Naturally, the overwhelming feeling is disappointment, as was shown by the players, and from General Manager Peter Chiarelli and Head Coach Claude Julien on May 16, as they all gathered for exit meetings and their final interviews with reporters.
The regular season was the most consistent this group has seen in their tenure; the postseason was not.
Now, the focus is on evaluation and making the necessary adjustments to continue building around a strong core that is set on bringing the Cup back to Boston.
"Well, we still have to sit down with our group and talk about the season and what our team will look like moving forward," said Neely.
"Again, we’ve built a pretty good team, a successful team. This year is probably especially disappointing because of the regular season that we had, and how we felt that we could be more successful in the playoffs. So, again, we will get together shortly and meet as a group and talk about what we think we need to do to improve."
Neely, Chiarelli and their group have always stressed the need to assess all options around the team, whether that be re-signing players, acquiring pieces via trade or exploring free agency. It also doesn't need to all happen during the summer; moves can be made in the fall, and then closing in on the trade deadline next spring.
"Well I think we look at, really, making our team – we did have a great regular season, we fell short in the second round which disappoints everybody so we want to reevaluate where we think we could improve upon and look at that as opposed to major overhauls," said Neely.
"I think when we have the regular season we had, especially the stretch from March in to April, that wasn’t luck. We were a good team and we still feel we have a good team, and maybe need a few tweaks."
That was the same sentiment expressed by Chiarelli and Julien, and Owner Jeremy Jacobs gives his backing to all three, as well as the rest of the management group.
"This was sort of a tale of two seasons," said Jacobs. "One of them, I mean, we had the best team in the National Hockey League during the regular season and it was our expectation to carry that on fully and it didn’t happen. I have a great deal of confidence in the management."
"As they look to organize this going forward, I don’t think they are looking at a massive change. I think they are looking at tweaking it as opposed to doing any serious change. I think keeping the organization together is one of their objectives and two is to improve on it."
The 2013-14 version in Black & Gold still boasted 13 players from the 2011 Cup team.
The 66 playoff games played by Boston over the past four postseasons are the most of any team over that span. The LA Kings are the next team behind Boston, with 59 playoff games since 2010-11 heading into Game 2 of the Western Conference Final against Chicago on May 21.
"I have a tremendous amount of confidence in our on-ice leadership and off-the-ice leadership," said Charlie Jacobs. "A lot of character in our dressing room, and it starts with Zee, but listen, there are a lot of complementary pieces, and when you consider Patrice and Krech, and we may have lost something with Andy Ference but we picked it up with Jarome. There's a lot of character and leadership, and they held each other accountable."
"In their exit interviews, they all felt as though they maybe didn’t necessarily play their best, but they let the team down, and that meant more to them than, say, their individual stats, and I think that speaks volumes about the mentality in the locker room itself, and that’s what you aspire to have."
"In terms of our organizational leadership…they’ve done a great job of really trying to assemble a mixture of both veteran and some young leadership to bring us back to the promised land, if you will. And you need that mix. You need the right mix."
"So listen, I have great faith in both aspects," he continued, on both the management group, and the players. "I do believe we’ll be right back there. I expect that we’ll be back there."
Both groups hold themselves accountable.
In the series against Montreal, there was a perceived lack of focus from a veteran group built to go far in the postseason, whether it was with on-ice or off-ice distractions. They didn't play their best. The Bruins all put that on their shoulders.
"Well, I think when you see all of those things happen, there is some concern about, we’ve got to get back to where we’d like to be as an organization," said Neely. "And those are things – you know, when you have the passion, when you have the physicality of the way we play and certain players, and the drive and determination, yeah, you can harness that a little differently than what we showed, there’s no question."
Altogether though, this an experienced group led by Zdeno Chara, and a core coming into their prime with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Tuukka Rask. Their window of opportunity to win the Cup is still open.
"I feel, because of the way we played in the regular season, we haven’t fallen off the cliff," said Neely. "We didn’t play as well as we needed to play in the second round, and from my perspective, as a group, we didn’t play the way we were playing in March and in April."
"We still have our core group. Aside from maybe Zee, our core group is still relatively young. You’re talking mid- to late-twenties, maybe. And Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game. So I still think we’re in our window."
"We just have to recognize what we need to do to make our team better, whether it’s guys playing better or whether we’re adding different players."
As has been the norm, the Bruins will have the ability to spend to the cap. The upper limit for the 2014-15 cap won't be set until the end of June, but it has been projected to be in the $69-71 million range, up from the $64.3 million it was for 2013-14. The Bruins will face overages due to bonuses on contracts (Chiarelli has labeled it as "paying it forward"), but management will have the space to work with, should they choose to use it.
"Ownership has — both Mr. Jacobs and Charlie — have given us the opportunity to spend to the cap," said Neely. "We’re going to have a little different — our cap number’s going to be a little different than what the league cap number is, based on bonuses carrying forward, but we’re given the opportunity to spend to the cap, if we feel it’s necessary to do that, which we also believe helps us have a better, competitive team."
"It's more evolutionary than revolutionary, in the sense that you evolve these teams," said Jeremy Jacobs. "You evolve these players and have the opportunity to do it. It’s a team sport, not so much a star sport."
"So I think what you’re seeing is what I consider to be an extraordinarily well-managed team."
And, as always, heading into an offseason of evaluation preparing for 2014-15, the goal remains the same.
"Our objective is the Cup, it isn’t necessarily to have the best team during the regular season, as it is to win the Stanley Cup," said Jacobs. "We will continue that objective, and we will continue to grow from here."