Don Sweeney could be forgiven if he believed he did everything he could to construct a Stanley Cup team when the 82-game regular season ended. He would not have been the only one.

The Bruins’ GM was named one of the three finalists for NHL GM of the Year along with the Florida Panthers’ Bill Zito and Dallas Stars’ Jim Nill, as voted on by the league’s general managers. Sweeney won the award after the 2018-19 season, when the Bruins finished one win short of the Cup.

Though the Bruins were stunned in the first round by Zito’s Panthers, the club set team and league records for wins (65) and points (135).

Sweeney’s work actually began two summers ago, when he dipped into the free-agent market to sign this season’s Vezina Award favorite Linus Ullmark, solid bottom six regulars Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek, as well as short-timer Erik Haula, whom Sweeney flipped last summer for Pavel Zacha. The versatile, 26-year-old Zacha posted 21-36-57 totals and is expected to be a top-six center of the future.

After the Bruins were bounced out of the playoffs in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes last spring, Sweeney fired Coach Bruce Cassidy and hired Jim Montgomery.

With Cassidy’s new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, one win away from the Stanley Cup Final and Montgomery coming up well short, it’s a move that is wide open for debate now. But for much of the record-breaking season, Montgomery appeared to be the right man for the job at the right time.


With his team in a salary-cap crunch, Sweeney signed veterans Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to team-friendly deals and squeezed in Zacha, obtained as an RFA, on a one-year, $3.5 million deal for 2022-23 before nailing him down on a four-year deal with an AAV of $4.75 million.

Sweeney bolstered his team at the trade deadline, obtaining Dmity Orlov and Garnet Hathaway from Washington. Then, when hit with unexpected injuries to Taylor Hall and Foligno (both of whom had murky prognoses), the GM did some fancy footwork and picked up Tyler Bertuzzi from the Red Wings. While Bertuzzi had some issues at 5-on-5, he did tie Brad Marchand for the team lead in points with 5-5-10 totals in the playoff series.

On the same day he swung the Bertuzzi deal, Sweeney locked up 61-goal scorer and Hart Trophy finalist David Pastrnak to the richest deal in Bruins’ history, an eight-year, $90 million pact.

That’s a lot of good work. But a GM cannot make a clean breakout pass, which the Bruins’ defensemen failed to do on a regular basis in the playoff loss to the Panthers.

Now Sweeney has quite a job ahead of him. He’s got just seven forwards and one goalie signed with approximately $5 million in cap space. The Bruins are also without first- and second-round draft picks this year and first, second and third-round picks next year.

SABRES: The young, retooled Buffalo Sabres can rely on Kyle Okposo’s veteran presence for at least one more season after the team captain signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract.

The 35-year-old’s re-signing was anticipated after both the player and team expressed mutual interest in his return once Buffalo’s season ended last month. Okposo was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after completing a seven-year, $42 million contract, and gets an opportunity to continue leading a team finally showing signs of being competitive.

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