By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — More than three years have passed since Charlie Jacobs took over the role of Bruins CEO.
What should have been a simple coronation of the younger Jacobs that day surprisingly became a public undressing of what was going on around the Bruins. They had gone 0-0-3 in their past three games and were 19-15-6 when Jacobs made it clear he wasn’t pleased with the direction the team had gone to that point.
“I’d say without question this has been a very disappointing year,” Jacobs told the media that day at TD Garden. “It’s unacceptable the way this team has performed given the amount of time, money and effort that’s been spent on this team. To see it deliver the way it has is unacceptable.”
The Bruins won four in a row after that but came up a couple points short of the playoffs that spring, finishing 41-27-14. General manager Peter Chiarelli was fired and Don Sweeney was eventually promoted to try to get the franchise back on track. When Jacobs and president Cam Neely introduced Sweeney in his new role, a plan was put in place to restock the prospect pool, get younger and have more salary-cap flexibility.
The fruits of those labors seem to be blossoming this season, with the Bruins unbeaten in regulation in their past 15 games (11-0-4) and now as close in points to first-place Tampa Bay as they are to third-place Toronto (five points).
“I don’t know if I could take ownership of the plan. But yeah, it feels really good,” Jacobs told CBS Boston after a press conference to honor Willie O’Ree on Wednesday before the Bruins won back-to-back games against Montreal and the New York Islanders. “We’ve had a nice run. I will knock on a piece of wood while we’re talking about this to hope that we can keep it going.”
It was ironic that the Bruins were rolling and Jacobs was speaking the day that coach Claude Julien returned to Boston with the Canadiens. It was the decision to fire Julien last Feb. 7 that just may have sped up the Bruins’ rebuilding process. Coach Bruce Cassidy’s alterations to the offensive game plan helped catapult the Bruins back to the postseason last spring after a two-year absence.
This season, Cassidy’s coaching philosophies combined with the injection of youthful talent to supplement Boston’s still-strong core has put the Bruins back into the Stanley Cup chatter. And Jacobs believes there could be even greater things ahead.
“But you know what, I think actually what’s most reassuring to me is that we’ve got kids coming that are going to be good, possibly impact players. So I’m very excited,” he said.
The question looming over Sweeney and the Bruins now: what do you do before the Feb. 26 trade deadline? Sweeney could play it safe and just add pieces for depth. Or he could dip into the rental market, using draft picks and some of those “kids” who are on the way, or even move a piece off the current roster.
The NHL landscape is more open than it has ever been and the Atlantic Division is particularly ripe for a team like the Bruins to make a run past the first round. Jacobs stressed how excited he is about the Bruins’ prospects and how he would never meddle in hockey operations other than to encourage Neely and Sweeney to do what they think is best with confidence. But he noted that the only problem could be if there was too many “kids” coming at once, which could gum up the works. There can’t be playing time for everyone, and down the road those kids could all need contracts at the same time.
But Jacobs isn’t about to use his position to demand the Bruins go all-in for winning in 2018 the way he rocked the boat with his comments three years ago. The vision is still to make sure the Bruins are contenders for years and not just for one season.
“Listen, our window is always going to be closing. Of course I would [want to go for it all this season]. But that’s not a decision for me to make,” Jacobs said. “I just encourage the guys whatever direction they decide to go.”
So far the direction the Bruins are going in has been the right way.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.