By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Amid all the vague language that the Bruins brass has used to explain the team’s problems in the wake of another collapse, all fans and media ask for is a little accountability. Everyone needs somewhere to point the finger, and the Bruins haven’t done a great job of giving a better idea where the problems lie.
GM Don Sweeney did say he needs to do a better job but also preached patience. Owner Jeremy Jacobs and CEO Charlie Jacobs want both playoff games and better long-term management and put the onus on team president Cam Neely to improve the team on the ice, which Neely said is mostly Sweeney’s call. The Bruins have suffered a confluence of problems with both personnel and salary cap space in recent seasons; where exactly did those problems come from?
Neely and Jacobs may not have come out and said it directly, but it’s clear that, to them, the blame lies largely with the previous regime, led by former GM Peter Chiarelli.
After a great 2006 draft that brought the Bruins Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand, and Milan Lucic, the Bruins under Chiarelli suffered through countless failed draft picks that could never even crack the roster, and most of those who could – namely, former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin – were traded away and have flourished elsewhere.
Neely is not wrong: Chiarelli’s lack of success in drafting or developing younger players has hurt the Bruins mightily over time and continues to hurt them today. Meanwhile, the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks have largely built their elite rosters with their own draft picks, from studs like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to top-tier defensemen like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook to goaltender Corey Crawford to key role players like Andrew Shaw. Only Kane and Toews were taken at the top of the first round.
“I think if you look at some of the better teams that are playing [in the playoffs] right now, you can count their drafts and it’s upwards of 10 or 12 players or 13 players in their lineups that they’ve drafted and developed,” Neely said to reporters Wednesday morning.
Jeremy Jacobs was asked about the team’s need to return to “invest mode,” a term he used to refer to the team’s need to invest in younger players and the future. While also putting accountability on “Cam and his organization,” he referenced the Bruins’ salary cap woes that were brought about by a lack of cheap, young talent that could feasibly be integrated into the roster, and Chiarelli’s decisions to sign bottom-six forwards and lower-tier defensemen out of necessity due to the lack of good prospects.
“The ‘invest mode’ [comment] is looking at where your draft picks are, how they’ve evolved, whether they’re even successful or not, and seeing that you’re moving that next generation into your game,” said Mr. Jacobs. “So when you have cap issues, as we have and had, that you’re not forced into the position we’ve been put into, as explained by their having to make some serious changes with regard to the personalities that you have and the characters you have on your team.”
Translation: “Don’t blame us for Chiarelli leaving us with this bag of crap.”
Mr. Jacobs even directly referenced specific players that contributed to the problems the Bruins had with the cap, which forced them into dealing away good players and signing expensive extensions for role players due to the lack of viable replacements in the system.
“As you saw, we had the Lucic and the Hamilton [contracts] and others that actually were cap issues … that we don’t have this year going forward. Space has been cleared. … How it’s used is going to be up to Don and Cam.”
It’s true: Chiarelli’s salary cap mismanagement and draft failures created a years-long hole that Sweeney, Neely, and the team continue to dig themselves out of in 2016. But Sweeney is not exempt from criticism and scrutiny in that department. It will be a few years before we know how his draft picks turn out, but moves like the Hamilton trade (which only netted two decent draft picks), the four-year extension for an oft-injured bottom-pairing defenseman like McQuaid, and swaps like Reilly Smith (who has scored 8 points in three playoff games with the Florida Panthers) for Jimmy Hayes and a third round pick for fringe agitator/borderline NHL player Zac Rinaldo, have also directly hurt the team.
Sweeney does deserve more than a one-year window to see how the Bruins’ young talent develops – Neely himself said repeatedly that this past season was not a “one-off season fix” – and it’s good that the Bruins realize the importance of drafting, developing, and integrating their own young players to complement the core. But Wednesday’s presser showed an alarming lack of awareness of their own mistakes in the past year. Chiarelli may have FUBAR’d the Bruins roster in the back end of his tenure as Bruins GM, but the team is now a calendar year removed from putting Sweeney in charge and the same problems, both short-term and long-term, exist.
Chiarelli’s mismanagement certainly set the Bruins back, but many of the issues he created are beginning to disappear. If the Bruins miss the playoffs for a third straight year in 2017, and they continue to heap blame on Chiarelli, the team will transcend their own lack of accountability and become downright embarrassing – that is, if you don’t already believe they’ve gotten there.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions 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.