Will Don Sweeney Disappoint in Free Agency?

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The Boston Bruins hired General Manager Don Sweeney on May 20, 2015. Sweeney has signed 216 players, drafted 54, and made 42 trades since that time. Bruins fans would probably like to forget about some of the draft picks (especially the 1st round in 2015) and some of the trades (Kirill Kaprizov for a 5th-round pick in 2016 – Cameron Clarke, who?), for example. Most of the trades, however, have been good – Charlie Coyle for Ryan Donato and a conditional 4th-round pick; Taylor Hall (with 4 million retained), and Curtis Lazar for Anders Bjork and a 2021 2nd-round pick.

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Let’s get a few disclaimers out of the way: I did not include re-signing the Bruins’ free agents, which Sweeney has done well. Part of being a good manager is retaining the talented players on your roster, but that’s not what this is about. This is about the general manager making a statement on July 1, and paying the crown jewel of free agency to come and play with the Bruins. Don Sweeney is more like the comedian I see randomly on Instagram Reels that says, “I like rocks…I just like the way they feel.” Sweeney seems to be more of a rock guy than a precious gems guy.

When Free Agency opens across the NHL on July 1, clubs will be looking to find those precious gems and attempting to build teams that can win the ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup. Sweeney has been improving as a GM overall since his first few years on the job, but his forays into free agency have left the fanbase disappointed and ultimately wanting more.

Mornings w/ Matty Offseason Trade Target – Reilly Smith
Mornings w/ Matty: Free Agent Target #1 Jake Guentzel

With over 21.2 million dollars to spend this off-season, Bruins fans are excited about the possibility of some of the top free agents donning the spoked B. They dream of Jake Guentzel, Jonathan Marchessault, Sam Reinhart, Chandler Stephenson, or even Elias Lindholm, I don’t want to piss in the Cheerios of Black and Gold Nation, but HOLD YOUR HORSES! When was the last time that Don Sweeney spent for an elite top-of-the-market star player in free agency? The answer: Never. That’s right, he’s never done it. He’s chased a few big fish, John Tavares to name one, but he’s never actually signed a big-time, day one, free agent.

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Don Sweeney’s biggest free agent signing is the horrendous 5-year/30 million dollar David Backes contract. Backes by all accounts, was a fantastic leader and character guy, but the contract was a mistake. Most talking heads at the time were expecting a one or two-year deal for Backes – when it turned out to be five years there was a collective gasp heard throughout rinks everywhere. 30 million dollars is the most money the Bruins have spent in Sweeney’s tenure as GM on a player coming from outside the organization.

His best free agent signing and the second highest valued contract was for Linus Ullmark. Ullmark signed a 4-year/20 million dollar contract on July 28, 2021. At the time, again, fans and media alike weren’t sold on the signing – a goalie? From Buffalo? For how much? The Ullmark signing turned out much better than expected, as Ullmark won the Vezina Trophy in 2022-2023 as the best goalie in the National Hockey League.

The Bruins, under Sweeney’s guidance, have only given out a few long-term contracts – Backes (5 years), John Moore (5 years), Matt Beleskey (5 years), and Linus Ullmark (4 years). Every other free-agent deal inked by Sweeney has been 3 years or less. Mike Reilly and Derek Forbort were both 3-year deals. The Bruins are still paying Reilly in 2024-2025 because of a buyout in the summer of 2023.

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Sweeney was limited this past off-season with very little cap room because of the bonus overages of Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci. The Bruins went for it in 2022-2023 and paid for it in 2023-2024. There are certainly outside factors that play a part in whether a team can spend big in free agency – who’s available, how the player would fit on your team, cap space, if your team is a contender or rebuilding, etc.

As July 1, and the start of free agency approaches this year, Sweeney will not be held back by the salary cap. There are plenty of good players available who would seem to be good fits for the Bruins, and Boston can be a contender with the right additions. Will Sweeney be willing to make a big splash, spend big, and take a chance on signing Jake Guentzel to an 8-year/64 million dollar contract? Or Jonathan Marchessault to a 6-year/44 million dollar deal? History says no. History says he’ll stay away from the top-end, expensive talent and shop for a bag of rocks instead. Didn’t Charlie Brown get a bag of rocks instead of candy in “It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”? I’d rather have a few precious gems (a few top-tier free agents), than a bunch of rocks. All it takes is one bold move and the perception can change, so maybe this is the year Sweeney cracks open a rock and finds a precious gem. Bruins fans can only hope.

Season 3. Episode 49. Prospects Rankings 26-30 Bruins Benders Podcast

Join the Bruins Benders Podcast as they cover the HOTTEST topics in the Boston Bruins market, along with… – Prospect Rankings 26-30- Early Line Projections- Most Hated NHL Franchises- Cole Spicer Steps Away& Much More!DraftKings Sportsbook – Boston’s hometown Sportsbook is LIVE right here in Massachusetts! Bet local on all your favorite sports from the comfort of your own home with DraftKings. To celebrate, ALL new customers will receive up to TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS in BONUS bets when you sign up for DraftKings Sportsbook using code ITR! You can now bet local on money lines, spreads, props, and more with one of America’s top-rated Sportsbooks – DraftKings Sportsbook!  Download the DraftKings Sportsbook app and sign up with code ITR to get up to TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS in BONUS bets to use now that mobile sports betting is live in Massachusetts. That’s code ITR only at DraftKings Sportsbook. If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with gambling, call 800 327-5050 or visit helplineMA.org to speak with a trained specialist, free and confidentially, twenty four seven. 21+. Physically present in MA. Eligibility restrictions apply. Subject to regulatory licensing requirements. Eligibility and deposit restrictions apply. Opt in required. Bonus issued as free bets. Terms at draftkings.com/MA.
  1. Season 3. Episode 49. Prospects Rankings 26-30
  2. Season 3. Episode 48. Arbitration Deadline
  3. Season 3. Episode 47. Free Agency Begins
  4. Season 3. Episode 46. Draft Night
  5. Season 3. Episode 45. After the Hugs Are Gone

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