Following the Bruins’ 5-2 victory over Washington on Tuesday night, they not only added to their NHL record win total, but they also leapt the ’78 Montreal Canadiens for the most points in a single season with 133, and still have a game to play. While the lineup and coaching staff have deservedly received loads of plaudits for their performance, the front office deserves their fair share as well, especially one man, Don Sweeney.
Sweeney has been the subject of Bruins’ fans ire since he first took over for Peter Chiarelli in 2015.
His tenure did not start off on the greatest note, trading budding star defenseman Dougie Hamilton and fan-favorite Milan Lucic for a package of picks in the now infamous 2015 Draft. Sweeney set himself up with three straight first-rounders, and to date, Jake DeBrusk has been the only one to make an impact in the NHL. His performance has only aged worse over time, as that draft is now regarded as one of the deepest in recent memory.
As far as the fanbase was concerned, Sweeney was already on the hot seat. The following season didn’t help his cause, as the Bruins missed the playoffs for the second straight year. His significant acquisitions in Matt Beleskey and Lee Stempniak failed to make a big impact.
The B’s would return to playoff contention over the next few seasons, partly due to an influx of young players drafted or signed by Sweeney. DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, and Anders Bjork rose through the farm system to become regulars in the Bruins lineup. However, despite their contributions, Boston consistently met the same obstacle with each playoff exit; depth scoring.
Even after the Bruins made a Cup Finals run in 2019, the fanbase still called for Sweeney’s head over the 2015 draft. The target on his back continued to grow every year, and he could not get Boston over the hump.
When Bruce Cassidy was let go last summer, everyone was outraged that the Bruins had let go of the wrong guy. Fast forward almost a year, and the whole fanbase is eating crow.
Sweeney nailed a quartet of offseason moves by hiring Jim Montgomery as head coach, luring David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron away from retirement, and trading for Pavel Zacha. Nearly every player on this record-breaking Bruins roster was a Sweeney acquisition.
Lindholm, Coyle, and Hall were all cut-price deadline pickups that signed below-market extensions. Grzelcyk, Clifton, Carlo, and Swayman were all products of shrewd scouting and drafting. Carlo, in particular, was a product of the 2015 draft Sweeney is vilified for. Ullmark, the Vezina favorite, may very well be the best bargain contract in the league right now. All of this has come together for a GM that allegedly couldn’t draft or make a good trade.
Sweeney’s track record is not perfect, and he’s made his fair share of questionable moves, but he has done a masterful job building this team.
It’s safe to say that Bruins fans, by and large, collectively owe the man one big, genuine apology.
Photo: John Tlumacki/Boston Globe