BOSTON - It has been 12 years since Cam Neely first arrived in the Bruins front office. And over that decade-plus as an executive, he has lived through countless memorable moments, including three trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Black & Gold's latest quest for a title begins on Monday night with Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues. With the Final slowly, but surely, inching closer, the Bruins president took to the podium on Friday morning at TD Garden to provide his thoughts on the state of the organization.
With those three Stanley Cup Final appearances in nine seasons and 10 postseason trips during his tenure, first as vice president (2007-10) and now as president of the organization, Neely was asked what has led to so much success under his watch.
"Well, you have to have some luck, but more importantly it's having good people in place," said Neely, who won the Cup during his first season as president in 2011. "I'm not a micromanager. I want the people we hire to do their jobs, and if they don't do their jobs then we'll have a discussion. Or if they're not doing their jobs to the best of their ability, then we'll have a discussion, not unlike a coach talking to a player.
"For me, it's about trying to find the best people and let them go to work and do their jobs. I think I've been fortunate to work with a lot of really great people on the hockey side and a lot of really good people on the business side…it's about having conversations.
"It's not just about putting out fires. It's about constant communication, conversations, whether it's with [general manager Don Sweeney], the coaching staff. That's one of the reasons I like to travel with the team because you have more opportunity to talk with players and coaches than you normally do at home."
Video: Neely addresses media Friday Morning at TD Garden
Neely's proximity to the team has given him an up-close look at how Boston's veteran core conducts itself, both on and off the ice. With Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara leading the way, the Hall of Fame winger knows his team's young players are in great hands.
"Obviously, being around for as many years as I have, you get to know them as people and not just what they do on the ice," said Neely. "It's really a great group of guys. The leadership that they have and how they have mentored a number of players throughout the years has been impressive to me."
Neely believes that having "quality people" throughout every ring of the organization, not just on the ice, has been crucial to the achievements the franchise has attained over the last decade.
"Not just the players, but the staff, the coaching staff, trainers, our staff in the office," said Neely. "I want to make sure we have good quality people that care about each other, care about the success for each other. It's not a silo mentality. We're all pulling on the same rope, the same way."
That kind of approach is, without a doubt, appealing to the players on the ice and a major reason why the likes of Chara, Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak have elected to stay in Boston for the long term, even if it means leaving money on the table elsewhere.
"It says a lot about them as people, and it says a lot about the city, to live here and raise a family, and it says a lot about what we're doing to help them try to win Stanley Cups," said Neely. "I think all those three things are factors in why players choose to sign long-term. For the most part - we talk about this - players get their money wherever they play, but what else is being offered to them? Not necessarily what they can put in the bank, but how can we make them better players."
More from Neely's session with the media on Friday morning:
Learning from Loss: Neely twice made it to the Stanley Cup Final as a player with the Bruins, but fell short in both 1988 and 1990 with losses to the Edmonton Oilers. Sweeney was also part of the second loss, which Neely believes still provides some lessons even in their current roles.
"If you can't win it wearing skates, it's OK in a suit," Neely said with a smile. "Obviously, as a player that's what you want to do. You want to win a Stanley Cup. And we had a couple of opportunities. Unfortunately, we fell short. So, you learn from those experiences and hopefully we can take some of that experience and apply it in the jobs we have now."
One of the major shortcomings during those Stanley Cup losses was a lack of depth, Neely said. Applying that lesson to this year's team, Sweeney added Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson at the trade deadline, as well as Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom, and Jaroslav Halak during free agency last summer, to deepen Boston's lineup.
"You get to be an age after you played, you're retired, and you have these what ifs - and there's no question, we look at the years '88 and '90, more particularly than '88," said Neely. "I thought if we had a little bit more depth we might have had a better chance to win, so those are things that stick with you for sure. And then when you get in a position like we're in to craft a lineup, you talk about depth and how do we get that depth."
City Success: Neely was certainly impressed with the crowd that showed up for Thursday night's scrimmage at TD Garden.
"We're very fortunate to be in a city like this that has had success with all the teams in the past dozen years or so," said Neely. "Hockey has been a big part of this region for many years. I mean, obviously, an Original 6 franchise, so there's roots that are deeply set, but nothing beats winning. Everybody likes to watch good sports, and they love a winning team."