The Bruins' band of losers: How GM Don Sweeney rebuilt the team's depth with down-and-out players (2024)

Kevin Shattenkirk liked the pitch. The Anaheim Ducks wanted the 2020 Stanley Cup champion to help build a championship culture.

On Oct. 9, 2020, Shattenkirk signed a three-year, $11.7 million contract, joining then-Ducks and future Boston Bruins teammates Hampus Lindholm and Danton Heinen. Three years later, Shattenkirk’s Anaheim residency had concluded without a playoff appearance.


“We tried,” Shattenkirk said. “It shows how hard it is to create a locker room like they have here. When you look around the league, the teams that are consistently at the top of the pile, it takes time.”

Shattenkirk knows his black-and-gold history. In 2007-08, he was a Boston University freshman when Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and the Bruins made the first of seven straight postseason appearances.

Shattenkirk knew Chara and Bergeron had helped construct something with staying power. He wanted to feel it. He was tired of losing.

“It was hard. It was long days,” Shattenkirk said of three straight playoff no-shows. “I’m sure my wife can attest to it at home.”

Don Sweeney was watching.

Rebuilding a juggernaut

The 2022-23 Bruins were monsters. They won a record-breaking 65 times.

Bergeron and David Krejci were back for one last ride. Former MVP Taylor Hall was on the third line. The Bruins general manager added Dmitry Orlov, Garnet Hathaway and Tyler Bertuzzi at the deadline.

By July 1, 2023, all of that was gone — literally.

Bergeron and Krejci were retiring, although neither had made it official. Sweeney had moved Hall to the Chicago Blackhawks along with Nick Foligno in a salary dump. Orlov, Hathaway and Bertuzzi were advancing to free agency. So were Connor Clifton and Tomas Nosek.

To make matters worse, the exiting players were not leaving Sweeney with liberal savings to spend elsewhere. The 2023-24 Bruins were on the hook for $4.5 million in performance bonuses due to Bergeron and Krejci. They also had to carry $333,333 in dead dough to account for Mike Reilly’s buyout. Sweeney had to budget for offseason raises due to Trent Frederic and Jeremy Swayman, both of whom were planning to file for arbitration.

Sweeney still had bedrock superstars in David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. Brad Marchand had his hand raised to assume the captaincy. Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha were ready to assume Bergeron’s and Krejci’s top-six positions.


The trick Sweeney and his colleagues had to execute was to backfill the rest of the roster. They could not rely on internal promotions. Sweeney had to restock the roster with limited financial resources.

Intentionally or not, Sweeney settled on an ironic strategy: going after losers.

Getting the call

As of July 1, 2023, Parker Wotherspoon had made 12 NHL appearances, all with the New York Islanders. He was 26 years old. He had completed his sixth pro season.

All of this made him a Group 6 unrestricted free agent. Wotherspoon, a fourth-round pick of the Islanders in 2015, was job-hunting for the first time. An early and aggressive inquiry from a 65-win franchise caught his attention.

“When a team calls you just off the best NHL season, you’re going to listen pretty well,” Wotherspoon said. “For them to be interested was pretty awesome. It was really exciting. As soon as I heard it, I wanted to be a Bruin. I knew it would be a good spot for me.”

Wotherspoon had never gotten traction with the Islanders. Not only that, he had never made an appearance in the NHL playoffs. It was his dream.

“I want to win in this league above all else,” Wotherspoon said. “You’re not worried for playing time. You’re worried about winning and being part of a good culture. It was kind of a no-brainer for me to come here.”

Wotherspoon agreed to a one-year, two-way $775,000 contract. The defenseman was one of nine players who accepted the Bruins’ offers that day. The others: Shattenkirk, Patrick Brown, Morgan Geekie, Milan Lucic, Jayson Megna, Anthony Richard, Luke Toporowski and James van Riemsdyk.

“Kevin Shattenkirk won a Stanley Cup but hasn’t played in the playoffs in a couple of years,” Sweeney said. “He’s really excited. It’s one of the reasons why he came to Boston this year, to be part of it.”


