By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — While the excuse-making by the Bruins’ best players after the team’s seven-game loss to Washington left me and others worried that the team’s core players don’t possess the proper attitude to keep the franchise among the league’s elite for years, Bruins president Cam Neely has no such fears.

“Just because of the character of our players, I’m confident,” Neely said Thursday during a year-end press conference. “When you’re a professional athlete, you’re in the sport to win. At least you should be in the sport to win. And I think we’ve done a really good job of bringing in players who want to win and have the right character to win us championships. So I think as the offseason progresses, and it’s longer and longer than maybe they realized that they would like, I feel pretty confident that they’ll come back with the right attitude next September.”

Players pointed to the short 2011 offseason, the Washington game plan and the absences of Nathan Horton and Adam McQuaid more often than their own failures a little more than I’d like. But if Neely believes in this group, you can give them the benefit of the doubt. Of course, that benefit of the doubt will only last so long.

And now that Neely has come out in favor of his team’s core of players, and in support of his general manager and head coach, he has cast his lot with the current crew and the approach the likes of Peter Chiarelli, Claude Julien and other members of the front office and coaching staff plan to take to prevent another first-round ouster.

Neely on Friday echoed Chiarelli’s comments from a week ago about not remaking the roster, but instead altering it and supplementing it without changing the face.

“I think just some tweaking. Peter and I spoke a few days after the season ended. We’re going to have more discussions as the summer progresses here. But I like the makeup of our team,” Neely said. “I like the character of our team. I think Pete’s done a really good job signing the players before they become free agents as best he can. I think we have guys that are still going to improve. We have a young team in that regard, as far as core goes, [and] that will improve. But we know we have some areas that we can certainly look at to improve. And we’ll have more discussions in the offseason about how we can go about doing that.”

Standing pat isn’t as bold a move as, say, trading a couple of top-line players for a similar return. But it’s a risk as great. Should the Bruins find themselves in the same position one year from now, there will be regrets and blame to throw around. Another disappointing end could cost someone a job.

While much of the focus of how the Bruins bounce back will be concentrated on Chiarelli and Julien, how the Bruins respond will be a referendum on Neely’s leadership as well. By all accounts, Neely has done a great job, not just by improving the on-ice product but working to make the Bruins matter again. The only way the Bruins stay prominent is by winning, and making sure 2011 isn’t an anomaly people have to wait 39 years to see repeated is Neely’s Job One. Neely needs his people, namely Chiarelli, Julien and the team’s elite talents, to reward his confidence in them. Or he might find himself on the hot seat right along them.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for He and also contributes coverage to and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.


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