Typically, mid-September signals the start of NHL training camps. Obviously, this season has been anything but typical.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are down to the final four teams, and the Boston Bruins are on the outside looking in after the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated them in the second round. Now, as those teams battle in Edmonton for the Cup, the Bruins have set their sights on the weirdest, most unpredictable NHL offseason anyone has ever encountered.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the sports world upside down, which is how you get September playoffs. The start date for next season is also still up in the air, but the Bruins are already hard at work in their efforts to improve.
General manager Don Sweeney held his year-end press conference Wednesday — via Zoom, of course — and here are some of the highlights.
— Sweeney said he has “zero reservations” about goalie Tuukka Rask’s desire to play after Rask opted out of the playoffs to go home and tend to his family. Read more about that here.
— Interestingly, Sweeney was fairly tight-lipped about Zdeno Chara’s future. Chara’s contract is up, and the Bruins captain is 43 years old, but he has said he’d like to play next season and prefers to do so with the spoked-B on his chest. It sounds like Sweeney hasn’t spoken directly to Chara yet — he said he’s seen the comments — and added player meetings are upcoming. Sweeney alluded to the other lingering contracts for both restricted and unrestricted free agents, stating Chara’s situation is “part of that process.”
— The other big offseason storyline at the moment? Torey Krug’s contract situation. The two sides “haven’t found a landing spot,” Sweeney said, which isn’t surprising given how, well, Krug hasn’t signed an extension. Krug said last week in-season extension talks were “very, very few and far between,” while also sounding like a player eager to get to free agency and test his market.
“I would be the last person to begrudge any player trying to make the best decision for they and their family, and in a perfect world, it’s with us. But we know that the world is anything but perfect right about now,” Sweeney said.
Regarding Krug’s comments, Sweeney said, “Torey?s personal voice, he?s entitled to say whatever the hell he feels he wants to say. You guys know me well enough that I’m not going to comment publicly on any different contract negotiations other than hoping to find a landing spot when I have good player and people that I feel are important to our organization and Torey is such.”
— Regardless, it sounds like the Bruins will look different next season — whenever that season actually begins.
“We?re looking to make some changes in our group,” Sweeney said. “I feel very good about the overall organization we are and how competitive we are. But, we have to — I?m not doing my job if I?m not looking to improve our hockey club on a daily basis without being dissatisfied. I know our group needs to be pushed and have hopefully some internal growth with some players that are coming up on waivers and they have to have an opportunity to make our hockey club. Otherwise, we make hard decisions.”
— Speaking of hard decisions, are there trades to be made?
“I do believe the free agency period will be dictated by whether we make any transactions prior to that, in and around — prior to that or in and around the draft.”
— Sweeney, when talking about the Bruins’ group of young forwards, referenced the issues David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase had getting on the ice amid the restart. The GM referenced head coach Bruce Cassidy’s comments about those players’ conditioning, something Pastrnak refuted slightly in his own year-end comments. Sweeney did a good job of breaking down how that 28-day absence for Pastrnak and Kase might have affected their play in the bubble.
“That?s a difficult situation and Bruce referenced it a little, the conditioning,” Sweeney said. “And David Pastrnak pushed back because he felt he had done work and he?s right. He did work. So overall conditioning, fine.
“But game condition, practice condition, it?s far different from your overall condition. And missing 28 straight days, anybody is going to be behind the eight ball. I think you saw it show up with Kase?s situation later on. He jumped in, didn?t have any of the round-robin games and actually played pretty really well against Carolina. Didn?t finish. Had the shot opportunities to score and in years past he has provided offensive scoring in those situations. So, we?re hopeful that he will find that in those situations. And again, 28 straight days, not an excuse, just a variable that we had to deal with. He had to deal with and did not fare as well against the Lightning. Did look fatigued in that situation and I think I it caught up to him.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images