It’s been an eventful few months for the Boston Bruins, and that may be an understatement.
After missing the playoffs this past spring, the firing of Peter Chiarelli, the hiring of Don Sweeney as the new general manager and two major trades at the NHL Draft that saw Dougie Hamilton sent to Calgary and Milan Lucic to L.A., Bruins’ president Cam Neely apparently sees his team as one that could potentially make the post-season in 2016.
“There’s lots of parity in the East,” Neely told the Boston Herald. “It’s going to be tight, it’s going to be a challenge. I think we can be a playoff team. I don’t want to sound like that’s our only goal, just to be a playoff team. That’s not a very high goal. We’re past that.
“But I want to see us improve certainly from where we were last year. I think if guys can continue to improve — (David) Pastrnak, (Brett) Connolly, (Ryan) Spooner — I don’t see why we can’t have a very good year this year.”
Two years after appearing in the Stanley Cup Final — which was two years after Boston won the championship in 2011 — the Bruins missed out on the 2015 playoffs by two points while finishing 23rd in the league in scoring.
Their failure to qualify for the playoffs ushered in change, particularly in the front office. However, the club’s moves at the draft and in the days after brought instant and heavy criticism.
Based on Sweeney’s comments Friday, the Bruins could still go after available free agents prior to the start of the season.
“There are still players out there that may fit,” said Sweeney, as per NESN.com
. “You have conversations with agents about possibilities. I think we’re comfortable with where we are in creating internal competition, but I’m not going to stop sort of asking in areas that we can continue to look at.”
A few weeks ago, the Boston Bruins became the first team in 47 years to make three straight picks in the first round of a draft. They began signing those picks on Wednesday, handing Jakub Zboril an entry-level contract.
Zboril, 18, was also the first of those three picks, as he went 13th while the Bruins took Jake DeBrusk with pick 14 and Zachary Senyshyn with selection 15.
The Czech-born blueliner seems all-around solid according to what Central Scouting’s Dan Marr told NHL.com a month ago.
“We think he’s a solid two-way player,” Marr said. “His game with the puck, without the puck, I don’t know there’s too many holes in his game. … He’s a solid two-way guy that these are the type of guys you see playing in the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs.”
Considering that description, it sounds like Zboril is a player who could eventually fit in quite well with the Bruins.
They had to trade Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic to get it, but the Boston Bruins finally have some breathing room under the salary cap.
The question now is if they can take advantage.
“If we have any opportunities come up, we now have the flexibility to act on them,” club president Cam Neely told CSN New England. “If something happens now all the way through training camp where we feel we can improve our club, we have a better chance of adding without saying, ‘Okay, now who do we have to subtract?'”
With the loss of Hamilton, which came less than a year after the loss of Johnny Boychuk, the Bruins’ defense is a major question mark heading into 2015-16.
While GM Don Sweeney has called it “a great opportunity” for some of the “kids” — and Neely doesn’t disagree — Neely insists that “by no means are we closing the books and saying this is what we’ve got.”
Unrestricted free agents on defense include Christian Ehrhoff and Cody Franson. The former is willing to sign a one-year deal, which may be attractive. But Franson, a right shot like Hamilton and Boychuk, may be a better fit.
The Bruins are believed to have made a bid for Mike Green, also a right shot, who signed with Detroit on July 1.
Related: Sweeney explains Hamilton trade: ‘We extended Dougie a very significant contract offer’
Boston hockey fans can be hard on big players who don’t play with an edge, according to former Bruins defenseman Hal Gill.
“I had my share of fights, but it was never good enough,” Gill, now retired, told WEEI.com. “[It was,] ‘You should have beaten up Tie Domi.’ It was unrealistic, but that’s what the Bruins fans want. That’s the Big Bad Bruins mantra. It can be tough at times.”
Gill made that remark while speaking about new Bruins winger Jimmy Hayes, the towering 25-year-old who had 147 hits, but just 20 PIM, in 72 games last season with Florida.
Hayes has only fought twice in 168 career NHL games.
While Gill believes Hayes will be fine if he stays “true to his game” and “doesn’t get caught up trying to please everyone,” he insists there’s a big difference between playing for Boston, which Gill did for over 600 games, and Montreal, which he did for almost 200 games.
“In Montreal, I was amazed,” he said. “When I was there, they would cheer because I made a nice poke check. They would say, ‘Wow, that was a great poke check.’ With the Bruins, you could play a great game defensively, but if you didn’t kill someone or you didn’t get a big goal, they can pile on you.”
Related: Sweeney vows to return ‘aggressiveness’ to Bruins
A trio of young forwards have signed with the Boston Bruins.
The B’s announced today that Jimmy Hayes has inked a three-year deal with a cap hit of $2.3 million, while Brett Connolly has agreed to a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1.025 million and Brandon DeFazio has signed a one-year, two-way deal with a cap hit of $575,000 at the NHL level.
Hayes, 25, was acquired last week in a trade with the Florida Panthers. He had 19 goals and 16 assists in 72 games last season.
Connolly, 23, was acquired in March in a trade with Tampa Bay, soon after which he suffered a fractured finger and missed most of the remainder of the season.
Hayes will be an unrestricted free agent when his contract expires, while Connolly will remain an RFA. The latter’s $1.025 million cap hit could be a good bargain for the Bruins next season.
DeFazio was an unrestricted free agent. The 26-year-old spent the last two seasons in the Canucks organization, mostly with AHL Utica.
Related: Chiarelli believes Connolly can ‘help us right away’