Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 13: Head coach Bruce Cassidy of the Vegas Golden Knights hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Florida Panthers to win the championship in Game Five of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on June 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Well, the worst-case scenario has officially become a reality for the Bruins.

Just over a year removed from their decision to fire Bruce Cassidy as the head coach of the club, Cassidy and the Golden Knights dominated the Panthers in a game that made you go, “Where the hell was this on June, 12, 2019?” Watching the whole thing unfold took me back to what Cassidy said during that 2019 Final, which was, “I just want my name on the damn Cup.”

It didn’t happen then, and it didn’t happen at all with the Bruins for that matter, as the B’s suffered back-to-back second round exits and then lost in the first round in the three seasons that followed the Cup loss. But it happened last night, and will become official this summer when the NHL engraves Cassidy and the rest of the 2022-23 Golden Knights on hockey’s Holy Grail.

And for Cassidy to get right back on his horse and immediately get it done with a different franchise? Oof, there’s no denying the sting that would come for the B’s front office with that unfolding before their very eyes. Especially after a first-round exit that was full of coaching gaffes from first-year Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery after a near-perfect regular reason.

That sequence of events is going to come with serious pain (when does it end?) and arrows shot at the Bruins throughout the summer in regards to that decision, and whether or not it was the right call for Don Sweeney and the Bruins.

But is this — or anything, really — truly that simple?

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  • I think the first thing that feels worthy of pushing back on is the idea that the Bruins would’ve been here had they kept Cassidy behind the bench.

    That’s a bit too plug-and-play for my own liking.

    Let’s start with the obvious: Vegas had a stacked roster before Cassidy arrived. They still had the original ‘Golden Misfits’ line and they bolstered their roster with additions like Mark Stone, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jack Eichel. All they really needed was a head coach to get them centered, focused, and determined for the objective. This felt especially true after the franchise’s first and only did-not-qualify last season. Cassidy was that guy, and the Golden Knights by all means acknowledged that in-season and after Tuesday’s Cup-clinching victory. I remember back in the regular season when Jonathan Marchessault and the Knights came to Boston and beat the Bruins at TD Garden, he outright said, “We wanted to show that we like playing for [Cassidy].” And last night, Stone acknowledged the off-ice impact that Cassidy brought to the Vegas room after last year’s failure to qualify for the 16-team dance.

  • I also think that there was a legitimate case to be made for the idea that the Bruins had already hit their ceiling with Cassidy running the Boston bench. As noted, the Bruins were taking more and more steps back from the stage they got to in 2019, and that’s often the sign that a change is needed in the world of NHL coaching.

    And it’s possible that Cassidy’s intensity had worn thin on players the Bruins weren’t interested in trading. Comments from Brandon Carlo to The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa seemingly confirmed as much, with Carlo telling Shinzawa that he was a bit too worried about ‘f–king up’ last year, and noting that he was ‘having fun’ with the switch from Cassidy to Montgomery. Other players had told 98.5 The Sports Hub that there was no ‘gray area’ when it came to where you stood with Montgomery, which wasn’t always the case with Cassidy.

    “The timing after taking a few weeks to unpack, a lot of things happened over the course of the year and where I thought the direction of our team was currently and equally with some of the surgeries and some of the things coming out where our team was going to be going forward and impacting our club, I just felt that the messaging and voice that was going to be required, I felt we needed a new direction,” Sweeney said in June 2022 in the press conferencing regarding the firing of Cassidy. “[The players] are not driving the bus in terms of making my decisions. I honestly believe that they impact our hockey club more than any of us. They’re invested and I think they want to know how invested the organization is. I think taking anything away from you know what they’re trying to accomplish as a group, you know I honestly believe it doesn’t matter what they’re necessarily saying individually.

    “It’s collectively as a group and to how much they think they can accomplish, and they agreed with me because I had used a statement that we left everything on the table, and they felt the same way. Young or old, I think there is a message delivery that I think a new voice will resonate with them.”

    For 82 games, that voice did resonate. To an all-time wins and points record, no less. To say that the Bruins were wrong to move on from Cassidy is ignoring an 82-game sample size, and hyperfocusing on a seven-game one in Boston, and 22-game one in Las Vegas. The math isn’t mathing the way it’s supposed to in this argument.

  • Jun 13, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Florida Panthers in game five of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 13, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Florida Panthers in game five of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. (Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Now, I can’t sit here and tell you that the Bruins don’t look bad here. That’d be disingenuous as hell.