Total sum: $9.045 million. Of the nine, only Geekie (13 games with the Seattle Kraken) had appeared in the 2022-23 playoffs.

The two went hand in hand.

Morgan Geekie was not a big-name free-agent signing but has scored 17 goals and 39 points for the Bruins. (Fred Kfoury III / Getty Images)

Winning pays off

Winning is good for a player’s wallet. Ivan Barbashev turned his 2023 Stanley Cup into a five-year, $25 million deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. Adin Hill did the same thing, scoring a two-year, $9.8 million contract.

One of the reasons the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Bertuzzi was his team-leading 10 postseason points for the Bruins last year. Max Domi’s 13 points in 19 playoff games for the Dallas Stars helped convince the Leafs to bring him on, too. First-year Leaf Ryan Reaves appeared in six playoff games for the Minnesota Wild.

Total sum for the three: $9.85 million.

The Bruins simply did not have the cash available to pursue similar high-end winners. So Sweeney and his colleagues prioritized value. That almost always correlated to under-the-radar players who had reached for their golf clubs at the end of the 2022-23 regular season.

This may not have worked with a rebuilding organization. But the Bruins have always trusted their professional infrastructure. Marchand had a ring from 2011. Pastrnak, Coyle, McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk were one win short of a Cup in 2019. The Bruins believe incorporating new players into this framework has a rising tide effect.

Sweeney’s signings delivered more often than not. Geekie, cast off by the Kraken, scored a career-high 39 points. Shattenkirk’s power-play efficiency will put him in uniform for Game 1 on Saturday against the Leafs. Van Riemsdyk, a projected healthy scratch, scored 38 points. On March 8, Wotherspoon, the No. 7 defenseman, earned a one-year, $800,000 extension. It was the first one-way contract of his career.

“Hundred percent,” Wotherspoon said if he has become a better player this season. “Especially the way these guys play. I think the system fits me really well. We play a solid two-way game here. Especially me being more of a defensive defenseman, it fits perfect.”


Other additions have been hits, too. Heinen turned a tryout into a one-year contract. The two-time Bruin will be on the first line in Game 1. Justin Brazeau, the undrafted forward, signed his first NHL deal and became a fourth-line lock before injuring his right wrist. The Bruins have been pleased with Andrew Peeke, the former Columbus Blue Jacket. None of the three played in the playoffs last year.

“It’s a little bit bragging on what the culture is here,” coach Jim Montgomery said when asked of Peeke. “But we talk about the culture all the time. I did read his comments about how welcoming everybody was. It makes you feel like you’re part of something that’s more than just about yourself and your career. It’s about the group.”

Andrew Peeke celebrates a win with Linus Ullmark. (Justin Berl / Getty Images)

Winning is contagious

Sweeney is busy. He is serving as Canada’s GM for the 2025 4 Nations Face-Off. He will be one of Canada’s assistant GMs for the 2026 Olympics. The positions reflect the work he’s done since 2015 to build a yearly contender.

“Look at our lineup,” Montgomery said. “No one thought we’d be the team we are. Not enough credit goes to him.”

Columbus never saw fit to make Peeke an everyday player. Sweeney and his colleagues disagreed. After arriving at the trade deadline, Peeke dressed for 15 straight games. He has been a good third-pairing fit: abrasive, physical, straightforward.

“We know what we’re getting from him game in, game out,” Montgomery said. “High effort. Execution’s going to be there as far as how we want to play. His compete level, I think, brings other people into the fight.”

Night has turned into day for Peeke. After spending parts of five seasons spinning his tires in Columbus, he will play in his first career playoff game Saturday.

“Losing wears on you. It’s tough,” the 26-year-old said. “Being on a winning team, it brings that excitement every night.”

Shattenkirk ascended the Cup mountain in 2020. He is excited to put his climbing boots on again.

“It’s amazing,” said Shattenkirk, “what winning does for your soul.”

(Photo of Kevin Shattenkirk and Parker Wotherspoon: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

The Bruins' band of losers: How GM Don Sweeney rebuilt the team's depth with down-and-out players (2024)
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