If it was not clear to Claude Julien in the summer of 2007, before he took the job as the head coach of the Boston Bruins, it quickly became obvious: the Bruins were struggling, on the ice, and in the hearts of fans.
A month after he was hired, the Boston Celtics assembled a squad that would claim the team's 17th NBA championship. Come October, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series for the second time in four seasons. And by the end of the year the New England Patriots, who had won three Super Bowls in the previous six years, would wrap up a 16-0 regular season.
The dominant professional franchise in the city for most of the century, the Bruins had become an afterthought.
But it was nothing they could not cure with a championship of their own. Now back among the elite - in the NHL and in their hometown - the Bruins were scheduled to raise their sixth championship banner last night when they began the defence of their Stanley Cup title against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"It's great for us to fit in with the other teams in the city," Julien said ahead of the game.
"There's a lot of attention paid to our team right now. When you drive around town, you see stickers on bumpers saying 'Stanley Cup Champions'.
"There's a lot of people that root for you."
Before the other Boston teams found success, the Bruins owned the city's sports scene.
Eddie Shore brought the Stanley Cup to Boston while future Red Sox star Ted Williams was still a scrawny teenager, and they won two more titles before the NBA first arrived. Even then the Celtics' 11 titles in 13 years could not capture the city the way the Bruins did.
In the 1960s, when the Bruins missed the play-offs for eight successive years and the Celtics won eight consecutive championships, the hockey club still regularly outdrew their NBA counterparts.
And when Bobby Orr led the Bruins to championships in 1970 and 1972, hockey rinks sprung up around New England in his name and sent their progeny to the NHL, the Olympics and to college programmes around the country.
"This was and is a hockey town like no other in America," said Richard Johnson, the curator of The Sports Museum of New England.
"Boston is to hockey what … San Pedro de Macoris is to baseball, Sydney to rugby, Buenos Aires to football."
Last season, a year after an unprecedented post-season collapse in which they blew a 3-0 lead against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semi-finals, the Bruins eliminated arch-rivals Montreal in seven games in the first round and then avenged their loss to the Flyers with a four-game sweep in the conference semi-finals.
With a seven-game victory over Tampa Bay, the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990. There, stellar goaltending by Tim Thomas tipped the balance to Boston and the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.
"It's a long road and when you actually do win, it's an unbelievable feeling," said Nathan Horton, a key contributor in the early rounds, who was out of the finals after being concussed in Game 3.
"Winning the Stanley Cup and watching everybody hold it.
"Just to be there with my teammates, who care about each other so much, it feels good to do that."
Thomas, who won his second Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender in the regular season, is back, and by virtue of last year's performance he is entrenched as the starter ahead of Tuukka Rask.
Most of the other key players from last year's team also return, including the defencemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg and the forwards David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic.
Most notable among the missing is Mark Recchi, who retired at the age of 43.
Also missing will be Marc Savard, who is expected to be out the entire 2011/12 season because of post-concussion syndrome.
Michael Ryder signed with Dallas as a free agent, and Tomas Kaberle, the puck-moving defenceman, who was a disappointment in Boston, is also gone.