BOSTON -- When Boston Bruins president Cam Neely sat down with each of the four candidates he considered for the team’s general manager opening, the conversation started the same way every time -- with reference to the team’s current salary cap situation.
“Every candidate, to a T, we started with the cap issues,” Neely said. “That was the bulk of the conversation at the start.”
So when new general manager Don Sweeney was introduced at TD Garden on Wednesday, of course a good deal of time was spent discussing such. Getting the team more comfortably under the cap figures to be one of the more daunting tasks that Sweeney will face heading into next season, something he singled out in his opening statement.
“We have some challenges,” Sweeney said. “We have some flexibility issues that we have to get back out in front of, that we have to address head on.”
As it stands, the Bruins are locked into big-money deals with many of their veteran players; not to mention, several key players, such as 21-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton, are restricted free agents. What Sweeney decides to do to create room remains to be seen, but the newly minted GM does understand that big decisions will need to be made.
“I referenced flexibility as an issue that we need to get back out in front of,” Sweeney reiterated. “There’s a difference between cap compliance and cap management, and I think we need to make sure that we’re very cognizant of the latter rather than the former.”
One possibility could be the trade of a veteran player. In looking to improve on the Bruins' 96-point mark last season, Sweeney said that he hopes to keep an open dialogue with the team’s core members, keeping them in the loop as he looks to set out toward building a new team.
He also touched on the the importance of young player development, emphasizing how useful such is in keeping a team cap compliant. With Sweeney serving as the general manager of the Providence Bruins last season, he knows the teams prospects better than most and expects them to play an integral role in the team’s immediate future.
“We’re going to be a team that identifies players that are capable and ready to [handle the challenges of the NHL], regardless of their age,” Sweeney said. “It’s going to be based on their ability, their impact, that they can make on a nightly basis on our hockey club.”
The area Sweeney feels is in most need of improvement is third-period offense, referencing the Feb. 16 game in Calgary where the Bruins blew a three-goal lead and lost 4-3 in overtime as an example of the issue.
“We have to have more aggression in our game,” Sweeney said. “We need to get back to that mentality. And we certainly have a number of players to lead in that direction of that charge. If other players aren’t willing to do that, we’re going to make sure that we find and identify the players that are.”
Sweeney noted that the Bruins’ 209 goals as a team last season were below the average threshold of the 16 teams in the playoffs, something that instantly put them at a disadvantage. As good as Tuukka Rask is in net, Sweeney knows that his team’s offense needs to be better.
And doing that with as little cap room as the Bruins have figures to be one of the more interesting things to keep an eye on in the early months of Sweeney’s tenure.
“I’m not deviating from the structure part of the defensive aspect of our organization at all, but we do have to find a way to generate more,” Sweeney said.