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Town Hall Q&A: Bruins President Cam Neely

In discussion with season ticket holders, he talks NHL pause, playing days, and more

by Eric Russo @erusso22 / BostonBruins.com

BostonBruins.com - Bruins president Cam Neely joined season ticket holders for a virtual town hall on Thursday evening to discuss all the latest on the NHL's pause, a potential return to play, and much more in a 30-minute discussion via Zoom. Here's a full rundown of the Q&A. 

ON THE NHL PAUSE

What are your days like right now?

It's really a new way of life of communicating to the hockey ops group, the scouts, who are all over the globe. But Zoom or Team from the hockey ops perspective is a great way for us to connect, stay connected. The calls and Zoom meetings have decreased a little bit, but I have weekly calls with the league on Monday, there's a certain group. Tuesday there's not a group, Wednesday is another group. We're just trying to keep everyone informed as best we can and try to understand where we're headed and what's going on from the league's perspective.

How are the players dealing emotionally with the pause of the season?

I think it's very frustrating, especially when you're having a good season like us as a team and then some of the players are having really good years individually. As a player, I hope that they set individual goals as well as team goals and I'm sure some of our guys had individual goals that they wanted to accomplish this year. We all have a team goal that we want to accomplish and we were tracking towards that. In that regard, I think it's been a little disappointing for the playres, but I also know that they're champing at the bit to get back at it.

How much input is the NHL taking from the clubs?

I think what happens is they present these ideas to us in a group and then I think guys digest them internally and then we'll circle back with either [NHL commissioner] Gary [Bettman] or [deputy commissioner] Bill [Daly] individually as a team and kind of run through what we think are some pros and cons of some of the ideas that are being tossed out. They do want it to be a collaborative effort amongst the member clubs. They're not just saying this is what we're gonna do and this is how it's gonna be. They do want that input from the clubs.

What is the coaching staff doing to prepare for a potential resumption of play?

One of the things I know the coaches are doing is they are all studying video of our potential first-round matchup, for sure. They are certainly going wider than that. But they're looking at the teams that we could potentially play in the first round, breaking down those videos and not only the games we played against them but games they've played in. Obviously we want to look at everybody in our division and conference. This does give the coaching staff a little bit more time to really break down video which they are really taking advantage of.

Have you had contact with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh or Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker?

I talk to the Mayor quite often. I actually spoke to him today. I talk to him on a regular basis just to get an idea of what's happening in the city. Obviously the city follows for the most part what happens in the state. But I'm in constant contact more-so with the Mayor than the Governor.

How will this affect the Bruins' trip to Germany and the Czech Republic scheduled for the start of the 2020-21 season?

I think there's a good chance that might get postponed based on looking at possibly playing into July, even August. If that's the case, there's no question the season is gonna get delayed a little bit the following season. If it does get postponed, we would welcome going there the following year.

Video: Cam Neely Does a Q&A With STHs During Happy Hour

ON A POTENTIAL RETURN TO PLAY

What could the continuation of this season look like?

Everything is on the table now based on the conversations I've had with the league. Obviously we have to wait and see what happens nationally and North America-wise. I can tell you this, both the players and the owners want to do everything possible to try to get this season completed. If that means playing into the summer, we're all willing to do that. Obviously that would mean pushing the next season back a little bit. They feel there's an opportunity to push next season back and still get an 82-game schedule in the following year. We're trying to be as patient as possible.

The players are doing everything they can right now to keep themselves in the best shape as they can before we hopefully get back to training and some kind of training camp where we can get back on the ice. Everything is on the table to try to get this season completed, which is exciting for us. I know our players are very excited about it based on where we finished when the pause took place and the potential that our group has.

What will the ramp up strategy be if the season resumes?

Well, we're really gonna have to wait and see. This is what I've been told. If and when we get the green light, the players will have a few days to get into the facilities, work out a little bit, maybe get on the ice on their own and then they are talking about a potential three-week training camp, maybe a little less for the players to really get into the best game condition they can. After that, you're talking about to finish the regular season might take another three weeks. Because of the pause and what's happened with the American Hockey League, we are gonna be able to have more players around, our Black Aces if you will. We'll see how the schedule really lays out before we can really decide what we're gonna do with rest and recovery.

How do you think the club will respond when play resumes?

You mean like what Brad [Marchand] said about older teams having a problem…I don't know. I just think our group, especially the veteran guys are so professional and they all realize that their careers are ticking down, they've played more years than they have in front of them. They see the opportunity here. My guess is because of the group that we have and the opportunity that's in front of us and how many years they feel they may have left to compete, they'd be ready to go.

