Cam Neely, the Bruins president, sounded like Cam Neely, the former player, in many ways on Tuesday, his manner stern and his emotions strained as he talked in the wake of his club’s fourth straight loss Monday night in Calgary.
“For me, you go through all stages of emotions, right?’’ said Neely, speaking on the phone from Edmonton, where the Bruins will face the Oilers Wednesday night in the thick of a fast-failing five-game road trip. “You go through this whole range of feelings when things aren’t going well. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve had some anger tossed in there. And now, for the first time, I’ve landed on disappointed.’’
Which is also to say that Neely, 49, has learned a few things about restraint since first arriving on Causeway Street some 30 years ago as a rawboned, reactionary kid. While for the first time acknowledging his disappointment publicly, he fell short of saying how he’ll act now, or whether he will act, as the Bruins cling desperately to the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
As a player, one who amassed 1,241 career penalty minutes, Neely was tempestuous and ferocious, grabbing hold of all issues and obstacles by the scruffs of their necks and pounding away until they were, shall we say, compliant.
As the Bruins’ top executive when it comes to playing product, quality control, and overall brand image, he thus far this season has maintained a professional reserve when asked his opinion of a club struggling to remain in playoff contention.
But that reserve sounds as if it is wearing thin.
“We played a good month of January,’’ he said, noting what appeared to be a strong (8-1-3) correction after a protracted stretch of stale, oft-listless play for much of December. “It felt like, ‘OK, you’re watching a team playing and competing the way you expect it to.’ Then you turn to February and you’ve fallen back to where you were.’’
Noting that it no doubt sounded “like a broken record, and fans are tired of hearing it,’’ Neely once more acknowledged the widely held sentiment that the club has “needed to do something for a number of months.’’
Yet there have been no moves by Neely or general manager Peter Chiarelli, in part because of a roster payroll that has left the front office with virtually no room against the league-mandated salary cap. It’s a club that effectively can’t trade for anyone without offloading another player or players who carry equivalent salaries.
Following Monday’s loss, in which the Bruins saw a 3-0 lead dissolve into a firewagon 4-3 overtime loss, it would appear time for Mssrs. Neely and Chiarelli to act. The NHL trading deadline is March 2, now 12 days away, with but a half-dozen games on the Bruins schedule between now and then.
“So what this is about for me is the remainder of the season and then moving forward past the season,’’ said Neely, when asked the standard array of possible moves, be it on the playing roster, coaching staff, or among front office personnel. “I have to look short-term and long-term. Whatever we look at has to make sense for both. I don’t think we’re interested in sacrificing the future for the immediate.’’
This is the first time since being named president, said Neely, that he has felt disappointed in the team’s play and performance.
“I’ve been frustrated at times in the past,’’ he acknowledged, “but for the most part our team’s compete and effort level has always been there. So, yeah, I’ve not been to the ‘disappointed’ stage before.
“Given the expectation of the team, the expectation of what we have of individual players . . . we aren’t where we should be. The fans here deserved more than what they’ve received.’’
The loss in Calgary, following flat-out failure in Vancouver to start the trip, was particularly perplexing when considering the solid start that provided the Bruins with a 2-0 lead at the first intermission and then a 3-0 margin early in the second.
In sharp contrast to their dispirited loss to the Canucks, the Bruins were notably faster, lighter on their skates, and quicker with their sticks against the Flames. In particular, defensemen eagerly jumped into the offense, evident when Doug Hamilton circled behind the Flames net and dished a feed to the left circle for Zdeno Chara to rip home a one-time slapper.
“All very true . . . I agree with that assessment . . . we were much better, albeit for a shift or two early on where the Flames got off a few shots,’’ said Neely. “Again, I was watching that and I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is how we can play. This is more like it.’
“And then slowly, it was taken away from us, or we stopped doing what was working. They [Flames] were very good four on four, and then we have that four-minute power play, a chance maybe to win the game, and we didn’t do a whole heck of a lot.’’
Noticeably lacking for years on the Boston power play has been the equivalent of Marc Savard’s quick stick, someone to quarterback the man-advantage and thread sleight-of-hand passes that lead to goals. Without such a stick, or threat, the power play is predictable, too easily kept off the board.
“Yeah, there’s that,’’ said Neely, focused more on overall effort and desire as factors for success/failure, “but there’s that other part, too, of wanting the puck while you’re on the power play. In other words, outwork the penalty killers.
“Goals always aren’t going to be pretty, even on the the power play.’’
The 28-20-8 Bruins are back to work Wednesday night in Edmonton. The season’s clock is ticking. The patience of the club president has worn thin.