There’s an awful lot wrong — or concerning, at the very least — with the Bruins.
Bruce Cassidy, outside of natural-but-minor quibbles here and there, was not one of them. But on Monday (and by way of a 7 p.m. on the dot news release), the two men most responsible for the Bruins’ current mess, general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely, made sure that Cassidy was the first to fall.
“After taking some time to fully digest everything, I felt that the direction of our team for both this season and beyond would benefit from a new voice,” Sweeney, probably a little bit bummed that the schedule didn’t allow the organization to bury this update during the fourth quarter of an NBA Finals game, said in the release.
It’s as believable as it is unbelievable.
There’s no debate that Cassidy, who took over for Claude Julien in Feb. 2017, squeezed the lemon 10 times over, with a 271-131-52 record (and a Jack Adams win in 2020) behind the Boston bench. Only the Capitals (273-132-48) and Lightning (288-130-36) posted better records over that span. Those franchises have won three of the five Stanley Cups awarded over that stretch, and Cassidy would’ve had one of his own had the Black and Gold’s best players come to play in a 2019 Game 7 that looks more and more like the window’s haunting swan song with each passing year.
Cassidy did his job. And then some. Consistently.
In NHL history, there are 112 coaches who have coached 6+ seasons.— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) April 30, 2022
Three out of 112 had six consecutive years with a .650 points percentage (107-point pace in an 82-game season):
- Scotty Bowman, MTL 1975-80
- Glen Sather, EDM 1982-87
- BRUCE CASSIDY, BOS 2017-22
Sweeney and Neely? Well, about that.
Six months before promoting Cassidy, the Bruins threw a $30 million bag at David Backes. That was a year after throwing a bag at Matt Beleskey, and trading (highly affordable) top-six right wing Reilly Smith with his value at its absolute lowest. And during Cassidy’s tenure, the Bruins dropped a combined $84 million on a free agent group that included John Moore, Brett Ritchie, Craig Smith, Mike Reilly, Derek Forbort, Tomas Nosek, Linus Ullmark, Erik Haula, and Nick Foligno.
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The Bruins also willingly began almost every season with a bevy of holes on their roster, and relied on Cassidy to find magic formulas in house and with a shallow prospect pool. They willingly walked away from 40 minutes of top-four left-side defensive play in 2020 by letting Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara walk and landed on Forbort and Reilly as the answers after Matt Grzelcyk and Jeremy Lauzon struggled. They went half a season without a third-line center before bringing in Charlie Coyle in 2019. They routinely rotated expired deli meat and Blockbuster rewards cards on David Krejci’s wings.
I mean, when Cassidy’s team was on the ropes in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, Karson Kuhlman was deemed the best available bullet in his chamber. The 2019 Kuhlman Experiment was sandwiched around concussion-derailed and costly runs with Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase. The 2022 postseason saw Chris Wagner and Josh Brown utilized as momentum shifters, and the move back to Trent Frederic late in that first-round series felt a bit like playing violin with half the Titanic in the Atlantic.
2021-22 required Cassidy’s most challenging adaption yet, too, as the Bruins effectively replaced franchise mainstays David Krejci and Tuukka Rask with Erik Haula and Linus Ullmark. The results? Another 100-point season and a one-goal loss in Game 7 against a Metropolitan-best Carolina team… and with a B’s team that had almost no secondary scoring once again and leaned on a rookie goaltender for the final five games of the series.
Cassidy didn’t leave anything on the table while the same could not be said for Sweeney. In a monster deal with Anaheim for Hampus Lindholm, Sweeney tacked on an extra second-round pick to get the Ducks to take the John Moore contract off the Bruins’ books. The plan was that the Bruins would use that extra cap space to acquire another impact forward. That did not materialize, as the Bruins watched the Penguins best their push for Rickard Rakell and later said that nobody else “moved the needle.” To the surprise of no one, Extra Cap Space finished the postseason with zero goals and zero assists while Cassidy was once again forced to jumble his forward lines to hell and back in search of added scoring punch.
Sweeney and Neely noted all of this in their exit interviews, too, saying that Carolina was a tough matchup for the Bruins and that the players just didn’t have it in Game 7. How that turned to coaching change in a matter of 15 days is … something.
To put this on coaching is and will always be completely asinine. And nobody should buy it. This is scapegoating at its finest.
But the new spin that will come out of Warrior Ice Arena beginning Tuesday at 8 a.m. is that the team didn’t feel Cassidy was the right coach to develop younger players. Not that the team’s young players were never all that great to begin with. From 2015 to 2018, Sweeney and the Bruins drafted 14 forwards. Of that group of 14, six have appeared in an NHL game, and Trent Frederic is that group’s second-highest scorer behind Jake DeBrusk, with 12 goals and 23 points in 119 NHL games.
There will be rumblings of unrest within the B’s locker room in regards to Cassidy’s blunt approach. Well, the blunt approach worked a lot better than the strong-and-silent stylings of Julien, which led to two straight Game 82 collapses out of postseason contention, and with the 2017 team looking primed for a three-peat before making the switch to Cassidy. But perhaps that distaste for any form of accountability is truly how we’re here in the first place.
The 57-year-old Cassidy, who still has the coaching bug, now co-headlines a free agent head coach list with Barry Trotz. Zero doubt. The line of teams lining up at his door for an interview will extend around the street. Again, no doubts there.
As for the list of coaches who can deliver comparable results? And perhaps most importantly, accomplished and capable coaches interested in a Bruins team already with an infirmary full of unavailable bodies, a superstar wing entering the final year of his deal, and an undecided, free agent captain? Yeah, we’ll all have our doubts there, and rightfully so.
But at least Neely and Sweeney, who have gone through more coaches than trips to the third round of the postseason since becoming Boston’s one-two executive team in 2015, have bought themselves some more time.
Wrong and concerning.