Over a month after the Bruins relieved Peter Chiarelli of his duties with the team, the Bruins announced that assistant GM Don Sweeney had been promoted to fill the vacant position. Though Sweeney hasn’t been on the job for very long, he already has a full plate of questions to tackle; with that in mind, here are some pressing issues he will have to take on sooner rather than later.
Should the Bruins Keep Claude Julien?
The biggest question that awaits Sweeney: Who will lead the team from the bench? Since being hired prior to the 2007-08 season, Claude Julien has been one of the most successful coaches in Bruins history. His 351 wins puts him 10 behind Art Ross for the most in team history, while the Bruins made the playoffs in all but one of his eight years, won two Eastern Conference titles, and the 2011 Stanley Cup championship.
But nothing lasts forever, and it may be time for a change behind the bench. Julien’s coaching system that produced success for the Bruins years ago may not be the right one for the team moving forward in a league that is shifting away from physicality, and towards speed and skill. Addressing the coaching situation should be at the top of the to-do list.
Should Bruins Try to Trade Milan Lucic?
One of the most defining Bruins players over the past half-decade, Milan Lucic is a game-changing forward with a rare combination of skill and physicality when at his best. But at at his worst, Lucic is overpaid and inconsistent. Facing a crossroads of their franchise with Peter Chiarelli gone, and much of the roster changing over, the Bruins may consider trying to trade the 26-year-old forward.
Lucic is entering the last season of a three-year, $18 million extension he signed just before the 2012-13 NHL lockout. His .54 points per game this past season was his worst average since 2009-10, but Lucic still carries high value and could be worth dealing away if another team gives the Bruins an offer they can’t refuse.
How Much (and How Long) to Re-Sign Dougie Hamilton
One of the bright spots in the Bruins’ disappointing season was the emergence of Dougie Hamilton, giving fans a glimpse of the Bruins blue line future. In his third year in the NHL, Hamilton scored a career-high 10 goals with 32 assists in 72 games, before an upper body injury knocked him out for the remainder of the regular season.
Hamilton became a restricted free agent after the Bruins were eliminated from playoff contention, due to his three total years of professional experience. The Bruins need to send Hamilton a qualifying offer by the day after the NHL draft (June 26-27, 2015) to prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent. Failure to reach an agreement could result in Hamilton holding out during training camp, as Reilly Smith and Torey Krug did this past season. There’s no question that the Bruins will lock up their No. 9 pick from the 2011 draft, but it remains to be seen for how long and for how much.
What Should Bruins Do About Their Backup Goaltending?
On the list of reasons why the Bruins failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2007, Tuukka Rask’s name should appear nowhere near the top. The netminders behind him – or lack thereof – couldn’t produce on a consistent basis. Niklas Svedberg posted a .907 save percentage over his final 14 games, and Malcolm Subban was a disaster in his only contest on Feb. 20 – his NHL debut against St. Louis where he allowed goals on three straight shots before being pulled early in the second period.
Rask started 64 games and played in 70 this season – both career highs – as the backups failed to earn the trust of Julien. Sweeney must figure out how to get the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner more rest — while not sacrificing much-needed wins — whether it be naming Subban the permanent backup or going in another direction.
Should Carl Soderberg be Re-Signed?
Six years after being acquired from the St. Louis Blues for Hannu Toivonen – and nearly a decade after the Blues drafted him – Carl Soderberg finally made his Bruins debut on April 20, 2013. He showed good chemistry with Loui Eriksson and Chris Kelly when moved to center during the 2013-14 season, and came out strong this past year. But hestruggled down the stretch, scoring just three goals over his final 36 games.
The emergence of Ryan Spooner at center over the final third of the regular season makes Soderberg expendable. So unless he’s willing to take a discount to remain in Boston, expect him to be skating elsewhere come training camp.
How Should the Bruins Draft?
The Bruins finishing outside of the playoff picture also meant they would enter the NHL Draft Lottery on their own for the first time since 2007. Although their 1 percent chance didn’t net them the No. 1 overall pick – expected to be phenom Connor McDavid – the Bruins will still pick in the top half of the draft.
