- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- A week after the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup title defense officially ended with a Game 7 loss in overtime to the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and team president Cam Neely gave their state of the 2011-2012 season.
Jacobs, Neely, along with principal and alternate governor Charlie Jacobs, all addressed the good, the bad and the ugly from the past season. The elder Jacobs, sporting a much smaller version of the Stanley Cup ring, had a message for the last team standing this season.
"We've got to tell the Stanley Cup winner this year that the Cup's on loan to them," Jacobs said. "It's going to come back home here in the near term.
"It was a tremendous year given that last spring we won the Cup. They have a rule in football that they call you're guilty of excessive celebration so we celebrated pretty much. But we are disappointed and you have to understand how difficult it is to repeat a Stanley Cup, especially after coming off such a long season we had last year."
The Bruins thought they had the team to repeat as champions this season but the Capitals ended that dream last Wednesday at TD Garden. Moving forward, however, Neely likes the core, youth and depth of the organization, and besides a few "tweaks" he likes the makeup and character of this team.
Neely admitted that the team did not play its best hockey against the Capitals even in the games Boston did come out victorious.
"That part is difficult to swallow because we all feel we should still be playing right now," Neely said. "If you can get out of the first round and you never know what can happen in the second round."
Yes, the Bruins won the Northeast Division and finished second the Eastern Conference, but they still failed to get past the first-round playoff series against the Capitals. After the season ended, players spoke of the mental and physical grind during the season that followed a Cup victory and subsequent celebrations before the short summer turned into training camp in September.
It didn't seem like Jacobs was too disappointed with the way the season went.
"We did expect to get out of that first round," he said. "We're actually in the same place at the end of the first round that we were a year ago, except we won that seventh game in overtime instead of losing it. It's a solid team. It's the same team; probably a little better than the team that won the Stanley Cup in the sense of when you look at the skill level and the age of the players, so bottom line: We wanted to do better. We expected to do better. The fans were terrific. We just had a good year."
From a hockey standpoint, Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli have already had discussions about next season and beyond. Neely said those discussions will continue into the summer.
There are unrestricted and restricted free agents that need to be signed, and Chiarelli said last week he would focus on both the trade and free-agent markets to improve the team.
Internally, the Bruins have a total of seven unrestricted free agents, including forwards Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Brian Rolston. On the defensive side, Joe Corvo, Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau are all UFAs. Goaltender Tuukka Rask and forward Benoit Pouliot are restricted free agents.
Speaking of goaltender, veteran netminder Tim Thomas has one year and $3 million remaining on his deal and there's already been speculation that the Bruins would entertain moving the 38-year-old. Chiarelli said last week that is not his intent. Rask and the Bruins have already begun contract negotiations, too. As far as Neely is concerned, both will be back between the pipes next season.
"We're very happy with our goalies," Neely said. "We have two strong goalies in both Tim and Tuukka. I think a lot of other teams are envious of what we have here. It's an area we feel pretty comfortable with."
As far as coaching and management, Neely said he was pleased with the job done by both coach Claude Julien and Chiarelli. The terms of their respective contracts are undisclosed.
"They both have term remaining on their contracts," said Neely. "I think they both did a great job this year. Claude's a very good coach and Peter's a good general manager.
"Claude's done a good job. I've seen Claude make some adjustments since he's been here and it's been a good thing. He communicates really well with his players and there's no gray area, which as a player is fantastic because you shouldn't have a gray area. He's done a really good job since he's been here."
Neely also said "to the best of (his) knowledge" the rest of the coaching staff and hockey operations staff will all be back.
At the start of the afternoon news conference, Neely made it a point to thank the fans for their support again this season.
"The last few years have been amazing," he said. "The atmosphere that they bring into this building, and I've said it to our players that it's quite a privilege to play in front of these fans. They've given us support for many years and the last few years it's been tremendous.
"It's disappointing to lose out in the first round. We didn't have this feeling at all this year. It's a feeling that I don't like at all. I don't think anyone in the organization likes. I have this saying I used a lot when I was playing and dealing with injuries: My rearview mirror is broken.
"We had a great run last year and a lot to celebrate and a lot to learn from. This current season, we can certainly learn from some of the things that happened this year. I certainly hope our players, and I believe our players because of the character we have, I believe our players are going to come back really hungry at the start of training camp."
From a business standpoint, the Bruins flourished once again and Jacobs can't see that changing as long as the team continues to win.
"We've got to continue to win and continue to build a franchise," said the elder Jacobs. "The ticketing, the sales and the rest will take care of themselves. Our success on the ice has driven this to be a sellout and will continue to drive to be a sellout as long as we have a team that's very competitive, a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup."
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs said Thursday that the Stanley Cup is "going to come back home here in the near term."