    But it’s not because they fired Cassidy. It’s more because there’s two potential fallouts here: The Bruins either didn’t equip Cassidy with the full assortment of weapons he needed to best execute his system, or the Bruins’ players didn’t have the mental or physical wherewithal to execute it at the level required to do what Cassidy and the Golden Knights did Monday night at T-Mobile Arena.

    Neither is a particularly great look for the club.

    On the former, there were times where the Bruins made themselves slower or more plodding when Cassidy openly lamented and begged for more ‘pace’ from his team. Cassidy was also painfully open about his desire for the Bruins to have more scoring punch from their backend and for his defense to “play like pricks.” It’s hard to say that the Bruins accomplished either one of those things for Cassidy’s club, be it internally or with external additions. Hell, it even led to the Bruins letting Cassidy fire assistant coach Kevin Dean… just before the Bruins fired Cassidy. (Also: It’s crazy to think Cassidy got basically 10 games and one playoff round out of the Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy one-two punch after begging for something like that for years.)

    On the latter, there’s no denying that certain players clashed with Cassidy and his methods. I think a few players struggled with finding their own identity as players under his guidance. Trent Frederic comes to mind on that front. Frederic bounced between agitator and hockey player a bit too much during the Cassidy era, and the switch to Montgomery absolutely breathed new life into his game, with a career-high 17 goals in a mostly set role on line three. Jake DeBrusk’s issues with Cassidy were pretty well known, but it was Cassidy who put DeBrusk on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand midway through the 2021-22 season, and DeBrusk has never looked back.

    But the idea that the entire locker room hated Cassidy and demanded he be ousted? That’s something I’ve consistently received legitimate pushback on, and from people who one would consider extremely close to the situation. All of Boston’s leaders checked in on him — whether that was through a call, text, or FaceTime call — after the Bruins fired him. There’s still contact between Cassidy and numerous Boston players, and you saw that in Boston when Patrice Bergeron made sure to catch up with Cassidy when the Golden Knights came to town in the regular season. Cassidy had (and still has) tremendous relationships with players like Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. And when you have those guys on your side, that means an awful lot for a franchise.

    Rather than falling face-first into the narratives (and boy, is that real easy on a post-victory Wednesday), the reality is that this is one of those classic scenarios where both things are indeed true: Cassidy is still a great coach in today’s game, and the Bruins needed a new voice to try and squeeze a bit more out of their roster.

  • Jun 13, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Florida Panthers in game five of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

    Jun 13, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy hoists the Stanley Cup after defeating the Florida Panthers in game five of the 2023 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. (Lucas Peltier/USA TODAY Sports)

  • We are, however, about to enter the truly interesting part of this 2022 decision involving Cassidy, the Bruins, and the Golden Knights.

    One big reason why the Bruins moved on from Cassidy and pivoted to Montgomery is that they felt that the club was going to have to start integrating some of their younger players and that Cassidy wasn’t the man for that job. Talking about this with us last summer, Cassidy by all means threw out a ‘what young players?’ in not so many words while also acknowledging that the Bruins were very much a ‘win now’ team during his time behind the bench. (Also of note, the Bruins basically boxed any young player out of a role in 2021-22 with a free agency bonanza that filled every single opening on the Boston roster before the start of training camp.)

    Cassidy is a more ‘veteran team’ kind of coach, so there’s legitimate doubt in regards to him being that guy for a youthful team like the Bruins will inevitably become in the not-so-distant future. But the closest thing to a youthful breakout the Bruins had in 2023 with Montgomery running the show was with Frederic and Jakub Lauko — I’m sorry, but I’m not counting multi-year NHL veterans or even Jeremy Swayman on that list — and with a cap crunch coming for this team, youth will have to make the jump for the Bruins next season. It’ll be on Montgomery to make that happen and prove the Bruins’ belief in him right.

    And if some of those players who clashed with Cassidy go through a similar malaise as time goes on or if their game plateaus with Montgomery, then the argument becomes an entirely different one in regards to who should’ve been jettisoned first, and paints everybody in the organization in a worse light. (I mean, you could argue that the first-round exit already painted them in a bad light, and I’d admittedly have a hard time arguing against you.)

    There’s pressure on more than a couple of players now in the wake of a Cassidy championship in Vegas, especially if and when a changing of the guard ups the responsibilities on those players, and that pressure may very well prove to be more intense than anything Cassidy ever did or said to them.