The Bruins will have the 14th pick in this year’s draft – their highest selection since 2011, when they used a pick acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs to draft Dougie Hamilton at No. 9. North American players that could be available in that slot include center Travis Konecny (29 goals, 39 assists in 60 OHL games), center Jansen Harkins (20 goals, 59 assists in 70 WHL games), and defenseman Thomas Chabot (12 goals, 29 assists in 66 QMJHL games).
Should Adam McQuaid be Re-Signed?
One of the few remaining veterans on the Bruins defensive corps, the 28-year-old put together a solid campaign for the Bruins – when he could stay on the ice. The oft-injured McQuaid broke his thumb in November and missed nearly two months. He’s missed an average of more than 22 games per season over the past five years since becoming a starter in 2010-11.
Like Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk before him, McQuaid’s days in a Bruins uniform may be over. McQuaid is likely to command a pricey contract on the free agent market, while the Bruins have two possible replacements for him in Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman, while Kevan Miller is set to return from a shoulder injury that knocked him out for the season.
Who Will Replace Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille?
Less than 48 hours after the Bruins saw their 2014-15 season come to an end, the winds of change began to sweep through the B’s dressing room. Before his firing on April 15, Peter Chiarelli told the media he had informed Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille they would not be re-signed. This officially closes the book on what had once been one of the NHL’s top fourth lines, with Shawn Thornton — the third member of the Bruins’ “Merlot Line’’– signing with the Florida Panthers in the summer of 2014.
So who will replace the three on the fourth line? The Bruins still have a year left on the contract of Max Talbot, whom they traded for at the deadline, so he’s likely to be on the line – either at center or at wing. Brian Ferlin, who played seven games for the Bruins this past season, is a candidate to earn the job on the line’s right side, while Seth Griffith and Alexander Khokhlachev could also be in the mix to play fourth line minutes.
Should Matt Bartkowski be Re-Signed?
The end of the Bruins’ 2014-15 may also mean the end of Matt Bartkowski’s tenure in Black and Gold. Acquired from the Florida Panthers in the deal that also brought Dennis Seidenberg to Boston, Bartkowski burst onto Bruins fans radar when he scored the first goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013.
Bartkowski has suited up for 131 games over his NHL career, tallying 24 assists, but has yet to score his first regular season goal.
Bartkowski, an unrestricted free agent, played in 47 games for the Bruins this past season with just four assists. He usually filled in when other starting defensemen were hit with the injury bug – which happened often. With Kevan Miller coming back, and Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow waiting in the wings, the Bruins may decide to part ways with Bartkowski.
Should the Bruins Try to Trade Chris Kelly?
One of the key players acquired during the Bruins’ run to their 2011 Stanley Cup title, Chris Kelly was a perennial third line center on the Bruins for the past half decade, before being moved to left wing and having success alongside Soderberg and Eriksson. In 277 career games with the Bruins, Kelly has scored 41 goals with 58 assists.
Injuries have plagued Kelly’s career in Boston; he played just 70 percent of the team’s games from 2012 throught 2014 due to various ailments. His contract is also a white elephant for the Bruins, with his $3 million per season not equating to his performance on the ice. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this upcoming season, so if the Bruins can find a suitor, Kelly could be on the move.
How Much Longer Can Bruins Rely on Chara, Seidenberg?
When the new Bruins GM is hired, the clock will be ticking on how the future of the team will look, and one of the key places to focus on will be the defense. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, once the premier shutdown defensive pair in the NHL, will be 38 and 34, respectively, once the puck drops on next season.
Chara missed 19 games this past season with a torn PCL, while it was announced on April 22 that he had played through the season’s final games with a broken leg. While Seidenberg was able to suit up for all 82 games, he put together one of his least effective seasons in years, and appeared to still be nagged by the torn ACL that ended his 2013-14 season after just 34 games. The Bruins new GM will need to make a decision on where the Bruins’ defense needs to go, and how much longer they can rely on the skating legs of two blue-liners who aren’t getting any younger.