Time for Neely to knock some heads

BOSTON – Now there’s no doubt who’s in charge in Bruins Land.

And the best news for the franchise, the players and their fans is that the person calling the shots without a doubt is the man who as much as anyone else alive personifies what it means to be big, to be bad, and to be a member of the Bruins.

Cam Neely was officially promoted today from vice president to president of the Bruins by owner Jeremy Jacobs and principal Charlie Jacobs. On the one hand, all parties involved said that the change in title doesn’t do much to change the chain of command on Causeway Street. But there’s obviously more to this move than buying Neely some new business cards (as if he needs anything to identify him).

When it comes time to heap praise on someone for a Bruins Stanley Cup triumph (wishful thinking?) or blame someone for another historic collapse, Neely will be there the way he was always there in front of the net wreaking havoc for opposing defensemen and goaltenders during his Hall-of-Fame playing career.

If general manager Peter Chiarelli tries to pass off Miro Satan as a legitimate cure for the club’s offensive woes, Neely will be there to set him right. If it looks like the coaches are getting the job done, or if the players are only giving half an effort, Neely will be in their face. He no longer has to worry about stepping on toes or offending anyone. Vice presidents can sometimes be in ceremonial posts; presidents are all-powerful, especially when they cast an intimidating shadow like Neely’s.

Any Bruins player that comes to camp still licking his wounds after the 3-0 tragedy against Philadelphia, Neely will be sure to shake him from his funk. You better believe that there won’t be any more nights when half the Bruins look like their attentions elsewhere than the game at hand. This isn’t to say that Neely is going to be meddling in some George Steinbrenner-like manner. It’s even a different era than the days when Neely’s predecessor and one-time boss Harry Sinden used to make himself a constant presence in the dressing room and offices regardless of who they belonged to. But this title change is obviously an empowering exercise to make sure that everyone’s aspirations to model themselves on and off the ice after Neely – the guy they all had posters of when they were kids and still look at in awe on the ice or in the locker room – is more than just lip service.

Just listening to Neely reflect on what went down a little more than a month ago, when the Bruins became the third team in NHL history to squander a 3-0 series lead in a best-of-seven format, makes you realize the bar has been set a little higher for every Bruins team from here on out.

“It was difficult, as we all know. You feel like you’ve got to find a way to win one game and we weren’t able to do that,” said Neely after his coronation as president at TD Garden with the Jacobs men, Peter Chiarelli and Sinden also in attendance. “But I’ve always been kind of a glass-half-full type of guy. I think that helps in these situations. We do have to look at the positives that have taken place – not only this past season, but the two previous seasons. We’ve made some really good strides.

“By no means does that mean we’re satisfied in losing out in the second round two years in a row. It’s up to our hockey operations group to get us to the next step and next level. As a player and as a person in a management position, I’ve always had this saying that you want to keep reaching for the next rung of the ladder. And we have to do that. Our players have to understand that’s what we have to do. Quite frankly we can put a team on the ice, but the players themselves have to perform to their abilities and reach for that next rung of the ladder. We’ve enjoyed some playoff success, but nowhere near the success that we want.”

As Neely spoke, his pupils went from round to Stanley Cup-shaped, like in those cartoons where the character has been starving and suddenly sees a steak. Well, not really, but it felt like if he had to ram someone into the boards in front of the dais, Neely would’ve. His arrival as vice president three years ago started the Bruins on their path to regaining the faith of the fan base. Now outside of buying the team from Jacobs himself, Neely cannot ascend any higher. He is now the Bruins more any other alumni. There are greater former players still alive out there, there are former Bruins skaters that might be more popular, but this is the one Bruins legend who has chosen a life working for the Bruins as his second act. It might not always have been written in stone that Neely would be the man to lead the Bruins into a new era, but now it’s part of the permanent record.

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