Is it a possibility to play games with only a quarter of the building full?

They've talked about everything. Playing in front of no fans, playing in front of half a building, quarter of a building, what it would take. Not only are we following what's going on nationally, but state by state could be different restrictions so they're looking at that. When the time comes, they'll certainly look at what the state restrictions are, what the city restrictions are and see what we can do. Obviously the most fun is to play in front of the fans. That's what the players would prefer. But having said that, if it gets to a point where we can play hockey games without fans and get the season going, I can see the league recommending that course of action.

When fans are starting to be allowed back in the building, will season ticket holders be the first ones back?

Absolutely. Of course.

Could you envision a scenario where there are centralized locations for a return to play?

I think that's going to be predicated upon the regions and the cities and states, what the restrictions may be. If we're doing it without fans they're gonna try to make it the best TV, programming event possible. If that's the case you may see different camera angles because you'll be able to bring the cameras down a little lower than you normally would because there's no fans in the way. I think you're looking at how we can bring the game on TV a little differently than you see now. It's not a bad idea to just drop ship the teams in, keep them quarantined in hotels and bringing them to games, as long as everybody is taking care of themselves. In that regard, I think it probably gives you a little better opportunity to finish out the regular season in that respect.

Is it still a priority to make sure there is an 82-game schedule next season?

Absolutely. They do not want to compromise next year's schedule either. Knowing that this year's already been compromised to a degree and will probably look differently when we get up and running possibly. But they don't want to compromise next year. They do feel like they could start later and not compromise the amount of games played.

How will the NHL deal with players that have gone back to their home countries?

That's a good question. There's thoughts of if we have any kind of whiff of we're gonna get going to try and get those players back in North America. Obviously they would have to be quarantined for a couple weeks prior to getting involved with the team. We've got to stay ahead of that.

Has there been talk about altering the playoff format?

I have not heard that. I know that's been out there in the media, but any calls that I've been on with the league, they have not mentioned shortening the playoff rounds at all.

How would you feel about the season going right into the playoffs with no regular season or exhibition games?

I don't think that would happen. I don't think the players would welcome that at all. I think you're gonna need to play some games. It's no different than finishing the season if you were going to the Finals last year, getting some time. You do want to get back in some form of a camp and play some games. I would be concerned about player safety if that was the case.

ON THE NHL DRAFT AND FREE AGENCY

Is your preference to have the NHL Draft in June or have it pushed back?

Good question. There's so many little nuances and some complications that they still have to work through because there are a lot of trades that happen at the deadline that are contingent on what happens with that team in the playoffs or maybe with that player in the playoffs. It could affect the draft choice. There's a lot of things to work out to be able to have the Draft prior to finding out who the Stanley Cup champion is because it could affect some of the transactions that have already taken place.

How is the team preparing for this year's NHL Draft?

Well, it's no different. Normally, we sit in a big conference room for two or three days, eight hours a day where you start by leagues, then you try to rank everybody by the league, then you try to put together an overall list and you go through that. There's always juggling going on. The list is really never finalized until you get to the draft table. Sometimes even then you're looking at different things, depends on who is picking in front of you and who they may have picked compared to who you have left on your list. It hasn't really changed all that much about getting prepared and working on the list and getting the list as tuned up as everybody feels it needs to be.

How will this impact free agency?

The league right now is looking at all of those critical dates. Obviously it will be interesting if we're playing hockey and you don't adjust those critical dates where you could be playing Round 2 at the end of July with an unrestricted free agent on your team. I think they've got some work to do to try to figure out the critical dates and how to adjust those properly.

Will this stoppage in play affect the salary cap and roster makeup in future years?

There's no question this is gonna affect the cap for next year. It may even affect it a little bit after that. But I think [Bruins general manger Don Sweeney] and our group here has done a nice job of projecting forward what we may need to do to keep I competitive team on the ice and being mindful of maybe a flat cap for a year or two.

Has anything been put on hold in terms of integrating Seattle into the league in 2021?

Not as of now, no.They waited to pick that time frame because of the CBA agreement which now I don't think is gonna be an issue with Seattle coming in. The expansion draft is still supposedly moving forward when that was scheduled. Right now, I think they're more focused on what's going to happen for the remainder of this year.

ON THE 2019-20 BRUINS

How would you evaluate the Bruins' season to this point?

