BOSTON - Several hundred Bruins season ticket holders gathered at TD Garden on Saturday morning, prior to Boston's 6-3 win over Philadelphia, for a State of the Bruins discussion with general manager Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely.
The traditional event, which usually takes place before the season, was not held this season due to conflicts with the World Cup of Hockey and the opening of Warrior Ice Arena, the Bruins' new practice facility in Brighton.
Sweeney and Neely, joined by emcees Bob Beers and Andy Brickley, spoke for roughly an hour, touching on a number of subjects relating to the organization and the National Hockey League.
"There's no better support in the league than what we get in Boston," said Neely. "Our expectations are high here and you guys push us, which we relish. I hope we can deliver what you guys are looking for.
"We're not sitting up here happy with the situation we've been in the last few years. Last year was extremely frustrating, we had 86 points with 13 games to go and we miss out on those playoffs.
"We talk about making the playoffs…we don't just want to be a playoff team, we want to compete for the Cup and bring home another Cup for all of our great fans."
Here are some of the other topics they covered:
The Bruins were 17-18-6 at TD Garden last season and are 10-10-0 at home this season.
Don Sweeney: "We need to do a better job in front of each and every one of you with our home record. We currently sit in second place in the Atlantic, but we feel that we've left some points on the table. The last two seasons, in particular, we haven't played as well as we're capable of in front of you. In our own building, we're tracking at 47 or 48 percent of the points available, versus 61 [on the road]."
Cam Neely: "It's been a year-and-half below par for us. It's been disappointing from our perspective; I know it's been disappointing from your perspective. I know the players think about, they're frustrated with it. I think on the road you play a little simpler game…we want to do well in front of your fans and have a great home record. Sometimes when you worry too much about that, you start thinking instead of just reacting and playing."
The Bruins have had eight players make their NHL debuts this season: Brandon Carlo, Austin Czarnik, Danton Heinen, Rob O'Gara, Zane McIntyre, Sean Kuraly, Anton Blidh, and Matt Grzelcyk.
Sweeney: "You're seeing the integration of our younger players. There are very few teams that are veteran across the board. That is a philosophical shift, all the coaches had to adjust to those things…You never want to rush players, a player dictates when he is ready to play quality minutes. Brandon Carlo is probably the best example of that this year. We didn't pencil him, we said, 'At some point in time, we think he'll have the opportunity if he plays well.' And lo and behold, in training camp, he just kept getting better. At times, he's had some growing pains…we've managed his minutes at times and he's handled it very well."
Offensive Struggles; Defensive Prowess
Despite scoring 19 goals over their last five games, including Saturday's 6-3 win over Philadelphia, the Bruins have struggled offensively for much of the season. Boston ranks 22nd in the league in goals per game (2.50). Defensively, meanwhile, the Bruins are fifth in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.43)
Sweeney: "It doesn't matter how they go in, there are no pictures on the scorecard at the end of the night. We have to find a way to score enough goals to win hockey games without sacrificing the structure that you know we need every night."
Neely: "Last year, we struggled defensively, we struggled in net, we were scoring goals. This year we're not scoring goals. We didn't have that expectation that we'd struggle to score goals. For the most part we out-chance every team, we just can't find the back of the net for whatever reason…It's frustrating for all of us, because we feel we have guys in our lineup who can produce consistently. Hopefully, that's starting to come.
"Our power-play is starting click [goals in nine of 12 games], that struggled mightily at the beginning of the year. Our penalty kill [86.2%, 2nd in NHL] has been unbelievable, our team defense has done really well, our goaltending has been outstanding, as far as Tuukka [Rask] is concerned."
Fighting in the NHL
In late December, Bruins defensemen Adam McQuaid had two fights broken up by linesmen before they could begin. During the second incident, McQuaid took a number of blows to the face after being tied up by the official.
Neely: "That was frustrating for all of us to see that happen. I know it [stunk] for Adam because he took a couple. Don and I both spoke to the league separately about that incident. In all honesty, they weren't happy. That's not something they want to see happen. I know that I've seen over the course of this year linesmen are trying to step in, but at times that could cause a problem for the linesman and then the player gets in trouble because the linesman is coming in and he pops the linesman. And then you saw what happened to Adam, which you never want to see happen to one of your players.
"I've never liked staged fighting and I think that's gone away, but I think there's still an element of our sport that you see two guys get upset about something and they drop their gloves…the physical part of our sport is liked here in Boston. I love the contact of our sport.
"At the board meetings I've attended, there hasn't been any conversation where we're telling the linesmen to get in front of the players if there's going to be a fight."
The Bye Week
Each team has a bye week this season, further condensing a schedule that was already tight because of the World Cup of Hockey.
Sweeney: "We played five games in seven night and two other weeks we played four games in six nights. Chicago has played a very similar schedule and they've handled it better… I think it was ill conceived as to how to implement it. Along with the World Cup and CBA-mandated days off during the week, I think it presented a challenge that wasn't as well thought out as it could have been. I don't think it's going away because the players are looking forward to it. As a player you get to shut it down and step away, and as ex-players you probably say I'm for it. But the impact, in terms of what it has done to the schedule, has been dramatic and they need to figure that out."
Neely: "No [not a fan of the bye week], not at all. Maybe when I played. Especially when you couple that with the World Cup. I think it was an oversight. This isn't football when it's one game a week. You have a bye week, you have a team that can play four games in a week. There's a lot of teams that have games in hand on us for a reason. I am absolutely not for the bye week."
With the Vegas Golden Knights joining the NHL for next season, an expansion draft will be held in June to stock the team's roster. Each team in the league will have to expose players to the draft.
Sweeney: "We're actually in a very good position. There's two ways to look at your expansion protection list, you can either do a 10-player or an eight-player. Most teams would have what they would consider four coveted defensemen, maybe they would have to go with four forwards and four defensemen. Most teams would go the 10-player-route, which is going to be seven forwards and three defensemen. You always have to protect a goaltender and expose a goaltender. One of the interesting caveats, you better follow the rules because if you do not it's a first-round draft choice.
"It takes three years to be exposed, so any player that has not accumulated three years of professional service is exempt. So we have a tremendous amount of young players that will fall into that category.
"We do have players that will be exposed. Whether or not they're selected is up to Vegas."