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Murphy: Neely Should Be Safe; Sweeney And Montgomery?



Boston Bruins

For a second straight season, the Florida Panthers, the new beast of the Atlantic Division, have sent the Boston Bruins packing for the offseason.

The Florida Panthers erased a 3-1 series lead and beat the 2022-23, record-breaking Boston Bruins team in seven games in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They ended a Bruins’ season again on Friday night as they eliminated the 2023-24 Boston Bruins in six games in the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 win.

As there is at the sudden end of every pro sports season, there are instant questions and knee-jerk reactions, so here’s one scribe’s raw take on the state of Bruins team president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney, and head coach Jim Montgomery.

Soon-to-be 59-year-old Cam Neely did plenty as a Bruins player and has continued to have a growing voice since joining the team’s upper management staff in 2010. Since then, the Bruins have won a Stanley Cup (2011), played in two more Stanley Cup Finals (2013 and 2019), missed the playoffs just once, and won the Presidents’ Trophy three times. As Neely’s voice in hockey operations has grown, the Bruins have continually been a great regular season team and been a Stanley Cup contender more seasons than not. Being part of a team that came within three periods of becoming the 2019 Stanley Cup champions was obviously his biggest accomplishment. However, Neely – and, more importantly, his bosses – want the ultimate accomplishment in the NHL again, and that’s to win the Stanley Cup.

One would think that given this season’s roster, which was a direct result of Sweeney going all in for the previous six seasons, Sweeney will get another chance to build a Stanley Cup-contending roster for the 2024-25 season. The losses of longtime center and former captain Patrice Bergeron and fellow longtime center David Krejci to retirement, and a plethora of skill due to salary cap restraints from going for it last season left the Bruins with a middle six-center duo in Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha as their top 2 center duo. Sweeney, who still tried to free up salary cap space in order to acquire an elite center like now-Canucks center Elias Lindholm, is expected to be given the green light to spend freely on the NHL Trade and free agent markets.

However, Sweeney better spend the expected just over $20 million in salary cap space he’s about to have wisely. If Sweeney can’t build a real contender that makes a longer playoff run next spring, his boss and friend, Neely, may have to go in a different direction. That’s not a position Neely wants to be in with his friend but again, likely isn’t in right now.

After the Boston Bruins were sent packing for the offseason on Friday night, some NHL sources around the NHL wondered if Sweeney is now in that unenviable position with Jim Montgomery. Montgomery has now been beaten two straight times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by a division rival, both times coming on home ice. Boston Hockey Now has not confirmed anything regarding the 2023 Jack Adams Award winner’s future. That being said, this puck scribe can’t see that happening just yet.

That’s why the opinion here is that Neely, along with Sweeney (unless a stunning order from above to Neely to fire Sweeney comes in), must build up the middle and on defense with the cap space they have. If they don’t, the speculation that surrounds head coaches, like Montgomery way too often, could engulf them before American Thanksgiving, and Montgomery could be looking for his third head coaching gig come December.

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