By: Mark Allred | Follow me on Twitter @BlackAndGold277
The Boston Bruins, 2022-23 regular season was nothing short of spectacular, with the team breaking an NHL record and making a solid case for playoff success. However, their first-round exit at the hands of the Florida Panthers left many fans disappointed and searching for answers. Critics have been quick to point fingers at General Manager Don Sweeney, but are he and staff really to blame? This article closely examines the Bruins’ season, their series loss to the Panthers, and Sweeney’s role in it all.
The Boston Bruins had an incredible run during the 2022-23 regular season, breaking many organizational and league records and finishing as the NHL’s best team, capturing the President’s Trophy. Their success was mainly due to the outstanding performances of key players, who stepped up when it mattered most, and the guidance of the leadership core. The team’s depth and chemistry were evident throughout the season, as they consistently found ways to win games and stay competitive from start to finish.
The 2022-23 campaign had a strong “last-dance” feeling and a Boston team driven to do it for some veterans, particularly Captain Patrice Bergeron and fellow center David Krejci. After the Bruins fearless leader suffered a herniated disk late in the regular season, it started a strange feeling going into the 2023 postseason. Even after a game one 3-1 victory to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there were so many holes exposed, and once that high determination and focus suddenly turned to desperation in the opening contest at TD Garden.
From there, nothing got easier, regardless of how long this Boston team lasted in the opening round seven-game playoff series. In the days after the Bruins got eliminated, news started to filter out about injuries and players being banged up, which is not ideal for success, no matter who the first-round opponent was.
The First Round Series Loss to the Florida Panthers
The Bruins could not carry that momentum into the playoffs despite their regular-season dominance. In a hard-fought seven-game series, the Florida Panthers emerged victorious, eliminating the Bruins 4-3, while Boston continues to struggle to accomplish first-round postseason success. While the Panthers were the winners in the first round this year, the Carolina Hurricanes did the same thing last season, beating the B’s 4-3.
The last time Boston got out of the opening round in the postseason was in the spring of 2021 when the New York Islanders won the second-round series 4-2. The Panthers proved to be a worthy adversary, exposing some weaknesses in Boston’s game plan and capitalizing on their opportunities. Ultimately, the Bruins couldn’t find a way to overcome the tenacious Panthers club and extend their postseason run.
Don Sweeney’s Performance as General Manager
Don Sweeney has been at the helm of the Bruins organization since 2015, overseeing a period of relative success for the team. His drafting, trades, and signings have significantly shaped the Bruins’ roster and built a competitive team. While not every move has been perfect, it is hard to argue that Sweeney hasn’t put the Bruins in a position to succeed during his tenure.
In the 2022-23 season, Sweeney’s fingerprints were all over the team’s success. He made key additions to the roster and provided the coaching staff with the tools they needed to excel. It is difficult to blame the Bruins’ playoff exit solely on Sweeney’s feet when he played such an integral role in their regular-season accomplishments, particularly going all-in at the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline.
Last summer Sweeney and company traded forward Erik Haula to the New Jersey Devils for veteran forward and 2015 first-round selection Paval Zacha and extended him to a four-year contract in January of this year to a $4.75 million deal. The B’s brought back Bergeron and Krejci to one-year team-friendly deals regardless of the $4.5 million hole they created in bonus penalties which affect the upcoming 2023-24 season. The 2023 deadline deals are what really got noticed by experts and fans, respectfully.
When the B’s traded for defenseman Dimitry Orlov, forward Garnett Hathaway, and forward Tyler Bertuzzi to add depth to an already deep team, it was clear to most that Boston was on a mission of cup or bust. Unfortunately, those regular season-long expectations flipped like a light switch with the troubling first-round exit, and several players’ futures remain unknown, including the three deadline acquisitions that came to the B’s team in March.
The Real Culprits Behind the Bruins’ Early Playoff Exit
While it may be tempting to blame Don Sweeney for the Bruins’ early postseason departure, several factors beyond his control likely contributed to their downfall. Injuries to key players, lapses in team chemistry, and coaching decisions all contributed to the Bruins’ inability to advance past the first round.
It’s important to remember that even the best-laid plans can go awry in the unpredictable, high-pressure environment of the NHL playoffs. Sometimes, a team falls short despite a general manager’s best efforts. In this case, a lot of the accountability and team failures can gravitate further down the food chain of the Boston organization to the coaching staff on the bench and players on the ice.
In the Bruins management/ownership year-end press conference close to two weeks ago, Sweeney said collectively, the group is accountable and called each other out behind closed doors. The press conference panel of Sweeney, team President Cam Neely, team owner Charlie Jacobs, and head Coach Jim Montgomery. All four members who attended the presser at TD Garden in Boston were disappointed after a promising season, but most on the panel mentioned they need to be better in execution moving forward.
Jim Montgomery had some questionable decisions in the series against the Panthers and owned a lot of it when talking about how it all crumbled away. Not only is this an essential off-season for Sweeney and B’s management, but it will also be a time for the coaching staff to reflect on what happened to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Monty mentioned he would be reaching out over the summer to start the dialogue of a plan for next year, even though the roster could see significant changes on the bench and with team chemistry.
The Boston Bruins 2022-23 season was a rollercoaster ride of record-breaking highs and disappointing lows. While it’s natural to look for someone to blame in the wake of their first-round exit, Don Sweeney should not be the whipping boy. His contributions to the team’s regular-season success cannot be overlooked, and the factors that led to their playoff demise extend far beyond his control.
As the Bruins regroup and prepare for the future, it is crucial to maintain perspective and recognize that success in the NHL requires more than just a talented roster and strong management. The lessons learned from this season will be valuable as the team continues chasing the ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup.
It will be an interesting off-season, to say the least, for Bruins GM Sweeney and his assistant and salary cap guru Evan Gold. Per PuckPedia.com, the Boston organization has seven forwards, six defensemen, and one goaltender under contract for next season, and as mentioned above, $4.5 million in the hole due to last season’s bonus overages. Sweeney said the 2023-24 roster would have different faces moving forward, so could this upcoming year see more youth inserted at lower AAVs, or will the organization be heavily involved in the trade market or get involved in a very thin 2023 free agency? It all remains to be seen…