoffs coming up. If he struggles, then Frederic could replace him with Chris Wagner and Curtis Lazar after Wagner went through his rough patch earlier this season. It’s been a tough year for Kuraly, who is a pending UFA and probably won’t be back considering the way NHL teams filter through fourth liners once they start to get expensive.

So that may be part of what’s going on as well, though there has been zero evidence of that from what the Bruins have been saying. It’s just odd that Frederic all of a sudden fell off the face of the Earth metaphorically speaking and hasn’t been seen or heard from in the last few weeks.

Either way, I feel pretty confident saying that we haven’t seen the last of Trent Frederic with the Boston Bruins this season.

Hagg Bag:

Here’s the thing about the new Captain America. (1) he’s the rebound guy you just date and not marry and (2) you don’t want to be the one who replaces the one. You don’t want to be Cam Newton replacing Tom Brady, you want to be the guy replacing Cam Newton.

Sam never wanted to replace Steve Rogers, but he’ll be more successful and more accepted replacing John Walker. Now onto the Bruins…I admittedly know nothing about Mike Reilly. I like his size but am concerned that he’s never averaged 20 mins per game. Can he be a legit 2nd pair guy? How does he compare to some of the other guys who moved like Jon Merrill, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gustafsson, Ben Hutton?

–Marc from Malden (via Facebook fan page)

JH: You could also extend the “Captain America” to the New England Patriots coaching situation. Nobody wanted to be the guy replacing Bill Parcells here, so Pete Carroll was the rebound guy that wasn’t meant to last until they settled on Bill Belichick as “the one.”

I agree about John Walker, though. He’s pretty clearly not meant for the Captain America title and not worth of the shield. But as we know from the comics, he’ll end up being “US Agent” and will blur the line between hero and antagonist moving forward. Wyatt Russell has actually been excellent in the role and the character has been one of the more compelling parts of the “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” show this season.

So, I’m glad they introduced him even if he’s the rebound Captain America and I feel like he’s going to have a long run in the MCU in front of him. How about Julia Louis-Dreyfuss in the MCU as some kind of Hydra-esque big bad pulling the strings? What a great idea with a world of possibilities moving forward.

Just as with WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is quality stuff that we’ve come to expect from Kevin Feige and the peeps at Marvel Studios. I hope they keep doing it forever.

As far as Mike Reilly goes, I can safely say he looks like a legit top-4 guy for the rest of the season that can move the puck and generate offense by getting his shots through from the point. The only concern at this point is that he’s going to price himself out of the Boston Bruins being able to keep him once he’s done with his stint this year. He’s been that good.

Also, kudos for being the first Bruins fan to ever get two different messages posted in the same edition of the Hagg Bag. You are killing it, Marc!

Hi Joe…finally the Boston Bruins made a huge splash in the Trade Deadline. Welcome to Boston “Taylor Hall”

–Keith Nessen (via Facebook fan page)

JH: I think it’s time for all of those people that have been riding Don Sweeney with Hagg Bag messages and with comments on my stories to give credit where it’s due. He admittedly put himself in a tough spot where he needed to work some miracles at the trade deadline to inject talent into the Boston Bruins roster, but Sweeney and his front office group did what they needed to do at the trade deadline. This Bruins team has won five games in a row since the deadline, is clearly a deeper and more well-balanced team and successfully pinpointed the glaring needs while addressing them without giving up anything too costly.

That’s a flawless trade deadline for Sweeney and the Boston Bruins. The hope now from a Bruins perspective is that the players remain healthy, and this hockey club can see how good they can actually be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But that is out of the GM’s control. Sweeney executed the big deals and did everything he could do to place the Bruins in a position to succeed.

So, I fully expect some comments in this Hagg Bag from the haters giving Sweeney the credit he deserves for a resoundingly brilliant trade deadline performance. C’mon people, give proper and just credit where it’s due.

If they bench Swayman for Jaro it’s BS and the wrong message about competition and winning. I’m convinced that making moves for Hall, Lazar, Reilly in general have had a placebo effect on the team as much as the influx of talent. Don’t F with that Bruce.

–Tommy Point (@MDubThaRuler)

JH: I don’t disagree. But I also think this decision doesn’t just lay with Bruce Cassidy. This is an organizational decision that will have ramifications beyond this season, and it’s also incumbent on Swayman continuing to play brilliantly. One misstep and then Halak would be back in there, and that’s probably the way it should be.

Pump the brakes. It’s 3 games and these guys are all rentals. I hope they help us on a long playoff run. I will applaud Sweeney for at least doing that if when it happens. That said these guys could be long gone before the Sabers ever make those picks.

–David Place (@PlacedbPlace)

JH: If there’s one person I can’t stand on twitter, it’s the guy that decides he’s going to be the “pump the brakes” guy. You should applaud Sweeney now for making deals the Bruins needed for players that are obviously going to help and avoiding using any of the most coveted assets when many other teams were throwing around first round picks and better prospects.

I said applaud, dammit!

I disagree with you on the rental thing. I think Taylor Hall could end up sticking around if he continues to play the way he has in his first handful of games with the Bruins, and that’s something that he’s already said he’s interested in doing. And Curtis Lazar is signed for next season, so by any definition he isn’t a rental for the Bruins.

So quit pumping the brakes and start applauding, David!

 

Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston, WEEI.com, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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Cecil Dunlap

Joe I am not sure I agree on Swayman. Don’t get me wrong I love his game and his composure but I heard Andrew Raycroft make a comment awhile ago regarding him and other young goalies who didn’t get experience in the minors. Andrew was saying that he should have at least one year in the AHL (in front of fans) as this has been a year when these guys right out of college are not experiencing the large crowds. Another thing he brought up was they haven’t learned how to handle controversy yet and they will face it. He… Read more »

Orrfan

Things are going well “as they have all season for the Bruins?” Have we been watching the same season? The Bruins have been devastated by injuries. They’ve been clinging to a playoff spot, at times by their fingernails. They have been near-to-last in 5-on-5 scoring this season. David Pastrnak is playing like someone removed the “hockey lobe” from his brain. We lost both starting goalies for an extended period (although that seems to have been a blessing in disguise). The power play hasn’t been nearly the same since Krug’s ignominious departure. Things are definitely looking up. But things have definitely… Read more »

Orrfan

The “perspective” perhaps is that minus an enthusiastic Bruins fanbase holding them accountable all season, these Bruins have underperformed on numerous occasions. Most noteably against the New Jersey Devils. Or are we saying that 4th place is the best we can expect from this team? Despite your questionable attempt to cajole praise for Sweeney from commentators (don’t tell me what to do, man) – the fact remains that he hobbled this offense by allowing Krug to depart without ever offering him a contract, he’s overseen the wasting away of David Krejci’s career (dealing for Kase, damaged goods, was a more… Read more »

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