Why Keeping Assistant GM Don Sweeney Is a Major Plus for the Boston Bruins

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Why Keeping Assistant GM Don Sweeney Is a Major Plus for the Boston Bruins
Charles Krupa/Associated Press

The Boston Bruins front office dodged double departure when Don Sweeney fell short in the Washington Capitals general manager derby.

As late as last Wednesday, Katie Carrera of the Washington Post mentioned Sweeney as one of four candidates for that opening. That same day, the Vancouver Canucks confirmed via their website that Jim Benning, who had been Peter Chiarelli’s other assistant, would fill their GM vacancy.

But the Capitals went with an internal promotion in Brian MacLellan, as the team’s website declared Monday.

Barring unforeseen developments, it is thus safe to assume Sweeney will continue to serve the Spoked-B's in the same capacity. While that might not occupy the forefront of New England puckheads’ minds, it will be crucial to continuity in Boston.

Odds are the Bruins will look to a generous share of homegrown new faces as they try to rebound from the recently completed 2013-14 campaign. Those newbies may cement a Boston roster spot out of training camp, arrive to stay at midseason or push a revolving door.

With Sweeney’s astuteness, the front office will know what description applies to what player. He has spent eight seasons reaffirming his sense of not only when a prospect is ready for promotion but when the parent club is ready to work him in.

Sweeney and Benning arrived in Boston’s front office with Chiarelli in 2006. Having spent 15 of his 16 professional playing seasons on the Bruins blue line, Sweeney was the only one of those three with prior familiarity with the franchise.

Not unlike his days as one of Ray Bourque’s colleagues from 1988 to 2000, he has since played an often underrated role in the team’s success. There is no reason why that should not persist as long as he retains his current role.

Sweeney’s specialty has involved monitoring the development of the Bruins' prospects, particularly in the AHL. His input in almost any media update on high-end P-Bruins players is rivaled only by that of Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy. His words on a given player tend to flow with preceding and subsequent results.

Len Redkoles/Getty Images
In different years at midseason, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci became permanent NHLers with the likes of Don Sweeney monitoring their development.

Since the 2006-07 season, seven staples on Boston’s roster have seen substantial action with both the Spoked-P's and Spoked-B's. In rough chronological order, they are David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid, Brad Marchand, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller.

Matt Bartkowski and Jordan Caron have left less of an imprint on the TD Garden ice. But they are handily outnumbered by those who have evolved into impact NHL players on Sweeney’s watch.

Here is just a sliver of what Sweeney told the Bruins website in July of 2007 as Krejci was working his way up: “During the course of the season in Providence, I watched him emerge. I saw him round out his game and fill in the gaps. In the playoffs, he took it to another level, particularly when Hartford tried to run him pretty hard.”

At the time, Krejci was coming off a professional rookie season that saw him top the Providence chart with 74 regular-season and 16 playoff points. The next fall, he logged 28 points in 25 more AHL appearances but was a permanent NHLer by season’s end.

In that 2007-08 campaign, Krejci contributed 27 points in 56 regular-season games with Boston. He followed up with five playoff points in seven games. He has since evolved into a top-line pivot who led the NHL in postseason production in both 2011 and 2013.

Marchand was another leaned-on top-six striker by the time the Bruins were penning their 2011 Stanley Cup journal. Ditto their return trip to the final round in 2013.

Behind the forwards, the stay-at-home defenseman McQuaid took little time to assimilate himself in his first full NHL campaign. The year prior, in 2009-10, he garnered 19 regular-season and nine playoff appearances.

Injuries, such as one to Mark Stuart in December of 2009, necessitated reinforcement. But McQuaid earned genuine stripes by refining in Rhode Island and helping the Baby B's to multiround playoff runs in 2008 and 2009.

By Dec. 31, 2010, Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog was quoting Sweeney on the evolution of McQuaid’s intangibles: “He would try to step out for hits, as opposed to letting it come to him a little bit. He got much better stick position, understanding to allow the game to come to him. He worked on that part of his game – foot speed, all that stuff.”

Within six months of that write-up, McQuaid was joining the rest of the Bruins in the afterglow of a title. He had claimed and kept his role as a blue-line regular with 23 playoff appearances out of a possible 25 in 2011.

This past season, Boston faced another injury-induced pinch on defense. Neither McQuaid nor Dennis Seidenberg saw any action from the second half of the regular season onward. But another midseason dip into the Providence pool cultivated another helpful stand-in.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Homegrown defensemen Kevan Miller and Torey Krug have shown flashes of potential in the early going of their Boston tenures.

The day after McQuaid’s latest appearance on Jan. 19, Kevan Miller set a tone for his arrival at The Show. In his 15th of what would be 58 regular-season and playoff ventures with Boston, he landed five hits against Los Angeles, including this check on the Kings captain.

Once again, Sweeney had presided over everything that led up to the seemingly seamless insertion of unripe talent.

Per ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald, when the Bruins extended Miller’s contract in January, Sweeney offered the following thoughts: “He’s had some adversity on and off the ice and he’s handled it head-on. He’s a hard-nosed kid and he plays to his strengths. He’s a physical guy and he likes confrontational situations. Now, he’s continued to work on all the little details, as well.”

Of the adaptions Miller needed to make to the organization’s system while incubating in Providence, Sweeney told McDonald, “He’s been receptive to it. It all comes back to the player and he’s the one who takes the stuff and applies it. It speaks volumes to his character and it shows up in his play.”

In the subsequent four months, Miller presented little, if anything, to the contrary. His inexperience was anything but a factor as Boston hustled to the Presidents' Trophy.

Sweeney may have been talking out of more honesty than hockey humility on the “all comes back to the player” part. But behind every stable, successful conglomeration of players is a cerebral, cohesive team of coaches and executives.

In the Chiarelli era, and especially the Claude Julien era, Sweeney has delivered crucial consistency in his role. He knows where Bruins draftees or otherwise homegrown prospects are in their development and how soon they can mesh with the big club.

Krejci, McQuaid and Miller are only three of the many testaments to that managerial aptitude. A handful of candidates will have a chance to extend that trend in 2014-15. Front-runners include forwards Matt Fraser, Alexander Khokhlachev and Ryan Spooner, defenseman Joe Morrow and goaltenders Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg.

At the dawn of the 2014 offseason, it is hard to tell who among those will crash the Causeway scene next fall or winter. But Sweeney will be among the first to know who is ready, when they are ready and why.

Julien, Chiarelli and club president Cam Neely may need to alter their collective approach in the wake of this year’s postseason letdown and the loss of Benning. But their summer will be smoother as long as Sweeney does not become vacancy bait for any other teams.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com

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