I think we had a couple of dips, but for the most part I thought we were fairly consistent. I thought the way we were playing at home is the way we want to play at home to try and take advantage of you great fans that are in the building that give it such a great atmosphere to play in front of. I felt like when you can really pick up some points at home where you should it gives you a chance to have a strong season. So our home record, I was very happy with. Obviously we've had a strong road record as well. I think a lot of guys take pride in picking up points on the road. And our specialty teams have been, for the most part, fairly consistent all year. I know throughout the course of the season you're gonna have some inconsistency not only individually but as a team. But I think for the most part over this year we've been fairly consistent which is the sign of a strong team.

Which young players have taken the biggest jump this year?

I was really anxious to see what Anders was gonna do, only because of not playing a lot of hockey the last couple of years because of injuries. He's got a nice skillset for today's game. He skates really well, he sees the ice well, he just hasn't played some games. I thought his game was starting to come along. Obviously the consistency with [Patrice] Bergeron, [Brad] Marchand, and [David] Pastrnak has probably taken his game to another level, both defensively and offensively. Some of the guys that we've plugged in like [Jeremy] Lauzon, I was happy to see how he's developed for us. [Connor] Clifton, he's a guy that came in and gave us some really good games. For the most part, those are the guys that I really look towards and see how they're developing because the majority of the roster we've seen. With Jake [DeBrusk], I think he's working on and he understands to be a little bit more consistent throughout the year, he's a little streakier of a player. But I think he recognizes to take that next step he's got to be a little bit more consistent which is something I look for him to be improving on.

ON HIS CAREER

Is it possible to pick out your favorite game or experience as both a player and executive?

As an executive, you guys just watched it the other night - Game 7 in the Finals in Vancouver. As a player, obviously we lost twice in 1988 and 1990 to Edmonton. But I think beating Montreal in the playoffs, I think it was 45 years…I just know what it meant to the city and meant to the organization. That was an exciting time as a player.

Who was the toughest opponent you fought in your career?

Joey Kocur, I fought him early in my career in Vancouver. Thankfully he hit my helmet because he split my helmet, went right down the middle with a punch. This guy had quite a punch that he was packing. You didn't see him that much, thankfully for me.

What was your favorite line that you were a part of?

The one that probably didn't get as much time together as I would have liked was with Adam Oates and Joe Juneau. They both were great playmakers and very smart hockey players, great hockey IQ. I would have loved to play more games together with those guys.

Who was the toughest goalie you ever faced?

I really had a problem with a goalie that caught with the right hand, which was rare - Grant Fuhr. Marty Brodeur, he was very difficult, was a good goaltender. It was hard for me to understand and pick his game apart to see where I could maybe get one by him. But those two guys really were the tougher goalies for me to face.

OFF THE ICE

Did you watch the 2011 Zoom reunion? And what did it say about that team's chemistry?

I had the game on, I didn't have the YouTube channel on, but I was following via social. I understand there was some colorful language. But we were excited that the players were very interested in doing this for our fans and their fans. It was a magical ride as we all remember. That Zoom call that all the players were on probably gave you some glimpse of what a locker room atmosphere might be like. I's been talked about a lot about what kind of a group that was and how special it was, what they were able to accomplish. Those guys will be tight forever, that's what happens.

What stands out to you the most about the 2011 team?

First, it's really the Montreal series I think, How we battled back from where we were at the start of that series. Winning Game 7s, you always look at those as maybe a coin flip no matter where you're playing them. You know you're gonna go up against a goalie that could get hot like we saw in the first period against St. Louis last year. We could have easily been up 2-0 or even 3-0 after the first. Just to accomplish what they did in those Game 7s and then how we regrouped in the Montreal series.

You host Comics Come Home every year. Who is your favorite comedian besides Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke?

There's so many of them that have come to Comics Come Home that are fantastic. Steven Wright was here this past year. I think he's fantastic. You've got to really pay attention because he's very dry. You've got to pay attention to what he's saying and his sense of humor. And I love Bill Burr. I think Bill Burr is fantastic.

How often do you get called Sea Bass? And are the Farrelly Brothers going to be calling again anytime soon for another Dumb and Dumber movie?

Every now and again I'll hear a Sea Bass from across the way. It's kind of funny, I never anticipated that movie - it kind of turned out to be the next generation Caddyshack, where people still watch it, they'll watch it again and again and again. I don't know if they're gonna be knocking on my door again. Acting was not really in my cards. It was fun to do though, I have to tell you. It was a lot of fun to do.

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