BOSTON (CBS) - Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs wouldn't take the bait.
He expressed optimism about the upcoming season and boasted about his team still being able to compete for the Stanley Cup one season after the Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
Jacobs had a chance Thursday at the Bruins' annual media day to replicate his ultimatum of nine months ago and declare that anything less than making the playoffs would be unacceptable. But he didn't bite.
"We need to focus on the big picture," Jacobs said after the press conference featuring management broke up into smaller groups. "And the big picture isn't necessarily going to be measured by the springtime. I think big picture, which I'll reiterate again, is to go back to the Stanley Cup finals and hopefully win again. That needs to be our focus. And sometimes that takes a longer-term vision and some patience."
After Jacobs took over as CEO, he declared playoffs or bust. The Bruins missed the playoffs and general manager Peter Chiarelli was set free to try his hand at resurrecting the Edmonton Oilers.
But Jacobs wasn't necessarily preaching patience Thursday. After all, his first major move as CEO was to fire Chiarelli and promote Don Sweeney to GM. Along the way Sweeney reworked the roster with Jacobs' blessing. Jacobs is nearly giddy about seeing what his creation will produce this season. At least giddy enough to imagine a playoff run without going all in and making proclamations about minimum expectations.
"I don't think of this as a reboot. I think of it as more as a refresh," Jacobs said. "We really have some very proven – if you look at our top six forwards, we've got a lot of skill and a lot of veteran leadership there. And if you look at our back end, we've got in addition to 33 and 44 we've got some really good kids that can play. So I have high expectations for this club. I'm not going to stand here that I don't. But I don't want to create the pressure that I may have caused in January."
Bruins president Cam Neely was equally positive about Boston's chances and similarly reticent about guaranteeing a deep run through the playoffs.
"I don't want to put any expectations. Our goal is to compete for Stanley Cups. You know we'll see how the season plays out," Neely said. "We have some cap space which we haven't had in a while. So we have opportunities down the road, if there's a situation that arises where Don feels like he can do something that's going to help us improve."
It's understandable that the Bruins' highest brass didn't want to go too bold with the predictions. After all, if they got too boastful they risked having egg on their faces two or three months down the road, or even two or three weeks down the road. They're trying to sell tickets, trying to instill confidence in the players and trying a bold new experiment where a team reduces its talent pool and expects greater results.
This is the early portion of the Jacobs-Neely-Sweeney master plan. They're trying to replace a top-two defenseman with three or four No. 4 defensemen. They're trying to maintain team toughness without Milan Lucic by collecting as many fourth-line players as you can. They're trying to play at a higher pace without high-end puck-movers in their defense corps.
The recipe might end by adding watch and voila – instant playoffs.
Of course, it's not that simple. And it doesn't have to be that simple. The Bruins are finally showing foresight and looking at a sustainable model for the franchise within the NHL salary cap. In the pre-cap era teams like the New York Rangers threw money around and had nothing to show for it. In the cap era, spending to the cap doesn't guarantee success and can be even more harmful. That's how Johnny Boychuk winds up playing for the New York Islanders.
But getting out of cap jail doesn't come with a league-subsidized assistance program for staying in the mix at playoff time. It might take more than just last season's playoff-less spring before the Bruins get their act together. There are numerous prospects with potential in the system and more draft picks to be made. There are assets that can be traded for help this season or for the future. The Bruins as an organization are in better shape now than they were at the end of the last season.
That doesn't mean they're a better team. The roster is different and we won't know if it's better for months.
Without an ultimatum, Jacobs still made it clear Thursday he wants to be back in the playoffs. Sweeney and Neely's plan could still be on track even without a postseason berth. The Bruins have to hope that Jacobs can come to grips with that if it happens because too many refreshes could lead to an organizational freeze or, worse, a crash.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
for more features.