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Neely on D&H: Olympic hockey ‘doesn’t really promote the NHL’

02.26.10 at 5:13 pm ET
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Bruins vice president Cam Neely joined Dale & Holley from Vancouver Friday afternoon to talk Olympic hockey, the NHL and the state of the Bruins.’€¨’€¨ Neely said he does not think the two-week layoff for the Olympics ‘€¨is a good thing for the NHL as a whole. ‘€œIt doesn’€™t really promote the ‘€¨NHL,’€ he said. ‘€œThe individual players get recognition, obviously the ‘€¨countries as a team get recognition, but it’€™s not so much for us.’€

Neely also commented on the game’€™s international rules, chiefly those ‘€¨against fighting: ‘€œI still like the intimidation factor of, ‘If ‘€¨I do something, is this guy going to drop his gloves?’ I think it gives ‘€¨you some checks and balances there.’€

Neely discussed a potential USA-Canada rematch in Sunday’s Olympic ‘€¨final. ‘€¨Though Neely thinks Canada has the more talented team on paper, the ‘€¨play of U.S. goalie Ryan Miller has caught his eye. ‘€œEven though Canada ‘€¨might have an advantage, I think, if they both play their best, that ‘€¨goaltender is an unbelievable goaltender in [Ryan] Miller,’€ he said. ‘€¨’€œIf he plays like he has this whole tournament, he is going to be tough ‘€¨to beat.’€

Neely touched on the Bruins’ prospects as they come back from the ‘€¨break, starting with a game at TD Garden against the Montreal Canadiens ‘€¨Tuesday. Neely said that the Bruins need to get Tim Thomas back into ‘€¨shape since he has sat behind Miller at the Olympics. He also said ‘€¨that he has been surprised by the team’€™s lack of offensive punch this ‘€¨season. ‘€œOne thing that they are not doing that I thought they would be ‘€¨doing is scoring more,’€ he said. ‘€œI’€™ve never seen a team that I’€™ve been ‘€¨associated with that one year everybody has a really good year and the ‘€¨next year most of those same players are having an off year at the same ‘€¨time.’€

Neely added that he saw the team turning things around in its ‘€¨last four games before the break and that he expects big things from ‘€¨David Krejci in the last few weeks. ‘€œWatching him here, he is playing ‘€¨the way we thought he would play, and hopefully that carries over when ‘€¨he comes back to Boston.’€

A full transcript of the interview is below. To listen, click here.

You are in an interesting position. Who are you rooting for if it comes down to USA vs. Canada?

Well, the Canadian in me runs deep even though I was fortunate enough to become an American citizen, which I am very proud of. But the Canadian in me runs deep.

You see the physical commitment of these guys ‘€” and they aren’t getting paid ‘€” and you say, “Well that’€™s what hockey players are like.”

Right, but I think they are doing all right with the financial part though.

Well, they are all doing fine in real life.

Yeah, you are right. I did an interview out here and someone asked me about the difference between the NBA players in the Olympics and the NHL players in the Olympics and how they seemed more passionate. And my response was, “Well, you are talking about hockey players.”

Do you think it is a good idea for the NHL to stop play for a couple of weeks and have players in the Olympics? Is this the best thing for the league?

For the league, I don’€™t think it is. Obviously as a former player I certainly would have loved an opportunity to play in the Olympics, but my real dream was to play in the NHL as it is with most North American players. Most North American players say, “Well, my dream is to play in the NHL.” As we’€™ve seen with the last few Olympics, they’€™ve had an opportunity to play in the Olympics, which is another great thing. But now being on the other side and seeing how your league shuts down for two weeks, especially in markets in the states where football is now done and you have an opportunity to get more exposure for your team in your market, I just don’€™t see how it is a benefit for the team or the league itself.

How about publicity?

Well, it doesn’€™t really promote the NHL, though. The individual players get recognition, obviously the countries as a team get recognition, but it’€™s not so much for us. I don’€™t think they can really quantify how this is beneficial to our game. Having said that, obviously in Canada here people are going to watch hockey anyway, and now even more so they are tuning in. And in the U.S. especially with the last game against Canada I know it was huge ratings. But once the Olympics are done, are all those people going to continue to watch NHL hockey?

Do you think that there will be a spike in the attendance numbers or ratings for the last six weeks of the NHL season because of this?

If I’€™m watching Slovakia, for instance, and we have [Zdeno] Chara on there, are people going to say, “I haven’€™t seen Chara yet, I’€™m going to go to a game”? You know what I mean by that? So, I’€™m not really sure. I certainly hope that would be the case. I hope that some maybe casual fans became bigger fans because of the Olympics, maybe some people who maybe weren’€™t even fans of hockey said, “Hey, this really is a great sport.” Become fans of the game and start going to hockey games or tuning in on TV. I hope that happens for sure.

Do you sit there watching the games holding your breath the whole time as an executive of the team?

That’€™s a big thing, Dale, you’€™re right. Obviously our best players are at the Olympics and you talk about, “Jeez, I hope they just get out of here healthy.” It would be awful for our team, it would be awful for our fans ‘€” not just us, but any team ‘€” if somebody goes down for two, three, four, five weeks because of something that happened at the Olympics. That’€™s the thing that all the GMs and owners worry about for sure.

Do you think international hockey ‘€” Olympic hockey ‘€” could survive in the NHL?

