By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Cam Neely can avoid the media all he wants. He can’t hide from the inevitable scrutiny of Bruins fans and reporters anymore.
Even if the Bruins really were underachieving on the ice in 2016-17, Neely and Sweeney just made Julien the fall guy for their mistakes. Sweeney essentially admitted that during his Tuesday press conference when he addressed his decision to relieve Julien of his head coaching duties.
“If the goaltender doesn’t play well, is that necessarily on the coach? If the goalie plays well but the team doesn’t score, is that necessarily on the coach? No it’s not,” said Sweeney. “It’s on myself and the players themselves that need to accept that responsibility that we need to have a better player in that situation or players step up and improve their own play.”
Sweeney basically said, here, that he can’t fire himself or the players so Julien had to be the scapegoat for their performance. However, you may believe that Julien does bear some responsibility for the team’s inconsistency. That is up for debate. Either way, Sweeney just put himself on the hot seat.
In a long-winded answer to a question of why he fired Julien now and not at the end of the season, Sweeney implied that even interim head coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t safe – and that he’s not sure how his coaching change is going to work out.
“I think the opportunity for Bruce, who I’ve had a working relationship with – to come in and sort of evaluate his job, where our staff is as well as our personnel – is important,” said Sweeney. “It’s an important period of time that we can continue to unfold as opposed to waiting until the season ended just seeing if nothing, if we hadn’t done anything, whether or not it would work.”
Not even Sweeney knows what’s going to happen behind the Bruins bench – and on the ice – now that Julien is gone and the Cassidy era has begun.
Neely continues to pull a neat trick, conveniently getting away with not having any formal media obligations as he works away in the front office doing … who knows what. But at the end of the day, it’s reasonable to assume that Neely signs off on every move that Sweeney makes. Still, it appears that Sweeney has taken the brunt of just about all responsibility for the decision to fire Julien and move forward with Cassidy as head coach.
Perhaps Neely will survive another season under the watch of the Jacobses if he can simply show Sweeney the door. If and when the Bruins miss the playoffs for a third straight season, that option will certainly be on the table for him. But Jeremy Jacobs will be none too pleased if the decision to fire Julien doesn’t result in a playoff berth – at that point, everyone will be on the firing line.
If the Bruins do turn things around, if someone not named Marchand or Pastrnak starts scoring, if they can start playing with more consistency, then the front office will be safe. But if there’s one thing the Jacobs family hates from this team, it’s depriving them of playoff ticket sales.
The Bruins’ drafting has markedly improved in the two years since Sweeney took over as GM and the team looks to have a bright future with its young prospects. But Sweeney’s moves at the NHL level have not been as successful. Ownership would be in a tough spot in evaluating the job Sweeney has done to rebuild the Bruins roster while simultaneously competing for a playoff spot, but Sweeney effectively made Jacobs’ job easier by putting the weight of the team’s season on his shoulders.
That’s not Sweeney’s fault, though. At least he actually showed his face to the media and answered questions; Neely continues to do nothing of the sort. But both should be tied to each other at this point, and with Julien gone, the onus should be on both of them to get the team to where the Jacobs family wants them to be.
Neely and Sweeney just fired off one of their only remaining bullets. But until the Bruins prove they can make the playoffs with the team they have, cleaning both of them out of the organization should remain a possibility.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.