    Across the country, Cassidy and the Golden Knights are at the top of the NHL mountain. If they remain there, and if the buy-in remains there from his top threats like it was this season (Jack Eichel hit a level I truthfully didn’t know he had in him as a two-way threat), then the situation only gets worse for the Bruins. But if the media callouts ramp up and the development of younger players stop-and-start and the players grow tired of it and Vegas takes steps backwards, the Bruins can say, “See? This happens to every coach and every city and we just did what we had to do.”

    It’s a fascinating story that’s really just beginning.

    And with narratives already at a fever pitch.

  • The blueprint for a Cup winner remains same

    SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JUNE 10: Alex Pietrangelo #7 of the Vegas Golden Knights and Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers fight following the Knights 3-2 win against the Panthers in Game Four of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at FLA Live Arena on June 10, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JUNE 10: Alex Pietrangelo #7 of the Vegas Golden Knights and Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers fight following the Knights 3-2 win against the Panthers in Game 4 of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • It’s not hard to see the recent trend emerging when it comes to Stanley Cup winners.

    That’s because they’re huge. Huge defensemen, actually.

    On this year’s road to the Cup, which featured just six losses for the Golden Knights, Vegas iced a defensive rotation whose shortest regular stood at 6-foot-1. That was Alec Martinez, and boy, if you’re familiar with Playoff Martinez, he certainly plays bigger than his 6-foot-1 frame. Elsewhere on the Vegas defense, you have defenders striding at 6-foot-2, 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, and 6-foot-6. It’s like trying to navigate through a forest of redwoods.

    Last year, Colorado won with a team of six footers, and their only non six-footer is Cale Makar, who is absolutely the best defenseman in hockey and was exactly that throughout the 2022 postseason. You’ll always make an exception for game-changing unicorns like Makar whether they’re 5-foot-11 or 5-foot-3.

    The Lightning also iced a defensive grouping of redwoods when they won their Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021.

    In the case of all four teams, their defenses had size and they could skate with their size.

    Bringing this back to the Boston scope, the Bruins are aware of this. In fact, over the last three drafts, the heights of Boston’s selections on the blue line have been 6-foot-4 (Mason Lohrei), 6-foot-3 (Mason Langenbrunner), 6-foot-5 (Ryan Mast), 6-foot-0 (Ty Gallagher), and then back-to-back 6-foot-2 selections in 2022 with the drafting of Frederic Brunet and Jackson Edward. Factor that in with who they view as foundational pieces on the backend — the 6-foot-5 Carlo, 6-foot-4 Lindholm, and 6-foot-1 Charlie McAvoy — and the B’s clearly wanna make kind of defense happen.

    (It also makes me curious if the Bruins try to ‘Carlo’ Lohrei this training camp by giving him an extended look with NHLers and hoping he’s ready to go right to the NHL after last year’s late-season sample in Providence.)

  • Adin Hill shocked world, but will he shock goalie market?

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 13: Adin Hill #33 of the Vegas Golden Knights leads the team onto the ice for warmups before Game Five of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena on June 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Panthers 9-3 to win the series four games to one. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JUNE 13: Adin Hill #33 of the Vegas Golden Knights leads the team onto the ice for warmups before Game 5 of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final against the Florida Panthers at T-Mobile Arena on June 13, 2023. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

  • Gotta tell ‘ya, I did not have Adin Hill, the owner of 29 wins and a .908 save percentage through 74 career games entering this season, leading the Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup on my bingo card.

    But not only did Hill do it, but he was freakin’ excellent for the Knights on the game’s biggest stage, with four wins and a .923 save percentage in his five-game Final against the Panthers. It was more than a hot round, too, as Hill finished the postseason with a stellar .932 save percentage and playoff-leading 13.65 goals saved above average at all-situation play. And all he cost the Knights back in Aug. 2022 was a fourth-round pick in 2024. The steal of steals.

    But the question is will Hill’s success completely disrupt the goalie market, and what could that mean for the Bruins?

    Given how tight against the cap the Bruins are, the idea of trading Linus Ullmark has some legitimate legs. It shouldn’t by any means be considered the go-to move, but it also shouldn’t be completely out of the question. In theory, Ullmark’s value will never be higher than it is right now with a Vezina Trophy almost certainly in his hands later this month, and his $5 million could be of great value to the Bruins in terms of clearing money to retain others, especially if they view Jeremy Swayman as the potential “guy” in the Boston net.

