The Boston Bruins
open the 2007-08 season Friday night in Dallas with icon Cam Neely
back in the lineup -- the front-office lineup that is.
Flanked last week by team owner Jeremy Jacobs, General Manager Peter Chiarelli, and head coach Claude Julien, Executive Vice President Charlie Jacobs introduced the Bruins’ legendary right winger as vice president of the Boston Bruins.
One of the most revered players in team history, Neely appeared in 525 regular season games with Boston, scoring 344 goals, 246 assists and 921 penalty minutes in 10 seasons from 1986-96. He is the club's all-time leading playoff goal scorer with 55.
Neely became the 50th Bruin to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, his turn coming in 2005; his No. 8 is retired atop the rafters of the T.D. Banknorth Garden along with 10 other Bruin greats.
Neely, along with his brothers and sisters, also established the Neely Foundation, opened The Neely House, and launched the Neely Cancer Fund which collectively provide housing and support for the families of patients undergoing cancer treatments and fund treatment and research efforts. Since its inception in 1995, the Foundation has raised over $16 million dollars.
Now, he takes on the challenge of getting the Bruins back among the NHL’s elite.
"I'm an advisor to Peter and Charlie around hockey operation," said Neely. "I'm not the GM and have no aspirations to that. This is a great franchise with tons of tradition. A lot of players took pride in putting on that jersey. The role will play out as the year goes on."
"This kind of makes it official after sitting and talking with him and Donny (Sweeney, director of hockey operations) last year," Chiarelli said. "Will he have an office beside me? No. But we'll see each other often. In the course of a game, you see a lot, but another set of eyes, especially his, is very valuable.
"What struck me most about our conversations was his passion. That will drive his role here. He's a man of few words, so when he talks, it's reliable information."
What's the focus in Neely's steely eyes as he shifts his playing passion to the organization's management box?
"You may not play well every night," said Neely, "but you can work hard every night. That's one thing (we'll) get across real quick. The game has changed, but I still think you have to play the game the way I approached it; if you have an opportunity to take the body, you have to take the body. That means from your top player to the fourth line.
"I don't want to step (on management toes), but if I do believe it will be helpful to talk to a player, I'll talk to him."
Can you teach that Neely-like aggressiveness?
"A lot of times, it's in your DNA," Neely said, "but it can be hammered into you."
"What impresses me about Cam," said Chiarelli, "is his bluntness - how accurate and observant he is."
How does Neely explain his decision -- and ability - to play a pivotal role in assisting to eliminate the lethargy of recent Bruin team performances leading to limited post-season play?
The last Bruins teams to make deep 'Cup runs were in '90, '91 and '92, all led by Neely and Ray Bourque.
"Peter and Charlie's motivation and direction fit with mine," Neely said. "What we have to do and where we have to go to get back to competing for the Stanley Cup. That was the feeling that it was when I (first) came here.
"I've been around long enough and I had to look at this decision within the context of the organization. Fans have gone from disappointed to mad to wait-and-see. I've been around training camp, and just seeing the practices, it was night and day (from last year). (The players) have gotten the message."
Which ones need to be more Neely like according to the new VP?
"(Zedeno) Chara can use his intimidation to a strength," Neely said. "I don't think that was used last year at all. He can set a tone. Phil Kessel showed up in great shape to prove he belongs here. Patrice (Bergeron), you gotta expect he's going to have a better year than last."
Glen Murray is the only current Bruin to experience playing with Neely.
"The game has changed," Murray told The Boston Globe. "For the average fan today, the game is about scoring. But for the hockey fan - the real hockey fan - it's about Cam Neely."
"The end result will be the product on the ice," said Chiarelli. "But Cam stands for what is a Bruin. I just want guys to come to work, bring their lunch pail. That's what he said to me and that stuck. That will certainly help the face and the meaning behind the franchise.
"We're happy to have him."