Don Sweeney and Cam Neely were teammates for eight seasons with the Boston Bruins.
Now, they are two of the highest-ranking executives in the club’s hierarchy.
Sweeney was hired by Neely on Wednesday as Boston’s eighth general manager in franchise history after an “exhaustive search” conducted by Boston’s retired number eight and new CEO Charlie Jacobs. How exhaustive that search really was remains up for debate but the former defenseman paid his dues, serving as Peter Chiarelli’s assistant for six seasons. Few would argue he was not deserving of the role having been around the club for so long.
Sweeney is a Harvard (Hahhhvid to the locals) graduate who has learned the ins and outs of being in the front office of an NHL franchise. In his press conference, he sounded cool, calm, and collected in sharing his ideas to make the Bruins a Stanley Cup contender once again. However, questions arise regarding a potential power struggle between the two former teammates.
How much of a role will Neely play in rebuilding the roster? Will Sweeney have true autonomy to make his own decisions? It is too early to tell, but is a fascinating dilemma that will unfold over the summer.
Neely was named as team president back in June of 2010. He brought a culture change to the organization, paying immediate dividends as Boston hoisted the Stanley Cup in his first season as club president.
Since then, the Hockey Hall of Famer has been mum when it comes to personnel decisions, allowing former general manager Peter Chiarelli full autonomy. Instead, Neely was more known for his goal celebrations than any personnel decisions in his first few years as club president.
The Bruins were a consistent playoff team, so perhaps Neely did not want to tinker around with a good product. However, after Boston missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, he jumped on the opportunity to assert his iron fist.
Neely sent Chiarelli packing just days after the season ended in his first significant move since occupying the big chair. Sweeney was his first major hire to fill the vacant general manager’s position. According to Neely, they identified four candidates for the position and admitted the process took “longer than expected”.
Interesting that he would say that considering Sweeney was the consensus choice to be the next general manager almost immediately after Chiarelli was canned. What took Neely so long to make it official?
Was there a real debate at hand between the president and his brain trust, or just an attempt to pass it off as an “exhaustive search”?
All conspiracy aside, Neely’s role will come under some serious scrutiny this summer. In an offseason of change, he will be the main figure to answer for Boston’s decisions.
The big question regarding Sweeney is how much freedom he will have in making decisions that he feels are best for the franchise.
During Wednesday’s press conference when talking about player development and patience with the younger guys, he took a half-jab at Neely.
“We’ve made some mistakes and allowed some players to leave perhaps before their time.”
The most notable of them? Tyler Seguin.
In case you need a reminder, here is the “Behind the B” footage including Neely’s advice on what to do with the second-overall pick in 2010.
“If we get the right deal for him, then it’s something we need to do.”
He was not a fan of how Seguin was developing as a player in their system with off-ice character issues as a convenient excuse to ship him off to Dallas, where he has thrived under coach Lindy Ruff. Chiarelli was blasted for the deal while Neely received minimal, if any, criticism for his role in the process.
Sweeney has to ensure he will not make the same mistake as his predecessor. He comes off as a very capable man who is confident enough to make the right decisions concerning his players after spending so much time in the system. Neely wants the GM to do his job but “wants to know what’s going on”, presumably meaning that the president will demand the final word when it comes to any major personnel decisions.
Sweeney will have no problem communicating things with Neely but how he reacts will give fans a true picture of who is really running the show in Boston.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW