Boston Bruins

  • Stanley Cups aside, Bruce Cassidy still had a wildly successful tenure as the Boston Bruins’ head coach. With a .650 points percentage in six straight seasons, he joined elite company as only the third coach to do so, after Hall of Famers Scotty Bowman and Glen Sather.

    Bowman and Sather have 13 (!!!) Stanley Cup wins between them, so Cassidy is obviously still not in that class. But if you wanted to find any problems with how he coached the Bruins – let alone a reason why he deserved to be fired – you have to resort to quibbles and nitpicks and moderate annoyances. All of which would rank low on the list of why the Bruins haven’t made it out of the second round of the playoffs over the past three seasons.

    With that in mind, it’s worth exploring the idea that Cassidy’s communication style with players is still a work in progress. He can be blunt about what he’s looking for and what players need to do. It was a big reason for his ouster from the Washington Capitals in 2004. It’s possibly why it took him 13 years to work his way back to the head coaching post, and it seems to be the only issue that could’ve actually factored into his dismissal.

    Cassidy doesn’t seem to have changed that approach too much, but the results with the Bruins speak for themselves. So there’s ostensibly been a lot of improvement. But what certainly has changed since 2004 is the sports media landscape in the rise of social media, and how it affects the newest generation of pro athletes. So when you put a microphone in front of Cassidy, an open book, he’s liable to say something that might blast across Twitter within minutes and lead a player to take criticisms to heart, or misinterpret comments altogether.

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    So it’s not all that surprising, but still eye-opening, to learn that Cassidy did in fact have issues with players at times over what he would say about them in press conferences. Cassidy admitted in his final Zoom conference with Bruins media on Thursday, which he requested himself and conducted for nearly 50 minutes, that Bruins President Cam Neely had to warn him at times about what he says publicly about the team.

  • “Listen, Just Be Careful”

    May 10, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy reacts against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in game five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    May 10, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy reacts against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in game five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

    During the Zoom, Ty Anderson of 98.5 The Sports Hub asked Cassidy whether his interaction with certain players had led to behind-the-scenes conversations with upper management about how to handle things. Cassidy then gave a typically expansive answer, and confirmed that he had to talk to Neely at least one time about his press conference remarks. But he also clarified what he’s said before, which is that he never said anything publicly that wasn’t also communicated to players privately.

    “Cam had come to me once and said, ‘Listen, just be careful because it can be construed the wrong way with players,'” Cassidy explained. “And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And I said, ‘Cam, everything I’ve said out here is said to the player as well, but I understand what you’re saying.’ And sometimes, I think a narrative gets created in the media that maybe wasn’t meant.”

    Cassidy went on to describe a situation in which he would, for example, say Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman wasn’t as good as the other team’s goalie in a given game. And then the ensuing narrative in some media corners might be, “Bruce Cassidy throws Jeremy Swayman under the bus” (who, us?!). Cassidy acknowledged that his brutal honesty has led to issues at times.

    “I should have said, ‘Hey, that’s not the reason we lost,’ expand on it,” Cassidy said, describing a hypothetical postgame presser. “Sometimes when you’re honest, it could get you in trouble here and there. But as I said, I think I’ve always tried to make sure the player understands what exactly is expected and where we’re going and what we’re going to do moving forward.”

    Cassidy also acknowledged that there were “a few examples” of rubbing players the wrong way because of his communication style over the years.

  • “I can coach in this league”

    Jun 12, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy addresses the media after the Bruins lost to the St. Louis Blues in game seven of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 12, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy addresses the media after the Bruins lost to the St. Louis Blues in game seven of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Earlier in the conference, Cassidy was asked what he learned about himself during his time as Bruins head coach, and he started by putting it simply: “I learned that I could be a good coach in the National Hockey League.”

    He went on to detail his first stint as a head coach with the Capitals, which for the uninitiated ranks as one of the bigger coaching disasters in modern NHL history. Washington fired him early in the 2003-04 season after starting with an 8-18-1 record, and stories emerged about a rocky relationship with players. So despite his sudden dismissal, he remains grateful to the Bruins organization for finally giving him another head coaching opportunity.

    Cassidy admitted that he may not have quite been ready to manage an NHL locker room, but credited Bruins veterans like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron for buying in and helping him get through to the rest of the roster. His mouth may inevitably get him in trouble with more players at his next stop, but his Bruins tenure proved he can get most, if not all the players to listen to him and pull in the same direction.

    “That’s what I’ve learned about myself, that I can coach in this league and I can coach players hard to be accountable to the team and still allow them to play to their strengths,” Cassidy said. “And when you come into the league, and you walk into a room in – for example, for me in Washington, there’s a [Jaromir] Jagr, [Sergei] Gonchar, [Peter] Bondra – there’s a certain level of intimidation.

    “When I walked in the room with Z [Zdeno Chara] and Bergy [Patrice Bergeron], it helped me around the team. To me, it was, ‘OK, you can do this, you’ve earned the right to be here, get your message across, communicate well. And I think we did that right out of the gate. So, that’s what I learned.”

  • What’s next?

    SOUTH BEND, INDIANA - JANUARY 01: Head coach Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins leaves the rink after beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on January 01, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    SOUTH BEND, INDIANA – JANUARY 01: Head coach Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins leaves the rink after beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium on January 01, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    There’s nothing Cassidy made more clear than the fact he wants to keep coaching in the NHL, as soon as the 2022-23 season.

    Cassidy confirmed Thursday that he’s already spoken to multiple teams about their head coach openings. There are six openings outside of Boston, as of Friday: Chicago, Dallas, Detroitr, Philadelphia, Winnipeg, and Vegas.

    It wouldn’t be surprising if Cassidy had his pick of multiple teams.

  • Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.