BOSTON — Cam Neely did not want to be where he was Wednesday morning. One look at his face made that abundantly clear.
Rather than watching his Boston Bruins prepare for a Game 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning or a Game 4 against the Washington Capitals, Neely instead was seated alongside team owner Jeremy Jacobs and CEO Charlie Jacobs in the TD Garden Legends Club, answering questions about why his team had missed the Stanley Cup playoffs for a second consecutive season.
?I hate to lose more than I like to win, so I don?t like missing the playoffs,” the Bruins star-turned-team president said. “And I want everybody else to feel the same way. We know where our better players are in their careers, and we have an idea of how many more good years they have left to be at the top of their game, and it?s very important for us to add pieces around them to compete again for a Cup. That has to happen sooner rather than later.”
In Neely’s mind, the 2015-16 Bruins should have been a playoff team. He believes they had the talent and the coaching to, at the very least, crack the field of 16, which they would have done had they not lost nine of their final 12 games to fall one point shy of the final spot.
“I?m not sitting up here saying we?re a Stanley Cup contending team,” Neely said. “But I?m saying we should?ve been in the playoffs.”
Charlie Jacobs, who was highly critical of the team’s subpar play midway through last season, offered a similar take, saying an Original Six team in a market such as Boston should be expected to contend each year for a playoff spot, if not the Stanley Cup.
“Cam?s aware of those expectations,” Jacobs said, “as is (general manager Don Sweeney).”
The Bruins resolved one offseason question mark when Sweeney announced last week that head coach Claude Julien will return next season — a decision Neely said he fully supported. Now, the focus will turn to improving the product on the ice.
Boston’s roster was top-heavy this season, with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson carrying the bulk of the load offensively and Zdeno Chara doing so on the defensive end. The defensive corps was shallow and shaky at best, and secondary scoring often was nowhere to be found.
The Bruins also discovered that several of their younger players were not ready to be productive everyday NHL players: Defensemen Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow all played 42 or fewer games for the big club, forwards Frank Vatrano and Seth Griffith spent most of the season with Providence despite lighting up the American Hockey League, and 19-year-old winger David Pastrnak was hindered by injuries and inconsistency throughout his sophomore NHL campaign.
Neely, Sweeney & Co. want to give these young players the playing time they need to develop. The organization also wants to return to the playoffs. Constructing a roster that will allow them to do both will be the challenge this offseason.
“In speaking with Don and understanding the prospects that are in our system, the expectation is that we can integrate this youth and still be a playoff team,” Charlie Jacobs said. “That?s the expectation from where I personally sit.”
Thumbnail photo via Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports Images