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Colageo: Sweeney to Set Next-Gen Boston Bruins in Motion

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General Manager Don Sweeney has before him his definitive opportunity to set in motion the next iteration of the Boston Bruins, and while the copycat National Hockey League tends to churn out many an imposter, it’s imperative that Sweeney identify the players who can make the Bruins the real deal.

With $21.2 million to spend under the $88 million salary cap for the 2024-25 season, not counting the $5 million the Bruins are likely to move in a Linus Ullmark trade, this is Sweeney’s big chance to make anywhere from one to three, key acquisitions that would complete his inner picture of a Cup contender.

Let’s assume restricted free agent Jeremy Swayman will earn $8 million per year on a long-term contract and that unrestricted free agents Danton Heinen and Patrick Maroon return for, say, $3 million and $2 million respectively.

The Bruins would still have $8 million in cap space plus Ullmark’s $5 million presuming a trade. If Sweeney feels strongly enough about his AHL goalies – Brandon Bussi is RFA – then a veteran backup won’t be an offseason priority.

What can he do with $13 million, and will the fact Brad Marchand and Trent Frederic have one year remaining on their deals factor? (Frederic is also UFA in 2025).

Assuming an Ullmark trade – Sweeney has said he prefers to keep his award-winning tandem intact – $13 million should translate into two impact players, one of which we can assume will be a centerman.

The most-discussed Elias Lindholm is apparently going to the open market, and it may help the Bruins’ cause in both competition and commitment that the all-purpose center’s stock had dropped by the time the Canucks bowed out of the playoffs.

Vegas center Chandler Stephenson, an integral component of the Golden Knights’ run to the Cup in 2023, is a free agent and only one year older than the 29-year-old Lindholm.

The championship chemistry established by Carolina forward Martin Necas in a trio with David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha has fueled speculation as to the Bruins’ interest at a time when things are reportedly cool between the RFA center and Hurricanes management.

The competition lies in the fact several NHL teams have this newfound flexibility, which should rachet up the urgency on the phones as the draft approaches.

We’ve discussed in this space two basic core models that reappear, over and over and again and again on the barrel of the Stanley Cup: Two top-line-quality centermen or a “Big 3” defense.

When they won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Boston Bruins (very much like the Pittsburgh Penguins) were built around two elite centermen, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

Strength down the middle has been the Bruins’ roster priority throughout the NHL’s expansion era (1967-), so help me Harry Sinden.

Sinden’s philosophy was not unique but rather conventional. Look at the Olympic rosters put together by Team Canada for best-on-best Winter Games. In the 2010 Vancouver Games, eight of 13 forwards on the Canadian roster were centers, a glaring reflection on management’s long-held belief that a center can play wing, but a wing cannot necessarily play center.

During his nine seasons as chief design architect of the Boston Bruins’ roster, Sweeney has looked for versatility in just about every forward acquisition he has made. Primary examples include Charlie Coyle, David Backes, Morgan Geekie and Rick Nash.

As an acorn from Hockey Canada’s tree, Sweeney has not fallen far, and it’s no surprise given his successes as Bruins GM why he has been selected for the top management role in the 2025 Four Nations Face-Off and a support role for the 2026 Winter Games.

You can argue the merit of any acquisition Sweeney has made based on other factors within and without the organization at the time. For example, should the Bruins have let Ryan McDonagh come into their division and to their strongest rival when they badly needed a bridge between Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy but instead acquired Nash? Even without the terrible misfortune of a career-ending concussion, the rangy Nash was on the back nine of his storied career.

The post-Bergeron/Krejci Bruins are now modeled toward a Big 3 defense core built around McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo, but a matured strength at center (i.e. help for Charlie Coyle) remains the big fish for this offseason.

Something else to keep in mind as NHL Draft weekend approaches and when the free-agent signing period opens on July 1:

Sweeney has never and would never place his own hide ahead of the well-being of the franchise. For instance, if the best deal the Bruins can get for Linus Ullmark this summer is to New Jersey for the Devils’ first-round pick (10th overall), then Sweeney will not hesitate to make that deal, all the while knowing he is at the same time passing up an opportunity to acquire a player who would make the 2024-25 Bruins more formidable and, by extension, being a more successful GM.

If it meant sacrificing his career, Sweeney would do right by the Boston Bruins. That is a big reason why he is still guiding the ship. That, and the inescapable reality that sports management is a results business.

During Sweeney’s decade on the job, the Boston Bruins have been among the more consistent NHL teams. Since he has hand-picked his own head coach, the Bruins have averaged 50 wins per regular season.

The problem during his tenure has been the emerging trend of the Bruins’ finishes not measuring up to their best starts, and that raises the oft-discussed dichotomy of regular-season versus playoff hockey. Reprioritizing personnel decisions with this in mind has been a matter of open dialogue for team president Cam Neely.

Especially given the competition traditionally presented by the open market and the overpayment traditionally awarded the hottest name(s), the suggestion here has been to identify opportunities to trend the Boston Bruins toward the kind of players that will more likely hold up to the physical challenges of playoff hockey.

Even though the Florida Panthers played Game 4 of the Cup Final at Edmonton exactly as they played Games 1 and 2 of the 2023 Cup Final at Las Vegas, there was a third-period scenario that bears our attention.

An outnumbered hockey team is more likely to take heavy hits from the opposition. When killing a penalty, the team making the clear is vulnerable to targeted hits. Conversely, the team on the powerplay has the luxury of throwing the body thanks to numbers on the ice to cover for players out of position.

In the third period of Game 4, the Oilers had a powerplay and the Panthers, hopelessly out of the game on the scoreboard, launched the big hits. This should have led to quick execution and even more goals for Edmonton, but it did not. Instead, the Oilers looked rushed to avoid the contact, and to some degree the Panthers recovered a measure of their swagger.

Contented with their lopsided victory, the Oilers were fine with how the game finished. But they let Sam Bennett punch Connor McDavid in the head, and the only thing that looked good in the game’s final 10 minutes was the scoreboard.

Be very surprised if Florida fails to wrap this series up on Tuesday night at home.

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