So, we’ve learned at least one thing after a stunning week on Causeway Street: Charlie Jacobs wants you to know that he’s in charge of the Boston Bruins.
A pair of ugly road losses in Washington and Florida, an early trip to the local golf course and one fired general manager in the span of a week, and the Boston Bruins seem to be in as much disarray now as they were three months ago. Sure, there have been proclamations about “fixing this” and “getting back to our identity” and all of the other buzzwords corporate types from the world of sports and the world of big business like to throw around — but we still have very little in the way of answers.
Should the Bruins have fired Peter Chiarelli? Maybe. But it’s baffling following Wednesday’s press conference at TD Garden in Boston to announce (confirm?) Chiarelli’s ousting that he was one the one to take the final bullet on a lost season, when it’s so very apparent that he’s not the sole decision-maker in the management group.
For everything Cam Neely answered as a player in Boston, he’s left as many questions as the team’s president.
First things first: Let’s face some facts. Yes, the Bruins knew they were going to be hamstrung by the salary cap heading into the 2014-15 season. They went all-in with creative deals for players like Jarome Iginla a season earlier, trying to cash the chips they had in a strong, in-its-prime nucleus of players into a second Stanley Cup championship in four years. Any fan that says he or she didn’t support that philosophy is flat-out lying to you (and to themselves).
If you don’t believe that, then consider this: Whenever a team is on the cusp of winning it all, fans eagerly slurp from the soup bowl promising a “win now” mentality — happily forgoing future promise for real-time results.
Chiarelli tried to do that, but the Montreal Canadiens put the wraps on a disastrous collapse one year ago after the Bruins posted the National Hockey League’s best record. It’s hard to see things like that happening, but sports being sports and all, it does happen.
Fast-forward to this lost season, and Chiarelli did, indeed, need to shoulder some of the blame. Failed draft after failed draft did more than keep young players from bolstering this Bruins lineup — it wreaked havoc on the salary cap, forcing management to buy ready-made talent instead of ushering in the far cheaper in-house variety.
The team moved Johnny Boychuck on the eve of the regular season — a move done to alleviate some of that salary cap pressure, and a move that could have been salvaged had Chiarelli been able to use some of that cash to add key components at the trade deadline. On Wednesday, we learned that Neely went to Chiarelli and put the kabosh on acquiring rental players in early March. In essence, the president handcuffed the general manager.
Neely, undoubtedly, was involved in the decision-making that shipped players like Boychuck out of town — yet he’s holding Chiarelli accountable. By proxy, Jacobs is doing the same thing.
This week, the Bruins are talking out of both sides of their collective mouth.
On the one hand, Neely wants a team that is better in the transition game, one that has a greater penchant for scoring goals. On the other hand, management wants to go back to it’s “identity” — presumably implying a return to the Big Bad Bruins hockey of yesteryear. It’s a laughable philosophy, really, considering that “identity” hasn’t made it any easier for the Bruins to deal with the speedier teams in the league, even at the height of this recent five-year stretch.
You can’t say you value scoring and ship a talented player like Tyler Seguin out of town; likewise, you can’t say you want Old Time Hockey to return and then be miffed about notoriously soft players like Seguin and Phil Kessel being ushered out.
It’s almost as though Chiarelli was forced to serve two masters at once. Though Jacobs referred to allowing the next GM to do the job in the manner the new hire sees fit, Neely clearly has already decided what that GM’s philosophy should be.
In one of the more comical moments from Wednesday’s press conference, Neely said he doesn’t want to be a “micromanager.” Well, of course he doesn’t — he just wants what he wants, but he doesn’t want to have to look at the X’s and O’s of how to accomplish that while building a better pool of prospects and remaining salary cap compliant. In some ways, Neely and Jacobs are like the two worst bosses you’ve ever worked for in your life, taking all the credit for when things go well while holding other people entirely accountable when their master “plan” fails.
Whether head coach Claude Julien remains behind the bench is a 50-50 proposition at best. If the Bruins go in-house and replace Chiarelli with Don Sweeney, it’s a good bet that Julien stays. If Neely and Jacobs go outside the organization to get their next general manager, it’s unlikely that the new hire won’t want his own choice as the team’s next head coach.
But the coach and the general manager, or at least Julien and Chiarelli, don’t seem to have been the problem to begin with. Every team has to deal with players in down years (see: Los Angeles Kings), and every team — even playoff contenders — has to deal with bad contracts that seemed like a good idea at the time (see: Marian Hossa, Chicago; Mikhail Grabovski, NYI; Milan Michalek, Ottawa). Making those issues out to be unique to Chiarelli is simply a way to stack your own argument without any perspective.
No, the real problem is that for as good as Cam Neely was as a player, he’s proving to be equally as bad in a front office role. He just doesn’t seem to know what he wants, or how to get it done.
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