With all respect to Jeremy Jacobs, at the ownership helm since 1975; Patrice Bergeron, who was playing at or near the peak of his powers for most of the 2010s; and Zdeno Chara, who very well may be chugging along in No. 33 when we review the 2020s, there is one figure that represents the past decade in Bruins history.
Cam Neely was named team president on June 16, 2010, charged with making the hockey and business decisions that shaped the franchise. They included the May 2015 hire of a general manager, Don Sweeney, who hired a coach, Bruce Cassidy. Both internal promotions, and the right ones. Did Neely himself choose all 140 players who wore Black and Gold the past 10 years? No, but in the sense the hockey buck stops at his desk, he was responsible for every one.
Among his big business calls: He oversaw the move from Wilmington to Brighton, the back-to-the-city initiative that made the Bruins a more enticing franchise for outsiders, and helped the development of young talent.
The on-ice results are what matter most, and since the 2010-11 season only Pittsburgh and Washington have a better winning percentage (.633) than Boston, which has one Stanley Cup title and three Final appearances (tied for most). It’s hard to argue for anyone but Chicago as the flag-carrier for the 2010s. The Blackhawks were the only team to win three Cup titles (2010, ’13, ’15), though they haven’t made the playoffs in three years. Los Angeles (2012, ’14) has hit a quieter lull, with two first-round exits and little playoff noise since its last championship. Pittsburgh, which tops the decade in regular-season wins (440 as of Friday), was twice a Cup champion, and was the only team to lift the trophy and make the playoffs in each of the first nine seasons. The Penguins, 3 points out of second in the Metropolitan entering the weekend, are a decent bet to make it 10.
The Bruins, bumped out of the playoffs from 2014-16 as they reshuffled from former GM Peter Chiarelli to Sweeney, got the mojo back. It’s why Neely can point to one factor that defines his tenure to date.
“Consistency,” he said. “I know we missed a couple years, but for the most part throughout the decade we’ve had consistency throughout the organization. You need a lot of people to make that happen, from GMs to coaches to players.”
And health, depth, the right matchups, bounces, and goaltending. But the core — the steady excellence of Chara and Bergeron, and the shift from netminder Tim Thomas and successor Tuukka Rask — made the Bruins strong down the middle of the decade, and allowed them to add complementary pieces, largely through player development.
Neely, who on most days reports to an office overlooking the Warrior Ice Arena sheet, relishes the challenge of keeping the cupboard stocked as Chara, Bergeron, and Rask grow older, of searching for the franchise’s seventh Stanley Cup title. Recall that he was once unsure if he was right for a management gig. In 2007, he accepted a loosely defined vice president role, a one-year commitment to see how much of the fire he had left from a Hall of Fame playing career that ended too soon — 694 points and 726 games in, after knee and hip injuries left him unable to continue.
“I quickly saw how much I enjoyed being a part of the sport still, even not on the ice,” Neely said. “I saw up close and personal the commitment ownership had to allowing us to do what we needed to do to bring a championship back to Boston. Those two things were important. The hockey side I felt somewhat comfortable with, but there was still a lot to learn, not being on the bench, to understand the game. And then there was the business side of it.”
One year became a promotion, which became a decade, and more.
“I look at it like my playing career — you want to play as long as you can,” Neely said. “Once I felt, and saw, and knew the passion I had to help turn things around, it became important to me. I knew what a great hockey community New England and Boston was. It was a great fanbase, but they were a little disenchanted by what happened from ’96 to ’06. There was some work to do. Fortunately, we had a great group.”
He left hockey for a little while after an ill-fated comeback attempt in 1998, mostly working with his Cam Neely Foundation for Cancer Care. That work continues, to honor his parents Marlene and Mike, both of whom died during his days as a Bruins player. In Neely’s search for something else, he even tried acting. A few commercials (Nike, in particular) came his way during his playing career. His skates hung up, he found it tougher.
“Everything I was in, I got asked to be in. Any time I tried to get in something, I never got it,” he said. “It’s one thing to hear, ‘OK, here’s your lines.’ It’s another thing to go act in front of a couple people.”
Around 2002, Neely found himself in a small room in a New York building, reading for a part in “Hench at Home,” an ABC pilot written by pal Michael J. Fox.
“I went in like, ‘What am I doing here?’ ” Neely recalled with a laugh. “I had a great coach in Mike. I just wasn’t any good.”
