Cam Neely 'a little disappointed' Bruins will have to play in round-robin tourney

Scott McLaughlin
May 27, 2020 - 4:48 pm
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Like everyone else in the hockey world, Bruins president Cam Neely was excited to see the NHL's owners and players reach an agreement on a 24-team return to play postseason format.

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But like a lot of Boston fans, there is one aspect of the plan he doesn't love. While the Bruins don't have to play in a play-in series and are assured of a spot in the conference quarterfinals, the plan as of now is that they will play in a three-game round-robin tournament against the other top-four seeds in the East (the Lightning, Capitals and Flyers) to determine seeding for the quarterfinals.

The thinking is that those top four seeds would want to play competitive games before their quarterfinal series given that their opponent in that round will have just played a best-of-five play-in series. But for the Bruins, it could mean that they end up losing their No. 1 seed -- something they were on the verge of clinching when the league went on break -- in just three games.

Neely shared his thoughts on the plan on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday afternoon.

"Like everybody, excited to at least get to the next phase where the players and owners have agreed upon a format for return to play," Neely said. "Hopefully soon we’ll be able to get our facility open on a voluntary basis for our players to come in and use.

"Obviously a little disappointed with what the team was able to accomplish the first 70 games and kind of the point spread we had between not only the teams in the league, but the teams in our division, our conference. To kind of maybe have three games dictate where we fall in the conference standings is somewhat disappointing, but the fact remains these are unchartered times for everybody. We’re just hoping we can eventually get back on the ice and play meaningful hockey games."

Neely said he was OK with pretty much everything else in the plan, including the expansion from 16 to 24 teams, but that he thought the team would've been able to get ready for its quarterfinal series without playing "competitive" games first.

"I was involved in some discussions with the league on the format, listening to what some of the options were," Neely said. "I expressed my feelings about where it was headed, but for the good of the game this is what they thought was best. They talked about some competitive games while the play-in rounds were going. From my perspective I thought the players would be amped up and ready to go regardless if there were round-robin games or games to get ready for the playoffs, knowing that other teams were playing competitive games."

Still, Neely didn't seem overly upset about it, and he said he expects the Bruins to be ready to go and pick up where they left off regardless of the format, location or timeline.

"We’ve got a group of guys that are very dedicated and committed and know where the team was at the pause and what the possibilities were going into the playoffs," Neely said. "Nothing’s a guarantee as we all know, but I think our guys recognize that we had a legitimate chance to do well and have a deep run in the playoffs.

"Obviously our goal all along is to win the Stanley Cup, so that goal is not going to change. I think from what I understand talking to some of the guys, they’re anxious and excited. Obviously they still have some questions and some concerns about how all this is going to play out, but everybody still wants to play hockey."

Here are some other notes from Neely's call:

- Neely noted that Phase 2, which the league is expected to enter in the next couple weeks, is voluntary, but he said the team is getting in touch with players now to figure out who's planning to use team facilities once they're open. Once they have a head count, they'll be able to figure out the logistics of the small-group workouts. They're also working through the process of making sure everything at the facilities is clean and safe and able to be kept that way.

- On how he's handling social distancing, Neely said, "I've been practicing that for years."

- Neely said he's confident the Bruins' coaches and veteran leaders will make sure the team is ready by the time games start. "I know our guys are going to be well prepared."

- Neely pointed to the Bruins' good starts the last couple seasons, especially this year after coming off a Stanley Cup Final loss that could've been tough to move on from, as a testament to the team's ability to ramp up quickly and a reason to be optimistic they'll be able to do it here.

- Asked about this year's Cup winner possibly having an asterisk next to their name, Neely said he doesn't see why that would be the case, pointing out that the league has had shortened seasons and different playoff formats in the past and that none of those champions get an asterisk.

- Asked about why Boston didn't make the list of cities that are being considered for hubs, Neely said his understanding is that it's simply because Boston has been so much harder hit by the pandemic than a lot of other cities.

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