BOSTON -- As a player, Boston Bruins president Cam Neely was known for his fearlessness.
Neely proved Thursday during a press conference to kick off Bruins media day that life in the front office hasn't tempered his aggressiveness.
When the subject of coach Claude Julien's job security was broached, Julien offered his thoughts on the matter. Neely, the Bruins president, didn't miss a beat when he burst out unprovoked with a soliloquy meant to take some of the heat off the coach.
"I just wanted to jump in on that because I've read some things where people have mentioned that Claude can be on the hot seat. I think it's unfair to say that," Neely said. "[New general manager Don Sweeney] came to us with how he'd like to see the team play. He's had many conversations with Claude about that. But a lot of things happen throughout the course of the year that's not necessarily just on the coach. So I mean it's unfair. I know why certain things are said at times. But it's really unfair to start the season where it's out there where the coach could be on the hot seat. I think it's unfair to Claude."
The Bruins missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season for the first time in Julien's eight seasons. General manager Peter Chiarelli, who preceded Julien by one season, was fired over the summer and replaced by Sweeney, who was one of Chiarelli's assistants. After he was promoted, Sweeney took a few weeks before he decided to retain Julien and his staff. Julien signed a contract extension, which starts this season, last Nov. 2.
Sweeney made some major moves to try to return the Bruins to prominence. He traded popular forward Milan Lucic and defenseman Dougie Hamilton, signed free agent forward Matt Beleskey, and traded for forward Jimmy Hayes. The changes have increased expectations that the Bruins will return to the postseason. Naturally, there has been speculation about who would take the blame if the Bruins aren't better.
Julien, who previously coached and was fired by the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils, said he wasn't concerned about his status before Neely provided a vote of confidence.
"To be honest with you, it really isn't a burden for me," said Julien, who is 351-192-79 with one Stanley Cup championship with the Bruins. "It's not a concern for me. As I've always said, we know as coaches what our job security is, and it's not very big. And we're based on our performances and assessed by people that assess not just wins and losses but the situation and expectations. I'm good where I am right now. … This is a place that I've felt really comfortable with the people around me, the organization, the city, the fan base and also, I love working for this organization. So I just keep coming in every day, try to do my best here and try to last as long as I can."
Despite the changes, the Bruins have a lot of their core intact, starting with centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, goaltender Tuukka Rask and defenseman Zdeno Chara. But the Bruins are trying to make up for the loss of Hamilton and a back injury to Dennis Seidenberg on their blue line. Chara has been injured since he played four shifts in his first preseason game; he is day-to-day. Seidenberg is scheduled to be out until late November.
The Bruins are also trying to work out new line combinations in an effort to solve their offensive problems; they ranked 22nd in scoring last season.
As enthusiastic as Neely was about redirecting some pressure from Julien, he was less passionate about putting the burden of championship expectations on the team. He said the forward group is deep, the defense is developing, and the goaltending situation should allow for Rask to get a little more rest this season.
BRUINS AMONG FANTASY TOP 275
Below are Boston Bruins players who qualified for NHL.com's top 275 fantasy list. Each player's aggregate spot was determined by averaging the individual rankings of Matt Cubeta, Pete Jensen and Matt Sitkoff. Also listed are each player's Yahoo position eligibility and any offseason NHL.com fantasy content that breaks down projected value for 2014-15.
9. Tuukka Rask
, G (No. 1 goaltender
33. Patrice Bergeron
, C (Top 50 breakdown
64. Zdeno Chara
, D (Category specialist
68. Milan Lucic
, LW (Category hogs
69. David Krejci
113. Loui Eriksson
, LW/RW (Injury rebound
117. Brad Marchand
, LW (Overvalued
121. Torey Krug
, D (RFA)
157. Reilly Smith
, RW (RFA)
159. Dougie Hamilton
, D (Jensen's breakout
206. Carl Soderberg
"Our goal is to compete for Stanley Cups," Neely said. "You know, we'll see how the season plays out. We have some [salary-cap] space which we haven't had in a while. So we have opportunities down the road, if there's a situation that arises where Don feels like he can do something that's going to help us improve. I really feel like we've got guys that want to compete for Stanley Cups on our roster. We brought in guys that do want to compete, they want to win, and we'll see where things go throughout the season."
Sweeney's moves have pleased management beyond Neely.
"It hasn't been necessarily a reboot but maybe just a refresh," Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs said. "When you look at it from that perspective, the amount of youth, the little bit of turnover that we had, I'm optimistic about this upcoming season and I'm really happy with what transpired."
With one preseason game left and a week until the regular-season opener against the Winnipeg Jets, it's easy to be optimistic. The Bruins' success or failure in the opening weeks of the season, though, could change everyone's tune. There might not be pressure to be the last team standing in June, but Neely said he expects the Bruins to be playing at a high level in the first two months of the season.
"We've tracked in the past that by Thanksgiving if you're in the playoff picture, generally by the end of the year you're still going to be in the playoff picture," Neely said. "But it's a little bit of a transition. We have some younger players that I think will develop over the course of the year and get better over the course of the year. … But having said that, we still have enough players that have been around the game long enough, and are good NHL players, really good NHL players, that they can help bring those guys along at a quicker pace. And I feel like we can have a strong start because of that."