By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
I’m guessing that you won’t find any bigger Patriots fans in New England than the members of the Bruins brass, specifically team president Cam Neely. With his hockey club posing as a dumpster fire for the third-straight season approaching February, the Hall of Fame former player is proving to be a second-rate executive, and is letting his head coach dangle without a peep on his position being uttered from the mouths of anybody in the B’s front office.
Nothing to see here, folks. Go Pats!
While Julien toils to get a roster full of plumbers and pipe fitters to play like top end talent, Neely and his general manager Don Sweeney hide out in their offices on Causeway St., and let the stoic bench boss take the bullet for their mismanagement.
Think about this for a moment, the only reason that the Bruins – Jeremy Jacobs, in particular – had any interest in hiring Neely in 2007 was because his team had an image problem, and they needed a figurehead that the fans loved to stir renewed interest in what had become a downtrodden franchise. The fannies in the seats were lacking – hence, the reason Jacobs had half of them painted black, so it appeared the arena was at least half-full on television – and the team needed a cheerleader who could get those who had turned away from the product to come back home.
He was given the largely ceremonial title of vice president, and was asked to be a Bobo for the Black and Gold. Just sit in the team’s box on game nights, smile and wave, and we’ll let the real hockey people, do the real hockey things.
What could go wrong, right?
At first, it seemed nothing could go wrong. Then general manager Peter Chiarelli was the beneficiary of former GM Mike O’Connell’s drafting, that produced players such as Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and Phil Kessel; and before Chiarelli could escape his contract in Ottawa, the team signed Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. O’Connell was also responsible for signing Tim Thomas, and while he might have been a wack-job, he would play a pivotal role in the team’s resurrection.
After swinging and missing on his initial head coach hiring with Dave Lewis, Chiarelli tabbed Julien for the job in 2007, and the Bruins were off and running towards what would be their first Stanley Cup Championship in 39 years in ‘11; ironically the year that Neely was named president of the club.
While the B’s would go on to play the Chicago Blackhawks in the Finals two years later, they were already digging their own graves with contract extensions that were inflated, and trading away top talent for pennies on the dollar. Whether or not Neely was in full control, or he deferred to Chiarelli before he was fired in 2015 has been debated, but he has publicly admitted that he rubber-stamped the horrendous Tyler Seguin trade that the team still hasn’t recovered from.
Since that last Finals appearance in ’13, the Bruins have imploded under Neely’s watch. Chiarelli proved pitiful when it came to picking players in the draft, and proved to be just as bad at managing the salary cap. In the arrogance that was their short three-year run of being one of the top franchises in the league; both he and Neely made bad decision after bad decision, and it ultimately cost Chiarelli his job.
Maybe it is time this track record of ineptness costs Neely his.
Forget about firing the coach, this team needs a cannon fired through the front office. Some may argue that Sweeney should be given more than two years to clean up Neely and Chiarelli’s mess; however, he has done little to prove himself in his position, and the guy that ran his drafts – Keith Gretzky – is now Chiarelli’s assistant GM in Edmonton.
The Bruins as an organization need to admit that they are in a full-fledged rebuild, and that starts with cleaning up the front office, not just firing a coach. The small core they have left is aging – Chara is 39 going on 80; Bergeron is 31, Tuukka Rask turns 30 in March, and Marchand is 28 – and the rest of the majority of their roster is a bunch of Jimmys and Joes.
Even with players like David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo on the come, it will be at least a couple of years before any of the perceived prospects they have drafted recently will become what the team hopes that they can become, and contribute to making the club a contender again.
The Neely experiment has failed. It was cute at the time, and everyone loved when he called out the owner for being cheap before the Stanley Cup parade in 2011, but it is rapidly becoming uglier and uglier as each year passes.
It is time to start over. It is time for the Bruins to fire Cam Neely.