Cam Neely gets candid on Claude Julien
(Photo by Bruins Daily Video)
The Boston Bruins held their annual ‘Media Day’ at TD Garden Thursday as they inched closer to the start of the 2015-16 regular season which kicks off on October 8 at home against the Winnipeg Jets. Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs, his son and CEO/Alternate Governor of the team Charlie Jacobs, President and Alternate Governor Cam Neely, General Manager Don Sweeney and Head Coach Claude Julien addressed the media.
While the event focused mainly on the upcoming season and the state of the team with rather reserved answers, Neely — who never held back on the ice as a player — didn’t shy away from hot button issues and even made a point of going to bat for his coach who finds himself already on the hot seat with media and fans before the season even starts and later touched on a main reason he felt Peter Chiarelli had to be replaced by Sweeney.
After Julien told the media the speculation about his job “wasn’t a burden”, Neely jumped in to the defense of the coach that helped his organization win their last Stanley Cup in 2011 and only Cup in the last 43 seasons.
“I just want to jump in on that,” Neely said. “Because I’ve read some things where people have mentioned that Claude could be on the hot seat. I think it’s unfair to say that. Claude’s a very good coach in this league. Don came to us with a plan of 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 aren’t necessarily just on the coach. So I think it’s unfair.”
When the session broke down into smaller media scrums with each individual, Neely elaborated.
“I get why there’s that perception,” Neely said again. “After Don [Sweeney] was hired there was a while before there was a decision but Don had to feel comfortable and go through the conversations he felt he had to go through with Claude. But I think it’s unfair to start a season off where there’s already been conversations where he [Julien] is on the hot seat. Like I said before, a lot of things can happen where it’s not necessarily the coach and I think we have a number of new players that have to learn the way that we would like them to play.”
Neely was then asked why such speculation is unfair considering all the changes with management, players and philosophy?
“It’s probably because they read what you guys [media] write,” Neely replied with a smirk. “I honestly believe if it wasn’t written, I don’t think the fans would be saying anybody is on the hot seat or this player should be moved. Maybe they might not like a player and think he should be traded but if it’s written enough people start to believe it.”
There has been speculation over the years that Neely and Julien didn’t meet eye to eye and that Neely has longed for the day to replace his coach. But when asked if he has a solid chemistry now with Julien, Neely said he did.
“I do,” replied Neely. “I think it’s important for everyone to feel comfortable talking about the team, talking about players, and talking about what the expectations are. There’s nothing better than being around a group that you can have those conversations with and not worry about what the subject matter is. We’re all pulling in the same direction so why not talk about it?”
Neely then said he understood the critics who say Claude has trouble adapting but that the bench boss has and is learning to do that more as the season approaches.
“There’s an element where — and I think that’s what Don talked to Claude about — what happens is coaches are no different than players,” Neely pointed out.
“Players are successful to get into the league and they keep doing the same things that got them there. But there’s areas they can improve. I looked at as a player like ‘OK. I got in the NHL, now what else can I do to improve my overall game. But sometimes you get the blinders on and say ‘This is what got me successful and this is why I’m here’ whether it’s a player or coach. You keep doing that over and over again. But there’s areas of your game or your techniques as a coach that will help improve you as an individual or the team as a whole. And absolutely Claude is doing that.”
That communication and chemistry Neely said he has with Julien apparently dissipated with him, Chiarelli and last season’s management staff and Neely acknowledged that was a main reason for the change.
Neely also spoke a lot about enjoying his job again and while he said that the fun didn’t entirely disappear last season, he feels it’s back in full force as this season approaches.
“I don’t want to say it got to a point where it wasn’t fun, it got to a point where you’d like to have more conversations and feel comfortable having those conversations,” Neely replied. Fun is a good word because it is a game and we’re trying to accomplish winning Stanley Cups so that should be fun,” Neely said. “Communication for me is huge. I love talking hockey; I love having conversations with not just. …you know Donnie as the GM but also the coaching staff and Claude and our scouts. For me the communication part is fun, that’s fun; talking about how we want our team to play, what types of players, how the players are playing, talking to the players and all that is fun.”
“It was more about ‘what’s the thought process?’ and having those discussions and then knowing what the end results gonna be,” Neely went on. “To me it’s not about final say on anything. I want to hear about what everybody has to say. I want to hear why someone has a passion about certain things and to me it’s not ‘I’m listening but I’m not absorbing it’, that doesn’t work for me. No one is ever always right and it’s about having conversations to get to the right place where everybody feels comfortable.”
So is that comfort level back with Sweeney as the team’s GM?
“It is different,” Neely said and then paused. “Donnie and I have had a lot of great conversations since he’s become GM and it’s nice to sit down and become comfortable about the team and the direction. It should be fun. Listen at the end of the day, you want to win, your fans want you to win, but there’s going to be mistakes along the way and there’s going to be bad games that you wish weren’t played, but I think it’s about sitting down as a group and having a good group that likes to talk. You can disagree; you can argue; you can fight for guys but at the end of the day you come out of their saying those were great conversations. You feel good about that and you feel good about what you’re trying to accomplish and you are enjoying it.”
Neely also reiterated that while he will have a major say in team decisions, he won’t be a micromanager of Sweeney.
“That’s his job and he comes to me with something and I say ‘do you feel strongly about it? Let’s have a conversation and how strongly do you feel about it?’ I mean if he feels strongly about something I want him to be able to do it,” Neely said. “It’s important for him; it’s important for me and if I hired someone to come to me with thoughts and decisions they’d like to make and I said ‘No’ to everything, then what’s the point of having a GM?”