    But Hill’s success also makes it three times in five years where someone you’d consider more of ‘a guy’ versus ‘the guy’ has won the Stanley Cup. Jordan Binnington had his run in 2019, Darcy Kuemper had his for the Avalanche in 2022, and now Hill. The outlier here is Andrei Vasilevskiy, considered by many to be the best goalie in hockey, leading the Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship in both 2020 and 2021.

    So, it’s really a two-pronged ‘problem’ for the Bruins. It’s entirely possible that the trade market wonders why they have to spend top-tier assets on Ullmark when they could just take a flier on ‘a guy’ and hope it hits. That would hurt the Bruins’ return on a potential Ullmark trade, perhaps to the point where it’s simply not worth making that call. And, it could also throw a wrench in the Bruins’ plans of keeping what would be a high-priced one-two of Ullmark and Swayman, with people wondering why you’re committing $9 million or so of your salary cap to having two goalies when everyone else is winning with much cheaper options.

  • Appetite for ‘hockey trade’ may, should grow

    SUNRISE, FLORIDA - JUNE 08:  Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers celebrates the game-winning goal by teammate Carter Verhaeghe during the first overtime period to give the team a 3-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game Three of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at FLA Live Arena on June 08, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

    SUNRISE, FLORIDA – JUNE 08: Matthew Tkachuk #19 of the Florida Panthers celebrates the game-winning goal by teammate Carter Verhaeghe during the first overtime period to give the team a 3-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 3 of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at FLA Live Arena on June 08, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

     

  • On the other bench, seeing what Matthew Tkachuk did for the Panthers this year should serve as a notice to the rest of the league that sometimes a good old fashioned culture shake-up will pay off in a major way.

    I’ll happily count myself as someone who thought that the Panthers were crazy for trading both Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar for Tkachuk. I was wrong. Seeing what Tkachuk brought to the Panthers — on the scoresheet, on the bench, to their locker room, and to their believability — to will the Panthers to and through the playoffs was downright insane. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a similar run from a single player. Just off-the-charts value.

    And this is where things get interesting for a team like the Bruins.

    The Bruins have been bounced in the first round in back-to-back years. Before that, they suffered back-to-back second-round exits. The current core of their team is aging or successfully fighting off Father Time, and there’s no real value in a rebuild or retool because they have no high-end draft picks for the foreseeable future. That’s what you’d consider the perfect recipe for Sweeney & Co. pulling the trigger on a good old fashioned hockey trade.

    Whether or not they have the appetite for it is its own story, but if this year told us anything, it’s that they should.

  • Everything else…

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 13: Jack Eichel #9 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates the Stanley Cup victory over the Florida Panthers in Game Five of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on June 13, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – JUNE 13: Jack Eichel #9 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates the Stanley Cup victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 5 of the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • – Hard not to feel great for Vegas center Jack Eichel. From an unknown hockey future due to his neck injury to the top of the hockey mountain in his first full season of his fresh start with the Golden Knights. I think what I loved about his postseason was that it required him bumping off some of the game’s other top, younger centers, including a second-round showdown with 2015 draft classmate Connor McDavid. For what it’s worth, I was told that the Bruins had called the Sabres about Eichel when it was made known that he wanted out of Buffalo. I have no idea how they would’ve made it work in terms of a trade between the sides (the Bruins and Sabres have made just two trades in Buffalo’s 52-year history in the NHL), but can you imagine?

    – I wonder where the Panthers go from here. They were an eight seed this postseason, but their cap space situation is beginning to ease up — and they don’t have anybody due a massive raise this summer — and they have a considerable need on the backend. If the Panthers can nab someone of note on that front, they’re not going away anytime soon.

    – If there’s one bummer from this postseason, it’s that the Stanley Cup Final was not accessible for all. As part of the league’s current TV deal, ESPN and TNT will alternate who has the Cup Final of their airwaves. As we saw last year, ESPN years will see the Cup Final on ABC, which makes it available to all with any sort of basic cable available. TNT does have their own version of ABC, and there were more than a few people who had reached out to me saying, “Hey, how can I watch this year’s Cup Final?” or said it wasn’t part of their current package or available on their streaming subscription of choice. That’s no way to grow the game, and it showed, as this year’s Final had some ugly ratings.

    – I am sad we will not have meaningful hockey until October.

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