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Thrown Away: How Cam Neely's Seguin Interview Shows The Bruins Waste Talent

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Cam Neely was on CBS' Felger & Mazz Show yesterday, and his answers on the Seguin trade give a window into the dangerous organisational philosophy that will waste star potential because it values "fitting in" over talent in Boston. Paul Wheeler explains.

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So, it's out there.

Admittedly, it took Tyler Seguin torching Boston with a hat-trick at the TD Garden to get anyone in the Bruins organisation to actually admit that trading away one of the brightest Boston superstar prospects in a generation for a trade that even to this day still looks horrendously lopsided was probably something they'd have done differently in hindsight, but at least now it's out there.

The trouble is, Neely's comments show a slightly disconcerting emphasis not on helping players make the best of the mercurial talents they have, but of making them fit into a system and mindset that may not be their own...one that basically says "there is no room for individuality, mercurial players or indeed any kind of player here but one who the brain trust say should be here.

From the first comment, you can see that the Bruins official line is going to be "try and forget this happened and give non-answers as much as possible. This is in response to being asked if the Bruins made a mistake to trade one of the most dynamic players the TD Garden crowd has seen:

""Well, obviously he’s a hell of a player, and he’s got all kinds of skill. He skates really well and he can really rip the puck," Neely said. "It’s one of those things where you knew he had all that skill, and you knew he would do well in the league, but that’s kind of history now."

Or, to put it another way "yeah, he was and is an awesome player, and we knew that, but we traded him anyway and it's done so why are we talking about it again?"

Upon further pressing, Neely still refuses to admit any regrets in the Boston organisation:

"Well, I think you look at any trade. Some you look at and say, jeez, maybe you didn’t get enough, or the return wasn’t quite what it should have been. Some, you’re happy with the outcome," Neely said. "Every team probably could look at every trade and pick it apart."

Or, decoded...."hey, we all screw up!"

If you're reacting to a trade that even to this day still causes your average Bruins fan to break out in a cold sweat and angry voices to be raised when anyone tries to suggest it's a good trade with "hey, everybody screws up, jeez!", then you have a problem, or a REALLY big denial complex. Or maybe you just don't want to talk about it much.

Speaking of talking about it much, Neely does then seem to admit a little culpability in the way Bruins managed Séguin - in fact, this is the only part of the interview where there's actually any admittance of failure on the B's part.

"I think looking back, we probably could have done some things differently with Tyler. You’ve got a young kid coming in, maybe we could have handled his living arrangements a little different and stuff like that, that we’ve talked about over the years. It’s something we certainly are addressing currently, and in the future we will continue to address."

Then, of course, we move back into the meat of the article, which is where Neely basically goes full PR mode.

"It’s more about really, we talk about drafting and developing. And the development piece really is a big part of it. You have to really work with these players and develop them in the professionals, and that’s an area where we we’ve really improved in the last year or so,"

So, what you're basically saying here, Cam, is that the Bruins had one of the best young players in the world and managed to screw up a slam-dunk of development and NOW you think "hmm, maybe we need to work on this "development" thing?

This is a terrifying quote if you're a Bruins fan, because it means that players like Phil Kessel, Joe Thornton, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand became the key NHL players they are (and in the case of the first three true modern greats) DESPITE the system that was meant to turn them into NHL players of the highest calibre, not because of it?

How screwed up a development system does it have to be to not look at...say, the Joe Thornton saga in Boston and go "hmm, maybe we need to treat talented young men who may be a bit mercurial a little better?" How one-eyed and blinded does an organisation have to be to see that happen TWICE and then spend a long time basically saying "that's not our problem?" That's like choosing to take a promenade through a minefield then blaming someone else for getting blown up.

It gets better, though, as Neely basically implies that the Bruins had scouted Séguin, but possibly didn't know all they were drafting...

"Again, you have to understand what you get and what you draft. You have to know that the player that you’re drafting, and you have to work with these players. There’s certain elements of a skill-set that you like to have on your team, and you have to see if you can work with the player"

OK-that's excusable, though. After all, these are 18-year-olds we're talking about here. The really scary bit comes next. However, it starts so well...

"Not everybody’s going to be — we talked about what different skill-sets help build a championship team — you don’t need 20 guys that are going to run people through the boards. You need a proper balance with that."

In a Bruins context, that's an encouraging statement - it flies in the wisdom of some commentators that "GRIT COMPETE LEVEL HITTING" is the only way for a Bruins team that under Claude Julien has seemed to value "intangibles" over actual skill to a perverse degree at times. There is hope yet!

But then comes the killer line. The one that hints that the Bruins are a team who, if a player has a skillset that leans more towards the skill side than the stereotypical grinder, might try to force their game to change.

"And if you have a guy with a skill-set that is offensive and skates well, then you have to work with him on other parts of the game to compete."When I talk about competing, it’s not necessarily being a big, tough player. It’s competing for loose pucks, it’s battling for loose pucks, it’s maybe taking a hit to make a play. Those are the types of things that we talk about as far as what a competitor is."

See - the problem with the statement above is that Neely is basically saying that in his (and by extension Boston's) eyes, there is only one way to compete. It doesn't matter if you win the Stanley Cup as a rookie with 7 points in 13 games, or score 67 points in your sophomore season...or 32 in 48 in a shortened year as one of the Bruins lynchpins. It doesn't matter if your game is already good in all three zones and you're learning from one of the best two-way C's of the modern era.

If your game doesn't fit outdated, stereotypical notions of grit and competitiveness and people are using the term "perimeter player" as a pejorative, you're expendable in Boston.

We saw the same story play out with Joe Thornton. With Séguin gone, it'll be players like Alex Khoklachev given the shaft in favour of HEART and GRIT...although the call-up  of Frank Vatrano today is encouraging, potentially. The Bruins in recent history have shown a gift for taking skilled players and wasting their potential by either refusing to give them a chance due to some misguided "THE BOTTOM SIX MUST BE GRITTY" philosophy or, if they even slightly screw up, punishing them far more harshly and giving far less leeway than with less skilled but more (perceived) "hard-working" players.

It's a dangerous path, but one that Cam Neely's words reveal still influences thinking in Boston. It's also a path that has seen talent wasted in the past, led to the Bruins trading a potentially legendary franchise star before he really had time to become one, and is an easy way to see it wasted in the future.