- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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Boston's new GM admitted he was feeling the heat when he returned from the NHL draft last weekend. Bruins fans were in hysterics by the moves (or lack thereof) Sweeney made in Sunrise, Florida. Over the past few days, Sweeney appeared calm despite being criticized, and he believed things would change for the better moving forward.
"As a group, we stayed through the bunker mentality," Sweeney said during a conference call Wednesday night. "We knew we were taking some bullets, and that's part of the business. I knew that. I had my eyes wide open when I took the job."
Sweeney spoke with ownership and explained his course of action, describing it as a "twisted" way to accomplish that plan.
"It's exciting now for us to turn the page forward with looking at the landscape in front," he said. "We have improved our overall group and our team, and taking it in a direction that I believe everybody is excited about. Hopefully, it falls into place.
"Games aren't going to be played until October, and a lot can happen between now and then. It's about looking forward and not behind."
On the first day of free agency Wednesday, Sweeney made a positive impact on the Bruins' roster and the organization's salary cap with a pair of deals that helped him save face from his weekend dealings.
The Bruins signed forward Matt Beleskey to a five-year deal worth $19 million, with an average annual value of $3.8 million. Considered to be one of the top free-agent targets this offseason, the 27-year-old left winger recorded 22 goals and 10 assists for 32 points, including a plus-13 rating in 65 games for the Western Conference co-leading Anaheim Ducks during the 2014-15 season.
Beleskey scored eight goals with one assist for nine points in 16 postseason games, including the winning goal in overtime in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Savard has not played since the 2011 season due to concussion issues, and his $4 million cap hit is finally off the books for the Bruins.
Hayes, 25, earned $925,000 last season and remains a restricted free agent. Smith signed a two-year contract extension with the Bruins last season worth $3.425 million.
Hayes, a Boston native and product of Boston College, had 19 goals and 16 assists for 35 points in 72 games last season for the Panthers.
Smith has been a disappointment since arriving in Boston via the Dallas Stars as part of the Tyler Seguin trade. After signing his deal last fall, Smith scored only 13 goals and added 27 assists for 40 points in 81 games for the Bruins.
To recap Sweeney's deals since Friday:
• The Bruins acquire goaltender Martin Jones from the Los Angeles Kings as part of the Lucic deal. Sweeney then flipped Jones to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a first-round draft pick next June, plus the rights to unsigned prospect Sean Kuraly, who has gained a lot of attention.
• Boston also acquired resident agitator Zac Rinaldo in an attempt to add some "courage" to the team, as Sweeney put it.
• Defenseman Adam McQuaid re-signed with the Bruins for four years and $11 million. Forward Ryan Spooner agreed on a two-year deal worth $950,000. Goaltender Jeremy Smith also re-signed on a one-year, two-way contract worth $600,000.
In addition to all of that, the Bruins secured defenseman Jakub Zboril, forward Jake DeBrusk and forward Zachary Senyshyn with the Nos. 13, 14 and 15 selections in the first round.
All in all, Sweeney took what happened over the weekend, shook it up like an Etch A Sketch and made things look a lot better.
From a salary-cap standpoint, the Bruins now have 18 players under contract and a payroll of $63,085,667, under the $71.4 million ceiling.
Beleskey is going to be an interesting addition.
Sweeney said the courting process began a long time ago, and Beleskey was identified as a top free agent in the market for the Bruins.
"There were a few twists and turns to be able to get to that position, but we were very, very excited when we had the opportunity to formalize things," he said. "A lot was thrown at Matt from a lot of different directions, and he was incredibly patient because he felt there was a really good opportunity here. And both sides knew once we were able to get it lined up accordingly, we were equally excited to make sure it happened."
The terms and salary of the deal work for both sides, too. Since this was his first experience with free agency, Beleskey said it was an interesting and eye-opening process to deal with so many teams. In the end, he wanted to play in Boston.
"The fact that Boston showed so much interest in me and really wanted to have me, it's a great feeling being able to come to a team that I've always looked at as a great place to play and a great city," he said.
During his seven seasons in Anaheim, Beleskey played with top-line centers Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf. Beleskey could fit nicely on one of the Bruins' top two lines alongside either David Krejci or Patrice Bergeron.
Last season was the first time he has reached the 20-goal plateau, but he proved during the Stanley Cup playoffs he could perform on the big stage.
Nate Thompson, Beleskey's former teammate in Anaheim, played in the Bruins organization to start his pro career and believes Boston's newcomer will fit in just fine.
"Really good player," Thompson said. "Plays Bruins style of hockey, and he's even a better guy and teammate. He'll be a fan favorite."
This will be a homecoming for Hayes.
He grew up just a saucer pass away from the Garden in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Still a restricted free agent, Hayes said the trade surprised him, but he couldn't be happier.
"It’s a dream come true for me," Hayes said. "I grew up a Boston Bruins fan, and having a chance to play for the Boston Bruins is a dream come true. It really hasn't sunk in yet, but it's probably one of the most exciting moments I've had in a while."
With all the cleansing by Dealin' Donnie, the Bruins are in better shape now than they were on Friday, at least on paper.
5dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald