One of the many reasons Cam Neely forever rates among our most beloved Boston athletes is because he wasn’t above acting on an impulse.
Jeez, look at Claude Lemieux retreat into his shell. Pathetic. Then there’s the sinister Ulf Samuelsson, who hopefully swallowed an upper cut or two in Neely’s best attempt at vengeance.
There are other reasons Boston adores Neely — the talent/toughness combo that embodies Bruins hockey, the 50 goals in 39 games, his charitable side, that he helped bring the Stanley Cup back to the city as an executive. But that competitiveness — still evident whenever his reaction is shown after an important play — remained right there at the top of the list in his fifth season as president of the Bruins.
This time, however, he cannot allow his desire to win manifest itself in an acted-upon impulse. He should not fire coach Claude Julien. He should not fire general manager Peter Chiarelli. And if Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs suggests he do so, he should resist following through until the suggestion becomes a command.
I understand the natural inclination after the Bruins’ disappointing season, punctuated with an abysmal final week in which a probable playoff berth bounced away like a puck careening off Daniel Paille’s stick, is to change what can be changed. Usually that means the coach and/or the general manager, and Julien and Chiarelli certainly warrant some blame.
Julien too often coaches like a 0-0 score would be a victory, trusting the responsible, limited likes of Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell rather than letting talented young forwards such as Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak play through their miscues. It’s maddening, and asking whether his coaching style meshes with the skills his players is a legitimate question.
Chiarelli’s mistakes and weaknesses are even more obvious. The Johnny Boychuk deal took the wind out of the team right before the season even began. It was necessitated by some dubious contracts Chiarelli has awarded through the seasons to non-essential players such as Kelly. Jarome Iginla, the first-line replacement for Nathan Horton a year ago, was never replaced himself. Tyler Seguin haunted from afar. The farm system, after a scouting department shakeup, only now has begun delivering the requisite low-cost talent every contender needs.
Julien and Chiarelli are far from perfect, which makes them exactly like every other coach/GM combo in the NHL. Their track record — which included seven straight playoff appearances, one Stanley Cup Final loss and one exhilarating championship — suggests they’re more equipped for success than virtually any combination Neely and Jacobs might bring in.
One reader suggested replacing Julien with John Tortorella. C’mon. That’s the hockey equivalent of swapping out Terry Francona for Bobby Valentine.
No one wants to use injuries as an excuse, but in this case, they are not an excuse. They are a reason. Zdeno Chara, the fulcrum of the defense, was never right after suffering a knee injury. Given that he trains by — I believe I have this right — running up Mount Everest and power-lifting Sherpas, I believe he’ll return to form next year, even at age 39.
Nearly as important, the forever unsung David Krejci — the postseason scoring leader during both runs to the Cup Finals — missed 35 games. The Bruins went 16-13-6 without Krejci and 25-14-8 with him.
Two of their most essential players were not their usual selves. A healthy Chara and Krejci next season make this a far better team. There will be changes — Julien binkies Campbell and Paille will not return, and trading the inconsistent Milan Lucic makes sense. But there remains a talented core, beginning with elite performers Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron.
I recognize that keeping Julien and Chiarelli — and I am more adamant about the former than the latter — is hardly going to appease the masses right now.
But the status quo is the way to go. I do not believe he has lost the room — this is not Darryl Sutter being barricaded out of the locker room by his Kings players.
This is a smart, self-aware coach whose message will still get through. Julien has lost jobs before, and he has been close to losing this job before. Had the Bruins lost to Montreal in 2011, he’d have been gone. Instead, they won in seven games — and went on to win the Stanley Cup. He’d be hired in a second if the Bruins fired him.
A good team had a bad season. That goes for the Bruins roster. It also applies to the coach/GM tandem.
Julien and Chiarelli have done it right many times before. They should get a chance to do so again, after this aggravating outlier.
One lost season should not equate to two lost jobs. Resist the impulse, Cam.