Another ex-Bruin, Lyndon Byers, got the part. Neely wound up with a role he never imagined he’d have, but he’s happy to be back on the stage.
WORLD OF HURT
Bad luck for Lauko continues
With his speed and offensive panache, Jakub Lauko profiles as one of Boston’s most intriguing forward prospects. We can only hope we see him in Black and Gold.
The World Junior Championship, which opened Thursday on Lauko’s home turf in the Czech Republic, would have been a perfect showcase for the 2018 third-round pick (77th overall). But Lauko exited just 53 seconds into the Czech Republic’s 4-3 win over Russia. The diagnosis: MCL injury, done for the tournament. Lauko’s legs twisted awkwardly when he took a center-ice hit from Russian forward Dmitri Voronkov, a didn’t-see-it-coming blow not unlike those older Bruins prospect Anders Bjork has learned to avoid, and necessarily so. Even in this new age where head shots are actually penalized (what a concept!), the middle remains the most dangerous area on the sheet.
of crutches and his right knee wrapped and braced, the 19-year-old Lauko returned rinkside to watch his team score an upset win.
“Thank you for all [the] support and kind words,” Lauko tweeted Friday morning. “Unfortunately I’m not able to play at this tournament anymore. But I will come back stronger than ever.”
Lauko’s sunny confidence makes him an enjoyable interview subject. Two years ago in Dallas, he ID’d himself as “one of the fastest players in this draft” and compared himself to Detroit’s Dylan Larkin. Lauko’s swift skating and boldness with the puck make his potential significant. But like Bjork, who plays a similar fast-track game, Lauko has had a rough go of it with injuries.
He was concussed in his first preseason with the Bruins (2018) and again on Dec. 7, when he was stretchered off after taking an elbow to the chin while playing for AHL Providence. He missed 10 days. He also sat a handful of November games this year with upper-body ailments. In his first season as a pro, he has suited up 18 times with the P-Bruins, registering a 4-4—8 line while toiling in coach Jay Leach’s bottom six.
Last season, Lauko helped the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies win the Memorial Cup with 21 goals and 20 assists in 44 games (6-7—13 in 19 playoff games). It’s a shame we didn’t get to see him shine against his peers this time around. But Bjork is more evidence that the developmental road, while often rocky, often smooths in the coming years.
Meanwhile, Lauko’s peers from Bruins development camp, John Beecher and Curtis Hall, are playing for Team USA. Neither registered a point in the opening 6-4 loss to Canada, though Beecher’s speed was noticeable on a line with Canadiens prospect Cole Caulfield (Wisconsin) and Hurricanes prospect Jack Drury (Harvard).
Acciari going on the offensive
What’s next for Noel Acciari?
From plumber to prime-time Panther, the ex-Bruins fourth-liner went into the holiday break leading NHL regulars in shooting percentage (24.5 percent), with a career-high 12 goals on 49 shots. He scored seven of them in six days, including his first two career hat tricks, against Ottawa (Dec. 16) and Dallas (Dec. 20).
Acciari did most of his work around the front of the net — old habits die hard — but showed some shiftiness when he tucked a shorthanded penalty shot between the pads of ex-Bruins teammate Anton Khudobin for his sixth goal in two games.
Seems like a perfect set of circumstances for the gap-toothed favorite son of Johnston, R.I., who is working on a scoring line for the first time in his career. The longer coach Joel Quenneville lets him ride with Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau, the better. The latter posted 92 points last season, and led the Panthers this season with 14-34—48 in 36 games, and the gritty Trocheck put up 75 points two seasons ago before injuries hit.
Acciari, rugged as they come, could help protect and clear space while his scoring touch blossoms. And if the Panthers make the playoffs (5 points out as of Friday), the ex-Providence College captain will tough it out: In Boston’s run to the Cup Final last season, he played through a broken sternum from the second round onward.
Lightning may eventually strike
If you’re looking to sell on the Lightning, go ahead. We’re not doing so here, not yet.
They’re looking much more like the team that lost to Columbus in the first round than last season’s Presidents Trophy winners. They were sixth in the Atlantic Division coming out of the break, haven’t had a great season from Andrei Vasilevskiy (.908 save percentage, after a Vezina-grabbing .925 last season), and coach Jon Cooper has even benched slumping superstar Nikita Kucherov.
