Haggerty: Sweeney ignores ‘sound and fury' to retool Bruins

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It must have been quite the scene when Bruins general manager Don Sweeney arrived home last weekend following the NHL Draft in Florida.

The rookie GM’s family wanted to make sure he still wanted the high-profile gig running the B’s after he’d been lambasted from pillar-to-post throughout the city after trading away Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic for draft picks and prospects.

“People asked me how I’m doing when I returned back from the draft...and I walked in the house to my family and they looked at me like, ‘Really? You signed up for this?’” recalled Sweeney, with a smile you could hear through the phone on a conference call Wednesday night to announce the acquisitions of both Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes. “I said, ‘Look, I arrived back at the airport with a ball hat and a flak jacket on because I knew the bullets were still going to fly.”

It might not ever get worse for Sweeney than that draft weekend when things really went awry for the Black and Gold. They dealt Hamilton to the Calgary Flames, once they realized he didn’t want to return to Boston, and didn’t end up netting the best return possible. The Lucic trade return was a master stroke with two first-round picks, a top prospect and a college player, but the power forward was a Stanley Cup champion and a popular, signature player in the city.

They failed to move up in the draft’s top 10 to select Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski and became the first team in 40-plus years to make three consecutive picks in the first round. There are many good reasons why teams don’t normally want to do that. They finished all of that off by sending a third-round pick to the Flyers for a one-dimensional rabble-rouser in Zac Rinaldo, and signed Adam McQuaid to a four year deal worth nearly $3 million per season as well.

There was also a bright side, of course: the aforementioned return for Lucic was great, the trade of Martin Jones will likely net them a top-10 pick next season, provided San Jose once again misses the playoffs, and they amassed 10 draft picks in the deepest pool of NHL draft talent in a decade. The plan to get bigger, stronger, tougher and better offensively emerged when they signed Beleskey and upgraded from Reilly Smith to Hayes on Wednesday, the July 1 opening free agency, and they also replenished their pick/prospect supply.

So, the seat is significantly cooler for Sweeney now that the roster is rounding into form, and the plan to bring back some of the big and bad element to the team is gaining clarity. Sweeney said he and his B’s management team went into a “bunker mentality” this week to avoid what Theo Epstein used to call the “sound and the fury” in the media, and that allowed them to rebound in free agency.

“The ratings for talk show radio are there for a reason. People are able to voice their opinions, and they’re certainly entitled to. We as a group stayed sort of within the bunker mentality. We knew we were taking some bullets, and that’s part of the business,” said Sweeney. “I knew that; I had my eyes wide open when I took the job. I talked to ownership about the direction I thought we needed to set course in, and it’s a twisty way to get there.

“But with development camp upcoming I think it’s exciting for us now to turn the page forward with looking at all the sort of landscape in front, and the excitement of our younger players that we’ve got here in the last few days. I think we’ve improved our overall group, and our team in taking it in a direction that I think everybody’s excited about. Hopefully, it falls in place. You never know. The games are not going to be played until October; a lot can happen between now and then. But for me, it’s about looking forward, not behind.”

There are still improvements to be made to the B’s roster and perhaps even another difficult decision or two with players who have been associated with the team for the long term. There will also be lingering hard feelings over the Hamilton situation and some of the missteps as the new regime made with its first impression at the draft. They need to find a replacement D-man with many teams in the market for that kind of player.

But Sweeney and his management group have made it through the fire to the other side and started retooling a roster that looks encouraging when you project the lines and look at the talent being amassed. They busted up a core group that probably should have been shuffled around a couple of years and sent a couple of ill-fitting parts to other NHL locales.

It’s sometimes difficult for an inexperienced general manager to deal with the media criticism machine once it gets revved up against them, but Sweeney – crediting his upbringing, his family and his support from the staff and ownership around him – never let anybody see him sweat while picking himself up, dusting off and getting the job done making moves for the Black and Gold.

That is one of the attributes of a good GM in a business where mistakes, missteps and brush fires are going to happen on a regular basis.

 

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