BOSTON (AP) Boston Bruins rookie general manager Don Sweeney went into the first day of NHL free agency intent on improving his team's feeble offense, which ranked 22nd in the league.
Sweeney added two wingers Wednesday he thinks will be a major part of the solution next season: Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes.
The Bruins signed left winger Beleskey, one of the more coveted available forwards, to a five-year contract with a charge against the NHL salary cap of $3.8 million per season. They also acquired right wing Jimmy Hayes in a trade with the Florida Panthers for forward Reilly Smith and the contract of center Marc Savard, who has not played since 2011 because of post-concussion syndrome.
Both Beleskey and Hayes had breakout seasons in 2014-15 and might provide enough offense for the Bruins to get back into the playoffs after they missed out for the first time in eight seasons.
''I think both were put into positions to score and play with players that complement their skill sets,'' Sweeney said on a conference call. ''They're both heavy players in and around the net. They get to the net area, they both shoot the puck very well. They both have some size and strength in the hard areas of the ice, and it's things that we identified that we needed to get better at. To have the ability to score goals in the National Hockey League, it's not an easy task. And between them they scored 40 goals.''
Beleskey, 27, scored a career-high 22 goals in 65 games last season for Anaheim. He has 57 goals and 112 points in 329 career regular-season NHL games. He had eight goals in 16 games during the Ducks' run to the Western Conference finals.
''Boston's always been a team that I've watched,'' Beleskey said. ''Obviously, the `Big Bad Bruins' has been something I've loved as a player and as a fan of the game. You know, guys like Cam Neely you watch as a kid, you look up to. An Original Six team with an amazing fan base. I actually got to play there for the first time in my career last year and it was just a great feeling playing in that building, and I'm extremely excited to wear the `B' on my chest this season and for the next five years.''
Hayes, a 25-year-old native of Boston and former standout at Boston College, had 19 goals and 35 points in 72 games for the Panthers. He has 36 goals and 66 points in 168 regular-season NHL games. He is a restricted free agent.
''I grew up a Boston Bruins fan, and having the chance to play for the Boston Bruins is a dream come true,'' Hayes said. ''It really hasn't sunk in yet, but it's probably one of the most exciting moments I've had in a while. ''
The Bruins averaged 2.55 goals per game in 2014-15. At the NHL draft last weekend, they traded forward Milan Lucic, who scored 18 goals, to the Los Angeles Kings for goaltender Martin Jones, AHL defenseman Colin Miller and a first-round draft pick. The Bruins also traded defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who had 42 points last season, to Calgary for a first-round pick and two second-round picks. They traded Jones on Wednesday to the San Jose Sharks for a first-round pick in 2016 and a prospect.
Without enough in-house replacements for Lucic and Hamilton's offense, Sweeney had to be active on the first day of free agency. In addition to acquiring Beleskey and Hayes, Sweeney re-signed restricted free agent center Ryan Spooner to a two-year contract worth $950,000 per season, and unrestricted free agent goaltender Jeremy Smith two a one-year, two-way deal worth $600,000 in the NHL.
Sweeney might not be done. The Bruins still have to sign restricted free agents Hayes and forward Brett Connolly. But all the moves they've made, including shedding Savard's cap charge of a little more than $4 million, have given them about $9 million in salary cap space
''I don't know if anybody picks their team per se in July,'' he said. ''I think you assemble a group of guys you feel confident with. And I think now we're taking a position where any trade that we look to make, or any player movement we look to make, is one that we absolutely want to, and not have to. And we have some flexibility now to look at things completely that way going forward. You know no promises. A lot of balls still in the air. A lot of players that need to get back to their high side of their capabilities and be excited about being a Boston Bruin. That, to me now, is what the entire focus is about. It's about wanting to be a Boston Bruin and hitting your high side to win.''