Despite playoff elimination, Bruins owner is ‘happy where we are’
The Bruins have won but two playoff games in the last three seasons, and twice failed to qualify for the postseason.
Nonetheless, club owner Jeremy Jacobs said at Tuesday’s end-of-season news conference, once again, he is “happy where we are.” The Bruins nine days ago were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators, four games to two, in a first-round playoff series.
A Globe reporter, noting the club’s underperformance the past three seasons, asked Jacobs if he would make changes if other parts of his business, Delaware North Corporation, similarly underperformed.
“Well, it is different,” said Jacobs. “It’s a sports franchise . . . and we went from a particular direction, and I think we’ve had a sea change in direction.”
Jacobs, in large part, pointed to the change behind the bench, which in February had Bruce Cassidy take over for 2011 Stanley Cup-winning coach Claude Julien. The improvement in the team following the coaching change — along with an infusion of young players, some yet to play in the NHL — has Jacobs encouraged.
“I think there has been a substantive change,” said Jacobs, who was joined by his son, Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, and team president Cam Neely for the 20-minute session at TD Garden. “Change for the sake of changing, as you know, is not an intelligent move.
“I think this is a practical and intelligent approach to dealing with the franchise and where it is today.”
Charlie Jacobs later added, “We have made significant changes over the past 24 months, considering we have a new coach, a new general manager [Don Sweeney], and a significantly different profile in terms of what we have in prospects.”
Julien firing ‘overdue’
The senior Jacobs made it clear that he felt Julien had outlived his shelf life here.
“My own impression was that it was overdue, a little late, and maybe I precipitated part of that,” he said. “Misplaced loyalty in that sense, but it was the right move.”
The Bruins were 18-8-1 (.685) under Cassidy for the remainder of the regular season and clinched a playoff berth.
“Once Bruce took over, I think we either had the first or second-best record of any team in the National Hockey League for that period of time,” said Jeremy Jacobs. “It was a very prudent move, and a very prudent hire.
“In those circumstances, I would say [Sweeney] did a terrific job in selecting him and motivating the team.”
Neely said he would like to see David Backes, the club’s top free agent acquisition last July, add some speed over the summer.
“If he can pick up a little bit of a step in his game, which he’s going to work on in the offseason, I think that will be beneficial for him and us,” said Neely. “But I like his physicality. I like the fact he’s going to stand in front of the net and pay the price to be there. I think, offensive-wise, we got kind of what we expected from him.
“Would we like a little more? Yeah. But I think with all the things that he brings, I felt the whole package was a welcome addition.”
Backes, who turned 33 Monday, finished the season with a line of 17-21—38, his lowest output for a full season since his second pro year (2007-08, when he went 13-18—31).
Olympics a no-go
The senior Jacobs, when asked about NHL participation in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea, said, “I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said recently that the league does not plan to release its players for the Games, ending a string of six straight Olympiads with NHL participation.
“When you stop and think about it,” said Jacobs, “should we take those weeks out of our season, turn it off, continue to depend on these players to perform for us when they get back, if they get back, if they come back in good condition?”
Jacobs remains a proponent of the Olympics adding hockey to the Summer Games menu, an idea dating back even to before the NHL first released its players for the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
“They won’t embrace it,” said Jacobs, referring to the International Olympic Committee. “So it is what it is.”
Jacobs also noted the time difference between North America and Korea, conjecturing that games would air on TV here at 2 or 3 a.m.
“I think the four people that watch it don’t justify it,” he added.
Awaiting word on Bjork
According to Neely, top prospect Anders Bjork will decide after his participation in the World Championships whether he wants to return to Notre Dame for his senior season or turn pro with the Bruins.
“Our hopes are that he sees where we’re at as a team,” said Neely, “and the young players that we’re putting in our lineup. We hope that he understands that he’s a young player that we think very highly of, that he can step in and contribute here.”
Bjork, 20, is playing for Team USA at the Worlds, along with newbie Bruins blue liner Charlie McAvoy. Bjork, selected 146th in the 2014 draft, just wrapped up his junior season in South Bend with a line of 21-31—52.
If he decides to return to college for his senior season, Bjork can opt next August to become an unrestricted free agent and thus sign with any of the 31 NHL teams.
Characterizing the Bruins as a “wonderful property that my whole family has enjoyed,” the senior Jacobs, now 77, said he envisions staying actively involved with the club for at least another two or three years.
“It’s obviously out of my hands at some point,” said Jacobs, “but I think the next couple of years is predictable. Beyond that, I don’t know.”
Jacobs, who purchased the Bruins in 1975, has owned the Bruins nearly as long as Tom Yawkey owned the Red Sox. Yawkey purchased the baseball team in 1933 and was still owner upon his death in 1976.
Asked if his tenure resonated more now in that it compared to Yawkey’s run, Jacobs at first offered only a flat, “No.”
Later, he added, “Yawkey had a great legacy here. He was very much loved, and the rest . . . and this generation came in and moved it that much further. Their success is history now. They’ve been very successful off of his building block, and people here really love that game.”
No regrets there
Neely doesn’t anticipate the club being very active when free agency opens July 1.
“We’ll see what transpires through the course of the offseason,” he said. “But right now I don’t envision that. We’ll get through the expansion draft [June 21] and then reevaluate.”
The annual two-week buyout period leading directly to free agency probably won’t have the Bruins writing checks for no-show jobs, either.
“I don’t know if there is anything for us to do there in that regard right now,” said Neely. “We’ve already got one of them on the books in [Dennis] Seidenberg, so I don’t know if it makes sense to add another one.”
The Bruins bought out Seidenberg last June, convinced that his game had slipped to the point that he was holding back the rest of the group. The Bruins will pay him a total of $4.5 million more over the next three seasons. He played last season under a one-year deal with the Islanders and he recently signed to return with them in 2017-18.
“At the time, we felt like his game really had dropped off to where we didn’t feel he could contribute,” said Neely. “We wanted to see if our younger players could come in and help us out. I’ve got to say, he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time, we felt it was the right move, yes.”
If kept, Seidenberg might have prevented the Bruins from being eliminated in Round 1. They went the entire series without top blue liners Torey Krug (knee injury) and Brandon Carlo (concussion). They lost Adam McQuaid to a neck injury in Game 2.
Asked in hindsight if he felt buying out Seidenberg was the right decision, Neely said, “Yeah, I do. You know, you can’t envision us to get three of our top four or five D’s hurt. We went through a lot of D, as you know, in the postseason. So you can’t predict that.”