“So … hope springs eternal, obviously. I think the building from within and the speed that we’re seeing in the game has changed, and I think this next generation bodes well for us. [Coach Bruce Cassidy] and [general manager] Don [Sweeney] and [president] Cam [Neely] have recognized this next generation, and I think we profited from it this year.
“I think we should improve on it next year. But not everybody’s myopic in the League, as I wish they were, and they see the same handwriting. Some will move faster than others, I think we’re further ahead in that line right now. And I’m really hopeful that next year is an improvement on this year.”
Two years removed from missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Boston was 50-20-12 this season, finished second in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference, and advanced beyond the first round for the first time since 2014. The Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games before a five-game loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.
Neely and Sweeney forged a plan to get younger and faster when Sweeney was hired as GM on May 20, 2015, and so far, that plan has been successful.
The Bruins had their winningest season since they had 54 victories in 2013-14 while integrating five rookies into their lineup: centers Sean Kuraly, 25, and Danton Heinen, 22; forward Jake DeBrusk, 21; and defensemen Matt Grzelcyk, 24, and Charlie McAvoy, 20.
Heinen had 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 77 games, DeBrusk had 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games, and McAvoy had 32 points (seven goals, 25 assist) in 63 games.
The Bruins lost 304 man-games because of injuries during the regular season.
“Probably during the year we thought we were a little bit ahead of where thought we might be,” Neely said. “Based on how this season went and finishing with 112 points, and again, a credit to the players that already were here, a credit to the coaching staff. … But I think what we’ve got coming and where we’re at now is where we were hoping to be. And we still have some room to grow here.”
Neely said he believes forward Brad Marchand has better days ahead. Marchand, who scored 34 goals, was contrite after the season about controversy he caused not just because of six suspensions in nine NHL seasons but also the licking incidents involving Maple Leafs forward Leo Komarov and Lightning forward Ryan Callahan during the playoffs.
The incident involving Callahan drew a reprimand from the NHL and the threat of supplemental discipline if it happened again.
“Brad should be contrite,” Neely said. “He was spoken to. I don’t want to go into the details, but he understands how it put a focus, a negative focus, on him, his family, the organization, his teammates, coaching staff.
“So the thing that people don’t understand, Brad is a really good guy. If you don’t know him, you see this other stuff and you don’t really think highly of him. And he’s a tremendous hockey player. So he’s got to the point now where his game on the ice without the antics should speak for itself.”
Jacobs said he anticipates less controversy in Marchand’s future.
“This is a player that I can only think of 30 other teams that would love to have him,” Jacobs said. “So there is a margin you give him, but I think he used up that margin.”