Anderson: It's time to put your faith in Don Sweeney

Ty Anderson
September 14, 2017 - 10:39 pm

Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

In what’s been a hit-or-miss opening three offseasons on the job, and with the Boston fanbase undeniably split on their view of the front office, I always felt that the David Pastrnak negotiations were going to definitively tip the scales towards Bruins general manager Don Sweeney proving himself as a man in over his head (which is exactly what he looked like in those opening few weeks in 2015) or an ever-improving executive that remains firmly committed to the plan he’s put in place. 

It was the perfect test, really, because it had potential franchise-altering consequences.

This wasn't Sweeney hitching his wagon to the David Backes cart (a contract that the Bruins can survive) over Loui Eriksson, the Matt Beleskey signing (another contract that's doable given where the Bruins are), or owning up to the fact that Jimmy Hayes somehow grew up here but suddenly forgot how to do literally everything while in Boston. Those are noteworthy moves, but they didn't carry the weight that a Pastrnak misstep -- similar to the ones made with countless other young, eventual superstar ex-Bruins -- did. Not even close to it, actually. 

And it should be obvious that getting Pastrnak -- a 21-year-old budding superstar entering his prime and with early negotiation thoughts of getting $8 million per season, and represented by J.P. Barry, an agent that’s seemingly defeated Sweeney at every turn -- signed for a $6.67 million average annual value on a new six-year, $40 million deal borders on incredible.

Especially given where this negotiation seemed to be trending earlier this week.

Of all the negotiations Sweeney has been part of, this one without question had the greatest likelihood of going south. Pastrnak could have bent the Bruins over a barrel (he’s a legitimately uncomparable talent in the organization), held out, and had legitimate options in the meantime, be it in the KHL, the local Czech Leagues, or simply getting ready to play for the Czech Republic in the Olympics. It would have divided the fanbase, caused irreparable harm to the relationship between the Bruins and a player that straight-up loves Boston, and drastically changed your expectations for a Bruins team that just made their return to the playoffs/relevancy after two years off.

These were seemingly legitimate threats. But not to Sweeney, who remained patient, despite all the nonsense that came with it, from non-update updates to canned quotes.

“You don’t know, there is no timeline,” Sweeney said when asked if there was ever a doubt that a deal would get done between the Bruins and Pastrnak. “There is just a level of communication, and respect for both parties and understanding where their positions are and you just keep working at it and as I said, J.P. and his camp, and our camp, they just stayed at it. I have to tip my hat to how it was handled in that regard.

“I think we just found the right landing spot for both sides that made a deal that worked,” Sweeney continued of the gap bridged by the negotiating parties. “We worked on some structure stuff last night. So again, there are a lot of variables that go into it and a lot of work, but the result is a positive one from where we stand today from all parties.”

Sweeney said and explained of all that, yeah, but I’m still convinced there was a magic spell of some sort that factored into this re-signing from the Boston front office. It’s similar to the shock and awe that came with the B’s successfully re-signing Brad Marchand to a similarly team-friendly deal around this time last year.

At the same time, however, dominating extensions in pursuit of the best deal for the Bruins has sneakily become the name of Sweeney’s game in town.

In a league in which trades have become almost impossible (it seems that every general manager is afraid to be had, especially in the post-Seguin trade NHL) and player movement via free agency is often difficult and rarely worth it given the age that most talents finally hit the open market, identifying the players worth extending is of the utmost importance. And that has never once been an issue with Sweeney.

When Sweeney first took over, he was basically tasked with three decisions and subsequent directions required right out of the gate: Top-liner Milan Lucic was entering the final year of his deal and wanted an extension, restricted free agent Dougie Hamilton was a restricted free agent and needed a new deal (so long as it wasn’t in Boston, apparently), and Adam McQuaid was going to be an unrestricted free agent.

Not seeing Lucic as a long-term fit, Sweeney instead sold high on him, and through the later selling of an asset acquired in that deal (Martin Jones), turned an expiring Lucic into Jakub Zboril, Trent Frederic, and Sean Kuraly. Sweeney has been correct about Lucic, too, as his overall effectiveness and impact as a visible game-changing talent has faded, and with Lucic’s five-on-five production dropping already nearly six percent since leaving Boston, and becoming a noticeable problem in his year with the Oilers.

McQuaid, on the other hand, who was probably considered the least important of the three, was extended on a four-year, $11 million contract. A deal that was destroyed at the time (but probably because of everything happening around it), McQuaid delivered perhaps his most consistent post-2011 hockey last year, with two goals and 10 points while setting career-highs in games played (77), hits (157), and blocked shots (144).

The following season, Sweeney set his sights on an extension for Kevan Miller and Torey Krug.

With his four-year, $10 million contract, Miller has emerged as an apparent late-bloomer (much like ex-Bruin Johnny Boychuk), providing dependable minute-eating nights, and becoming the B's most versatile defender, with the ability to play both the left and right side without a dropoff in his overall play. A physical specimen, Miller has also worked with countless skill coaches in an effort to maximize his impact on the game, and it has shown, most recently in the club's six-game first-round series loss to the Senators last season. Krug, meanwhile, set career-highs in assists (43), points (51), and power-play points (25) in the first year of his first real, long-term contract extension with the Bruins (four years, $21 million). Most of all, Krug emerged as a legitimate top-four defenseman, with some of the best advanced metrics in all of the NHL, proving that the Black and Gold are a significantly better team when he’s on the ice.

Marchand delivered in Year 1 of his new contract, too, finishing with the fourth-most goals (39) and fifth-most points (85) in 80 games for the Bruins. Those numbers were tops among all Bruins skaters, and obvious career numbers for No. 63.

And it’s clear what the Bruins expect out of Pastrnak moving forward after he scored 34 goals and 70 points last season after becoming just the seventh player in the last 12 years to score 30 goals and 70 points in his Age-20 season.

“We feel and have felt all along that David is a big part of what we are trying to do and trying to build here,” Sweeney said of Pastrnak’s trajectory as an elite NHL scorer. “He is a motivated player. He made a hell of a jump last year. It’s my belief he’s earned the opportunity to be in the top five of those guys coming in on entry-level [contracts], and we paid him accordingly. That is a huge commitment from the organization and I’m appreciative of the support that I get as a general manager in that regard.”

But even with this commitment, the Bruins remain in a strong position to sign the next Pastrnak, should he emerge out of this group, and with at least $22 million in available cap space (and that’s assuming that the salary cap remains flat) when Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy become restricted free agents two summers from now.

“It’s been part of our planning process,” Sweeney said of the club’s long-term financial flexibility even after the Pastrnak extension. “David had a hell of a year and broke out, but we’ve accounted for that and going forward. Again, the player themselves have to take advantage of the opportunity and become that type of player. That remains to be seen whether or not those players will do that. But we’ve put ourselves in a position now we need to make sure we are drafting and developing accordingly, and these guys can play and impact our team. That’s what is most important and that is what starts today.”

Actually, what’s most important is the fact that Pastrnak is still with this organization.

Wait no, that's not it. It's that Sweeney has officially passed the test to show us that he knows what he’s doing. 

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