I think it would be difficult. Listen, I’€™m a big fan of our game and I’€™m a traditionalist at heart and I still like the intimidation factor of if I do something, is this guy going to drop his gloves? I think it gives you some checks and balances there. I think in the Olympics, in a short term like this, you are not going to have it. But if you talk over an 82-game schedule where guys don’€™t have to worry about some guy popping them, you are going to see an entirely different type of hockey and everyone and their grandmother all of a sudden is going to be a tough guy.

I think the maximum amount of what you can spend as a NHL franchise is something around $56 million. If you added up the total salaries of Team Canada, it is $128 million. Team USA is $85 million. You are showing a product to fans that the NHL can’€™t duplicate.

Well, yeah, they are not going to see this. It would be like taking the NHL All-Star team and saying, “OK, you are a team, go play 82 games and the playoffs.” That’€™s not going to happen; you’€™re not going to have that type of lineup, there is just no way that is possible. Back in the day before the salary cap, the [New York] Rangers, Detroit [Red Wings] and [Philadelphia Flyers], they were spending $70 [million] to $80 million while other teams like Nashville [Predators] were spending $20 million. You aren’€™t going to be able to get that type of lineup with $60 million, either.

One of the gutsiest moves has been [Canada coach Mike] Babcock‘€™s decision to bench Martin Brodeur and go with Roberto Luongo. What do you think of that move?

Well, you know they had to do something after that game. Marty is a world-class goaltender; he looked a little shaky. But you know you are going to have to do something, especially in Vancouver with Luongo on the bench. I think it is one of those decisions that could be a great decision and everyone is happy or if he doesn’€™t do it and things don’€™t turn out, he would just get ripped apart. Having Luongo as your backup isn’€™t a bad thing and he came in and did a good job. But you know, the Canadians completely dominated Russia. It didn’€™t even come down to goaltending.

The first period that I saw Canada play against Russia the other night might be the best period of hockey I’€™ve ever seen.

You’€™re right. It was an amazing first period of hockey. These guys were on a mission and they were playing the way everybody thought they could play and should play to win this tournament. They’€™re big, they’€™re strong, they’€™re fast; they just completely dominated. But the difference is I think the U.S. defense is better than the Russian’€™s defense. So I think that is where Canada just completely owned them. Once they got the puck in deep, Russia just couldn’€™t handle them.

If they both play their best game, what kind of game would you expect?

If both teams played their best, I think it would be a relatively low-scoring game. Even though Canada might have an advantage, I think, if they both play their best, but that goaltender is an unbelievable goaltender in [Ryan] Miller. If he plays like he has this whole tournament, he is going to be tough to beat. But Canada, I think overall on paper, they are a better hockey club than the States. But Miller has played extremely well here and he has played well all year.

You are going to be having somebody play Sunday night [in the Olympic final]. Are they going to be looking to play Tuesday night as well?

I certainly hope so. I mean, we would certainly expect them to be playing. We would need them to be playing. We are fighting for a playoff spot here, so I would certainly hope they would be playing.

How do you get Tim Thomas into some kind of game shape? He hasn’€™t played in almost a month.

Yeah, I’€™m sure Claude [Julien] and Peter [Chiarelli] have been talking about, “We need to get him back in net, here.” He is certainly getting a lot of pucks thrown at him in practice here with the U.S. team, but we need Tim to play the way he is capable of playing We’€™ve got to get him back in there soon. I imagine that is what Claude is thinking.

What is the one thing this team is doing that you didn’€™t think they would be doing?

One thing that they are not doing that I thought they would be doing is scoring more. I’€™ve never seen a team that I’€™ve been associated with that has one year were everybody has a really good year and the next year most of those same players are having an off year at the same time. I haven’€™t seen anything like it, and that is what we are going through this year. We’€™ve had a lot of guys have down years from last year and at the same time coupled with key players getting hurt. Having said that, the last four games going into the Olympic break guys appeared to be coming out of it. [David] Krejci has played fantastic here so I’€™m really looking for him to step up his game when he gets back with us in Boston. This experience for the guys that are here is really going to give them so much more confidence. Even though Patrice [Bergeron] isn’€™t playing much, to be around all these great players and practicing with those guys is certainly going to help him. I think that is the main thing, having that many guys have off years at the same time.

Krejci is the guy for me too, Cam. As I watch this tournament, I hope that this serves a springboard for him because up to this point his year has been a little bit of a disappointment.

You know, he came back earlier than expected from offseason surgery and is it one of those things were he came back a little too early? His linemates certainly weren’€™t playing the way they did last year as a group, so that has taken away from him as a centerman. But he hasn’€™t played as well as we expected him to play, as he expected to play. But watching him here, he is playing the way we thought he would play and hopefully that carries over when he gets back to Boston as I mentioned.

Were the Canadian players feeling the pressure of being on the Olympic hockey team in the country of Canada?

I would think that would be the case, Dale. You come into Canada, you’€™re on home soil with the one sport that the Canadians as a country just completely love and have so much passion for. Everyone is expecting them to play well and win, and everybody kind of overlooked the fact that, “Wait a second minute, there are other great countries that are playing the sport right now.” It’€™s not like it used to be and I think that early on they felt those pressures. The best thing that happened to them was that Germany game where they say, “Oh my god, we have to win this game.” And they came out and played extremely well and got all those goals and got some confidence to say, “Hey, we are a good team here.” But yeah, I think the fact that they are on home soil and that the expectations were so high, I think that did put a little extra pressure on them.

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