BOSTON (AP) – On his first day as general manager of the Boston Bruins, Don Sweeney met with Claude Julien and declined to give his Stanley Cup-winning coach more than a tepid endorsement.
“He’s the coach of the Boston Bruins as of today, for sure,” Sweeney said Wednesday in a news conference after he was promoted to become the eighth GM in the 81-year history of the Original Six franchise. “I think tremendously of him as a coach and as a person. It’s just a matter of lining up things that I believe in.”
Julien led the Bruins to the NHL title in 2011 and back to the Stanley Cup finals two years later. Last year, the team finished with the most points in the league but lost in the second round of the playoffs to the rival Montreal Canadiens; this year, the Bruins missed out on a playoff spot on the final day of the regular season.
A decision on Julien “will be in due time,” Sweeney said.
“But I’ll make the best decision for the organization,” he said. “It might not be the easiest one.”
A former assistant and Harvard teammate of fired GM Peter Chiarelli, Sweeney was promoted after nearly a quarter century with the Bruins. The ex-Boston defenseman said he hoped to have the team back in the playoffs soon after missing out for the first time in eight years.
“We finished with 96 points this year. We did not meet expectations. But we’re not as far away as some people think,” Sweeney said at the TD Garden. “This group had won a Stanley Cup and gotten back to the finals. We have a coach in place at this time that has been a big part of that.”
Sweeney has spent the past six seasons as the assistant GM to Chiarelli, who was fired last month just four years after building a Cup winner. Sweeney played for the Bruins for the first 15 of his 16 years in the NHL.
Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said the team conducted a “worldwide search” to replace Chiarelli, who quickly found a new job as the Edmonton GM. Bruins President Cam Neely said they quickly focused on Sweeney, who is already familiar with the organization from the minor leagues to the Boston roster.
“He’s got a lot of institutional knowledge,” said Neely, himself a Hall of Fame player for the Bruins before moving into the front office. “It would have been very easy to say ‘Don’s our guy’ without talking to anyone else. But that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.”
An eighth-round draft pick in 1984, Sweeney played four years at Harvard, graduating one year after Chiarelli. He played in Boston from 1988-2004 and still ranks third on the team’s games played list.
He also ranks in the top 10 of the club’s all-time lists for goals, assists and points by a defenseman.
“It’s one thing to throw the words ‘culture’ and ‘identity’ around. It’s another to live it and breathe it, so that people are drawn in,” he said.
Sweeney said he would try to restore some of the aggressiveness that was absent from the team when it tumbled from a Cup finalist to a Presidents Trophy winner to a playoff observer.
“I can sit here as a career 52-goal scorer and tell you we have to score more goals,” he said with a smile. “But it just doesn’t materialize that way.”
Sweeney joined the Bruins front office in 2006 as director of player development and worked his way up to assistant GM three years later. In that role, he oversaw the development of the team’s drafted prospects and ran the team’s hockey department.
Last year, he was appointed GM of Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence.
“Today is really a new era for Boston Bruins hockey,” Jacobs said. “I hope that everyone will realize this is a day to celebrate.”