Boston Bruins

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 25: Boston Bruins General manager Don Sweeney speaks to the media during the 2016 NHL Draft on June 25, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images)

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney’s job status was absolutely never in doubt.

I mean, team president Cam Neely confirmed as much before the team fired Bruce Cassidy. They also announced that Sweeney would be the leading the Bruins’ (still-ongoing) search for a new head coach. There was a brief moment where I wondered if the looooooud public backlash was going to be enough for ownership to say, “wait, there’s no way we can do this.” But the building is still full (and has been for over 12 years) and the season-ticket waiting list is still alive and well, so until the backlash hits the stands, it will be easy to brush it off as more negativity from the negativity machine that is social media.

Now, Sweeney’s plans for the Bruins? Well, that was a mystery. When Sweeney last held court with the media, he wouldn’t commit to a plan of any sort. He talked about a possible rebuild, he talked about a slight retool, and he talked about another run. They were all surface-level jumps into the details of those potential plans, and boy, are all those plans wildly different.

But it’s been clear from the moment that the Bruins came up a goal short in Carolina that the organization’s entire gameplan for 2022-23 was going to come down to what their 36-year-old captain decided to do.

And right now, it looks like Bergeron will return for a 19th NHL season with the Bruins. Bergeron’s scored 400 goals. He’s won the Selke Trophy an NHL-record five times. He’s won everything there is to win at almost ever level of hockey. The only reason he’s playing hockey these days is to win a Stanley Cup. He’ll be the first to tell you that. So, Bergeron returning means that Sweeney and the Bruins have at least a relatively basic idea of what they’ll want to do next season.

Simply put, it means competing for a Stanley Cup and prying the window back open with any tool they can find.

But nobody is going to buy the idea that running it back — and with the Bruins’ injury list already three deep (and with Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy on that list) ’til about Thanksgiving at the earliest — is going to work. Especially with a downgrade at the head coaching position looking almost inevitable considering Cassidy’s record and point pace over his time behind the bench. (If the Bruins strike gold there, Sweeney’s victory lap will be worth overshadowing a Pats parade.)

An obvious first step for the Bruins is finding that next voice behind the bench. Stylistically, it sounds like the Bruins want somebody who will morph their attack to more possession vs. one-and-done rush chances. They also want to remain a strong power-play and penalty-kill team (the Bruins had the third-best power play and third-best kill under Cassidy). Personality-wise, they’re leaning towards a more player-friendly coach in terms of messaging, delivery, and patience. That naturally trends towards younger coaches or coaches with extensive experience in the college or AHL ranks. There’s certainly room for the Bruins to bold here and hire a candidate that will grow with the next generation of Bruins hockey, if they so choose.

On the ice, the Bruins also desperately need to address the second-line center position. Erik Haula did an admirable job down the stretch, but the playoffs proved that his production wasn’t sustainable against top-tier competition and shrinking time and space. Free agent options include Claude Giroux, Vinny Trocheck, Geno Malkin, and 2022 Stanley Cup winner Nazem Kadri.

Jake DeBrusk’s future remains up in the air. DeBrusk was noncommittal at the end of the year when asked if the trade request he made in 2021 remains on the table moving forward. Will a new coach reset DeBrusk’s feelings on a long-term future in Boston or did the team’s only bonafide win from the first round of the 2015 get permanently soured by feeling buried on the left wing depth chart behind Marchand and Taylor Hall for the next three years at least? There’s been some slight pushback on the idea that it was all Cassidy and nothing more when it came to DeBrusk’s desire to move on from the Bruins.

The Bruins are expected to offer David Pastrnak a massive extension as soon as they’re allowed. You’re probably talking about an eight-year, $75-to-80 million kind of deal. It’s rich, but the Bruins don’t have a comparable talent (or even close) in their pipeline. If Pastrnak isn’t willing to sign an extension, however, the Bruins cannot repeat their 2016 and 2020 mistakes with Loui Eriksson and Torey Krug and watch Pastrnak leave for nothing. He’s simply too valuable, and if it’s not to the Bruins, it has to be on the trade market. That’s a trade that should and would net the Bruins two first-round picks and a top prospect at the very least. (I’m still of the belief that the B’s and Pastrnak agree on an extension without an issue, for the record.)

The pathways and avenues to be explored are seemingly limitless, and nothing should be off the table (within reason), but at the end of the day, the Bruins just need something a relatively unsettled fanbase can feel good about. Because, I gotta admit, the Charlie Jacobs press release quotes aren’t going to cut it given where this team is right now.

It’s on Sweeney to deliver that, too. Especially with his tenure extended indefinitely and perhaps at the expense of the coach.

“I feel that we have a very competitive team, [but] am I going to look to make some necessary changes? Absolutely,” Sweeney said. “We’re going to be a really strong team again if I can do some things this summer.”

Now comes showing everyone why there was never a doubt within the walls of TD Garden.

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Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has been covering the Bruins since 2010, and has been a member of the Boston chapter of the PHWA since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.