There are a few reasons to believe the Bolts can nail down this thing in the second half. First, check the résumés. Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, and yes, Vasilevskiy, are the headliners, and the rest of the roster is deep and capable. Sometimes, established teams with a lot of returning talent realize that April, May, and June are the months they’ll need the ammunition, and don’t fire it all in December. It is understandable if a club that tied the league wins record (62) last year, en route to that four-game sweep, believes in its heart of hearts it should save a few bullets.
The second reason to trust Tampa Bay: Because of a scheduling quirk, no team had played fewer games at the break (35, matched only by the Islanders). Using points percentage as a benchmark, the Lightning (.571) ranked eighth in the East. They had three games in hand on the Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Sabres, two on the Canadiens, and one on the Panthers.
Tkachuk is doing his part
Looking for a reason to watch the Senators? Brady Tkachuk.
The Boston University product, and son of Keith, is showing his diverse toolkit for the moribund club in Ottawa.
At five on five, according to Natural Stat Trick, the second-year winger entered the break leading the league in shot attempts off the rush (14). He was also first in high-danger scoring chances (69). Additionally, no player had created more rebounds (26) for his teammates.
Only three players had drawn more penalties than Tkachuk (15). Only two players had delivered more hits (135). He ranked 42nd in hits taken (60).
Tkachuk ranked 112th in league scoring at the break (13-11—24), behind Columbus castoff Anthony Duclair (21-9—30) and prize rental-to-be Jean-Gabriel Pageau (18-10—28). But there is zero doubt who stirs the Senators’ drink.
Duclair, by the way, has written one of the better come-up stories of the season. He entered the break one goal shy of his career high (22; his best point total is 44). On Dec. 14, his hat trick against the Blue Jackets was a big, fat, how-ya-doing to John Tortorella.
“I don’t think he knows how to play,” the Columbus coach said of Duclair last Feb. 19, before the team shipped him to Ottawa. “It seems to me he’s like a player that just feels he can get the puck because he’s tremendously skilled. He can skate. I just think he thinks he can do whatever the hell he wants to on the ice. He can’t do that in the National Hockey League.
“Here we are on his fourth team with another coach [complaining] about him, scratching him, benching him . . . For me, right now he’s off the rails. I’m not so sure if we’re going to spend a lot more time trying to get him on the rails.”
In the expansion decades, I’d give all-decade nods to the Canadiens (1970s), Oilers (’80s), Penguins (’90s), and Red Wings (2000s). The Habs are an easy call: six Cup titles. As for the Oilers, yes, the Islanders also won four Cup titles and made five Final appearances, but Edmonton had the decade’s best player (he wore No. 99) and the Islanders missed the playoffs one year. Fine. While Detroit barely edged Pittsburgh in wins in the ’90s (418-406) and made one more Final appearance (three), the Red Wings were clearly the winningest team of the ’00s, and I’m not giving them a two-decade run . . . One year ago Sunday morning, the Bruins were trudging along at a relatively uninspired 20-14-4, hanging onto the second wild-card slot by 2 points. Time to make a run. They won their next five games in a row, beginning with Sean Kuraly’s OT winner in Buffalo Dec. 29, and went on additional winning streaks of seven and six games over the following 10 weeks. From Dec. 29 to March 9, they were 22-3-5, and added Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle to the mix. Do they have a stretch like that in them this season? The addition of a third-line center, to push Coyle to the wing, would help . . . Congrats to the Team USA squad, which took gold at the 2019 Deaflympics, held in the Italian Alps region of Valtellina-Valchiavenna. Goalie Jeff Mansfield (Arlington) and defenseman Max Stephens (Medford) helped the Yanks to a 7-3 win over Canada in the final. Assistant coach Tony McGaughey is from Holbrook. The team, funded by the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association through private donations and support from USA Hockey, won gold at the 2017 World Deaf Ice Hockey Championship . . . The stories are legion about the infamous brawl at Madison Square Garden 40 years ago last Monday. Here’s another from Rick Middleton, who detailed what happened after the Bruins grabbed their gear and departed the dressing room: “We went downstairs to get on the bus, and the Ranger fans had gathered outside and were banging on the metal door where we were going to go out,” he said. “We went out a different way, out the back door, and got out of MSG unscathed.” They made it to the gate at JFK for a 12:30 a.m. flight, but two Bruins were missing. “Gilles Gilbert and Dickie Redmond,” Middleton said. “They made the flight, but they didn’t make the bus. That cab must have cost a fortune.”
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattyports. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.