Wins haven't been easy to come by for Don Sweeney, but the embattled GM of the Bruins managed to bank a couple on Monday.
Hayes, acquired last week in a swap that sent Reilly Smith and the contract of injured forward Marc Savard to the Panthers, is viewed as a possible replacement for Milan Lucic on the top line. If that's how he ends up being used in Boston, Hayes represents cap savings of just under a million in 2015-16 and many millions more in the following two years compared to what an extended Lucic would have counted. That's huge for a team that came into the off-season desperately needing to shed salary.
Connolly, acquired at the deadline from the Lightning, comes in on what amounts to a last-chance deal. The speedy winger has terrific hands and good size but is an inconsistent scorer and struggles on the defensive side of the puck. The potential is there to become a viable top-six forward though, and now he has the motivation: Deliver on his promise, and he has a chance to secure a long-term deal next summer. Come up small again, and he'll be cut loose. Either way, Connolly is a cheap body to fill a roster spot this season.
The signings leave the Bruins with just over $5.5 million in cap space and 12 forwards, six defensemen and one goalie under contract. While the team doesn't look as strong as it did when it missed the playoffs in 2014-15, Sweeney has at least addressed the lingering cap problem that's hung over this team since it won the Cup in '11.
Sweeney's likely to keep something like $2.5 million freed up in case of injuries or trade possibilities down the line, leaving him with $3 million or so to acquire a backup goaltender and possibly another veteran defenseman. That's not going to land him a free agent like Cody Franson or Christian Ehrhoff, but Sweeney could look for a bargain basement option (David Schlemko, Matt Irwin) or scope out the trade market and the waiver wire after training camps get underway to fill out his roster.