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Neely: 'Team Will Take Hard Look at Roster This Offseason'

Bruins president reflects on 2019-20 season, looks ahead to future

by Eric Russo @erusso22 / BostonBruins.com

BostonBruins.com - Bruins president Cam Neely held his annual end-of-season press conference on Thursday afternoon and acknowledged that the hockey operations staff will take a long look at ways to improve the club after its second-round exit earlier this month.

Neely added that discussions have been ongoing even before Boston was eliminated from the postseason in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We've certainly had a lot of conversations in the bubble. A lot of time to have hockey talk, for sure," said Neely. "We have to be careful, too, because we have to look at the regular season we had prior to the pause - [it] was far different than how we played [in] the postseason. We also have to recognize the team that beat us and see where we stack up against those elite teams in the league, which I felt we were one of those elite teams this year."

The B's boss also noted that the uncertainty of the offseason and when the 2020-21 campaign might begin creates a number of unanswered questions about how the Bruins are able to build the roster.

"That doesn't mean that we can't take a hard look at our roster and our organization and see where we should be going for this next year or two," said Neely. "That's what my message has been, 'Let's really take a look and see where we're going to be. Can we compete for the Stanley Cup and if everyone feels we can compete for the Stanley Cup, what do we have to do to get back to that final twosome and have a legitimate shot to win?'"

Video: Neely addresses media on Thursday afternoon

Neely also touched on a number of other topics during his 20-minute session with the media:

On Zdeno Chara's desire to return…

From Day 1 since he came here, he brought a lot of stability back on the blue line, in the locker room, the leadership goes without saying. He's mentored a lot of defensemen over the years and he's continued to do that. He has a great quality about him, his work ethic is second to none, and I think it's important for our players over the years to see what it takes to play in the National Hockey League with someone that really had to get to a point to be one of the top defenseman in the League, where when he first broke in no one was thinking that. No one was thinking he's going to play until he's 43 or 44, so that's a testament on his commitment and desire. We have to look at where we're headed, what we need, and what role Zdeno can play for us.

On Chara's evolving role…

He's a proud man. When he was taken off the first unit of the power play, I don't think he was happy about it, but he understood it was probably best for the team. And then he wasn't on the second unit, I don't think he was happy about that. But that's how proud he is. What I do know, he wants to be the best defender out there. He's unbelievable on the penalty kill still. It's something that he takes a lot of pride in. As any athlete that has all kinds of pride like Zdeno, it's tough at times to have change.

On Torey Krug being an unrestricted free agent…

I understand the player side. Being a player, you certainly understand where the players' heads are at times and I don't begrudge Torey if we can't work something out that makes sense for him and his family. I do not begrudge him for looking to see if he can get a better deal elsewhere.

We love Torey. We love what he's brought to the organization both on and off the ice. He's turned into a fabulous leader for us. But at the end of the day, both sides have to do what they feel is right, us for the organization and Torey for him and his family.

On Tuukka Rask…

Well, everybody has issues away from their job and Tuukka is no different than most of us. So, it's just a matter of how he feels like he's got to handle it and we are going to have to react accordingly. Tuukka has been a fantastic goaltender for us for a number of years. He's still got a lot of good goaltending left in him. It's just unfortunate the timing of [him leaving the bubble], but there's not much we could have done about that.

On adding players from outside the organization…

Well, I mean, we're going to take a look, for sure. But like I said earlier, I think we have to figure out who in our organization that's maybe playing in Providence, are they ready to take a step? Can they take a step? We need to find out if they can take that step. First and foremost, I think we have to really assess that, and then at the same time we can look and see who's available and does it fit for us.

On if the team has enough size and physicality…

I think we know we have to look at both, to be honest with you. I think internally we have to see if someone can make the next step like a [Trent] Frederic, for example, if he can play on a regular basis in our lineup. [Nick] Ritchie, I think, was the add that we thought was going to be helpful in the forward group that added some size, but unfortunately, we didn't really get as many reps with him as we would have liked. But it's something we're certainly talking about since we've left the bubble…what does our roster makeup need to look like moving forward?

On his takeaways from the two playoff series…

The Carolina series, that was very fast skating game in and game out. Every shift, it was a quick hockey game. I thought we did ok with that. Then we got to Tampa, which is a very, very strong hockey club. I just look at the size of their D and for us to try and get inside the dots was a little more challenging. We refused to shoot the puck and when we did shoot the puck, we missed the net. So, we made it a little bit easier on their D than what we could have. Having said that, we have to get inside the dots more than we did that last series.

On if the Bruins could be a cap team next year…

Yeah, we could be. I mean, it's just a matter of do we want to be and where we're at and what's going to happen next year. Until we find out really, though, when are we starting? How many games is the season going to be? That's going to be a factor in some decisions that we're going to make. But we may not have that luxury to make those decisions, so we'll have to go that we're playing a full 82-game schedule and we're going to try and put the best team on the ice that we can. The ownership has been very supportive even during these uncertain times here. They've been very supportive of making sure that we have the ability to put the best team on the ice that we can.

On where the team can improve…

I think we've got to try to produce a little more 5-on-5, especially in the playoffs. Obviously, the specialty teams are key, but we didn't really generate enough chances 5-on-5, and when we did, we had a tough time burying them. Like I said earlier, I think getting inside the dots in the offensive zone was a little challenging for us. It's attributed to the fact that [the Lightning] also have a really good set of D back there and also, like I said, that we refused to shoot the puck to get their D turning. And then when we did shoot the puck, it seemed to be high and wide and out very simply. We didn't really have those second and third opportunities that we were having during the regular season.

On the core group and its effect on the short-term roster decisions…

It does play a factor. We've got some guys that have played a lot of good hockey for us, a lot of years for us. Their careers are somewhat winding down and we have to really take a hard look at where we are as an organization. Can we compete for a Stanley Cup? And if we can, what do we have to do to our roster to do that? So, we have to really be honest with ourselves in assessing our team and assessing our players in the organization. See where we think we really are going to be. We have to be as honest, as brutally honest as possible about where we think we're going to be in the next couple years and we have to react accordingly to that.

On if the team can compete for the Stanley Cup next season…

I think it's one of those things where, I have to weigh - and I think we all have to weigh - what our regular season was prior to the pause and then what happened at training camp, missing our two top right wingers, couldn't work on the power play because of that. Or couldn't work on it effectively because of that. Some guys were not 100% during the playoffs. You have to look at that as well.

We lost Tuukka, so that's a factor. I think losing your No. 1 goaltender in the playoffs is probably the toughest position to lose. I'm not taking anything away from Jaro [Halak] but that's just the facts. I think we have to look at all those things and really assess properly and not be reactionary to what happened the last series. We have to keep in mind and be open and honest about what we looked like against Tampa.

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