BRIGHTON – Did Don Sweeney do enough?
That is the fundamental question that will hang over the Bruins’ general manager, the team and its deeply-loyal fan base until the end of this very promising season.
Will the acquisition of 24-year-old Ondrej Kase last Friday and Nick Ritchie hours before Monday’s trade deadline be enough to give the Bruins the depth-scoring they’ve been seeking and help them finish the job?
“Whether or not you win is the ultimate indicator of whether or not you did an adequate job,” Sweeney told me in his press conference an hour after Monday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline had passed. “Giving yourself a chance to win is part of that process and addressing needs. How it works out is to be determined, right? In terms of how much success you have. Ultimately that’s what you’re measured on, how much success you have, in this business and in professional sports in general. To be determined.”
“I’m going to take pride in playing that big game, winning battles, playing physical, and driving to the net,” Ritchie said Monday after learning of his move to Boston.
Kase has seven goals and 16 assists in 49 games with Anaheim this season. The 6-foot, 190-pound forward has skated in 198 career NHL games, totaling 43 goals and 53 assists. Ritchie has eight goals and 11 assists and 78 penalty minutes in 41 games. How will those numbers translate in Boston?
“We do a lot of analysis in terms of what other teams do in years past, what we’ve done in years past,” Sweeney said. “You look at the value of non-expiring contracts versus the rental market and some teams are more equipped to want to be out from underneath the contract versus taking ones moving forward. So there’s nuances associated with it and we’ll do a deep dive on that, but ultimately you’re just trying to get the best players to give yourself a chance to win. And that’ll be determined in what success we have between now and the end of the year.”
What’s critical to keep in mind isn’t so much what other teams did Monday (Tampa Bay, Carolina, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, NY Islanders) but how Sweeney views his own club heading down the stretch of the regular season. Sweeney made it clear he really likes the makeup of a club that sits atop the NHL with 90 points heading into their first post-trade deadline game Tuesday night against Calgary.
He believes they’re mentally tough and physically fit to climb the mountain they came within 60 minutes of conquering last spring.
“I’ve been proud of our group. Where they were, losing in Game 7 last year and where they are today, I think they should be proud of themselves,” Sweeney said. “But I do believe, this time of the year, if you have the opportunity to continue to look at areas that you can improve your hockey club and that depth of your hockey club, you have to do that. As of today, we’re a fairly healthy group, and hopefully it remains as such. And we’ve maintained our depth and again, addressing some areas where we felt we needed to.
“Secondary scoring’s always so important, it was so valuable to us in the playoffs last year, and we believe that Ondrej will provide some of that and a speed element to his game. And now Nick on the other side to be able to complement hopefully, if he goes in and plays with Charlie Coyle, those are two big guys that are hard to contain. Anders [Bjork] will flip over to the other side, Karson [Kuhlman] is a part of that. But we have other players that I’ve said before are playing very well in Providence that come up and provide depth. Last few years, injuries have played a factor in every team’s playoff run, and they’ll play a factor in ours. We have work to do to get there. We’ve got a tough schedule coming up. Our guys, our team has put themselves in a position to hopefully take another run, but it’s one step at a time.”
Last Thursday, Bruins fans has visions of Josh Anderson, Kyle Palmieri or Chris Kreider dancing in their heads. But when you take a look at what Sweeney was really tasked with, you have to take into account the complete picture, namely getting out from under the David Backes deal (which Anaheim will mostly do by absorbing 75 percent of his contract). That move, along with acquiring Kase, came with a first-round 2020 draft pick price tag. Then Monday, the acquisition of Ritchie mean adding some net-front presence (and size). Anderson, Palmieri and Kreider were all too expensive for Sweeney’s budget, a budget that still may include signing Torey Krug to a long-term deal before Krug hits free agency this summer.
“I think what I’ve really learned through my years in the management side of it is, you’re probably running simultaneous tracks, and you have to expect everybody else to be,” Sweeney told me. “You get too one dimensionally-target focused and you’ll probably get surprised. Doesn’t mean anybody’s trying to pull an end around on you, it’s just a part of the business. Somebody’s trying to find a different deal or somebody’s tracking down the same player as you are. I don’t think we’re overly surprised or somebody pivoted on us or any of those things. We just focused on what we were trying to accomplish and try to get that done.”
Bottom line, does a team with 90 points through 63 games have enough this spring to finish the climb to the top?
“I think the resiliency of group, it says a lot,” Sweeney added. “To climb right back on that same hill and stare up and say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to climb it again.’ That’s really just a testament to them. We’ve spoken a lot about the leadership, but now our second layer of players have certainly taken ownership of knowing what it takes, being battle-tested, and hopefully they can continue to take those same steps. I don’t know whether or not we’re the same exact team, or built for who we’re going to face.
“Like last year, we had to prepare to face four completely different teams in some sense. You just have to be a good hockey club in order to move forward. You’ve got to stay healthy, your goalie has to play good, and you’ve got to have depth. That’s just part of the business. You try and pick your opponent or think you’re playing one opponent between now and the end of the year, man, you’re setting yourself up. You’ve just got to be a good hockey club, and you’ve got to be playing your best hockey.”