This is not a happy time for the Bruins. Tempers are short everywhere, whether it’s the coach’s office, the dressing room, or the TD Garden ice, where Brad Marchand and Torey Krug tussled during Tuesday’s practice until teammates broke up their wrestling match.
The fuse might be shortest in the corner office.
On Tuesday, Charlie Jacobs, son of owner Jeremy Jacobs, officially became the CEO of Delaware North’s Boston holdings, which include the Bruins, TD Garden, and NESN. Jeremy Jacobs remains Delaware North’s chairman.
But Charlie Jacobs is now the day-to-day boss atop the Bruins’ executive chart. On his first official day in his new position, Jacobs flexed his muscles, cleared his throat, and virtually shouted that every facet of the Bruins’ non-playoff standing is under evaluation, including the performance of the hockey operations department.
Had Jacobs held a shoe, he would have slammed it into the podium — in the style of either Mike Milbury or Nikita Khrushchev — to emphasize his words.
“For us to be a team that’s out of the playoffs is absolutely unacceptable,” Jacobs said. “Everybody in the executive offices is fully aware of how I feel.
“They feel the same way, which brings us to this evaluation process. It’s fluid right now. I can’t say that any moment we have a final decision, other than to say it’s been an utter disappointment and a failure. A complete failure.”
Jacobs acknowledged that his father will still be active in the team’s decision-making. But his new title has given Charlie Jacobs a jolt of power. With power, Jacobs can effect change.
This is Peter Chiarelli’s ninth season as general manager. Cam Neely has been president since 2010. With Chiarelli and Neely heading hockey operations, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and fell two wins short of a second in 2013. The achievements of both executives are not enough to earn them current endorsements from their boss.
“We’re in a constant state of evaluation right now,” Jacobs said when asked if he was confident in his management group. “This is a fluid process.”
The Bruins are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. They are a point behind the Maple Leafs, who sacked coach Randy Carlyle Tuesday. They have spent to the cap ceiling. Their return has fallen short of their investment.
“Without question, this has been a very disappointing year,” Jacobs said. “It’s unacceptable the way this team’s performed, given the amount of time, money, and effort that’s been spent on this team. To see it deliver the way it has is unacceptable.”
Jacobs has the authority to change the hockey operations department by firing Chiarelli. The GM sucked the energy out of the room by trading Johnny Boychuk the weekend before the start of the season.
Chiarelli has yet to replace right wing Jarome Iginla, although David Pastrnak, who was recalled Tuesday, will most likely get his shot alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci on Thursday against New Jersey. Chiarelli has not overhauled his fourth line, which has underperformed for a year and a half.
Firing Chiarelli would not lead to an immediate on-ice turnaround. Booting the GM is not a likely development.
Jacobs’s declarations, however, place more heat on Chiarelli and his colleagues — Neely, assistant GMs Don Sweeney and Scott Bradley, executive director of player personnel John Ferguson — to change the team, on the ice or behind the bench.
The former is Chiarelli’s preferred alternative. The players know that nobody is safe.
“Management put together a team they expect to win,” said Krug. “As a group in here, we expect to win, too. It’s our job to perform. When you’re not performing up to the expectations, then obviously you’re at risk of losing your job.”
The latter, however, is the easier solution.
Chiarelli is not in a position of strength when discussing high-impact trades with his fellow GMs. He doesn’t have much cap space. Poor drafting has not produced the top-shelf prospects that other teams want.
Krug, Dougie Hamilton, and Reilly Smith have value on the trade market. But the Bruins are not equipped to trade young players because they don’t have enough in-house replacements. Hamilton’s ceiling and Zdeno Chara’s age make the third-year defenseman untouchable.
Moving Lucic (6-12—18 in 39 games), who has partial no-trade protection, would be selling low. Trading Carl Soderberg, a potential No. 2 center elsewhere, would leave a hole on the third line. The Bruins once considered Loui Eriksson their No. 2 right wing. But Eriksson, the primary piece of the Tyler Seguin trade, is what he is: a third-liner with a good stick and fading wheels on a non-playoff team. Eriksson would not bring back a high-impact player.
The Bruins are in no position to trade their 2015 first-round pick. They need to replenish a system that’s barren after multiple empty drafts. Jordan Caron, a regular healthy scratch, is the Bruins’ only varsity player drafted between 2007-09.
The easier move would be firing coach Claude Julien. Just about the entire roster has regressed from last year, including Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron, both deemed the best at their jobs in 2013-14. Julien’s responsibility is to maximize his players’ performance. He has fallen short.
Replacing the coach can produce a short-term boost. But it would mean canning someone who has led the Bruins to seven straight postseasons and is responsible for the team’s structure and defense-first identity. Julien, who signed a three-year extension on Nov. 2, will become one of the NHL’s highest-paid coaches on his new deal. He would not be unemployed for long.
Julien may have pushed his players too hard earlier this season when they were struggling. He’s taking the opposite approach now. Julien believes that once his players loosen up, they’ll settle in to the way he thinks they can play: defending with layers, getting pucks out, generating speed in center ice, and entering the offensive zone with speed and numbers.
“My job the last couple days has been to get the guys to relax a little bit and not be so tense,” Julien said. “Hopefully [Jacobs’s] comments don’t make it any worse.
“This is what we have to deal with. We’ll get through it. I’ve got enough experience in this league. I’ve been through enough to go out there, take that group of players, make them feel comfortable, and understand they’re capable of turning it around.
“I believe in this group. I really do.”
The Bruins are in a vulnerable position. The trickle-down pressure — ownership to management to coaching staff to players — is pushing the organization to the edge of desperation. Hasty moves could throw the team off the rails long-term.
Patience is the safest approach. On Causeway Street, that’s not a commodity found in abundance.