‘The Bruin is basically tattooed to me’: Inside Bruce Cassidy’s final meeting with the media
June 9th, 2022
Dec 23, 2018; Raleigh, NC, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy reacts from behind the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Boston Bruins 5-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Ex-Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy did not want to disappear into the night without one final media availability.
Rather than go one-by-one with everybody on the beat and rehash his obviously painful exit from the team he grew up rooting for as an Ottawa native, Cassidy organized a Zoom call with select members of the Bruins media Thursday morning, and for 45 minutes held court on anything and everything we wanted to know about his dismissal.
Never one to dodge from his past or present, it was the chance for Cassidy to talk everything out, and leave nothing to conspiracy theory or guessing game when it came to his five-year run with the franchise.
On developing young players
May 11, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy talks to his team from behind the bench against the Washington Capitals in the third period period at Capital One Arena. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)
It seems like the No. 1 reason that the Bruins decided to move on from Bruce Cassidy, at least if we’re to take Bruins general manager Don Sweeney at his word, is that the Bruins wanted a new coach who they believe can communicate to and develop young players at a more effective level.
The idea that Cassidy couldn’t and didn’t do that during his Boston run is something that he clearly didn’t agree with, and with some names to back up his point.
“When I came on board, we changed a lot of the players and we infused our team with a lot of young talent; Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, Pasta was still young, Grzelcyk, Carlo, McAvoy,” Cassidy offered. “And I think a lot of those guys have gone and had real nice careers. Some of them have left here, obviously for different reasons, you’re trying to always improve your team. And then onto now more recently. Trent Frederic, we’ve tried to incorporate into the lineup on a regular basis. Jack [Studnicka]’s knocking on the door [but] unfortunately we had a few veteran guys in front of him, and we’ll see how that plays out down the road for the next coach and you know how much availability there is on the roster for him. But [Jakub] Zboril was turning the corner, Jeremy Lauzon did real good work for us [but] unfortunately we had to expose him [in the Seattle expansion draft] and that’s just part of the business, and you’re seeing [Jeremy] Swayman develop.
“I’m very proud of my record with young guys.”
Given the Bruins’ expectations over that window — Boston entered the year with Stanley Cup hopes from 2018 through Cassidy’s final season in town — that seems like a healthy number to the 57-year-old.
“I think what happens is when you’re a team that’s contending for a Stanley Cup, there’s just not as much room on the roster to put those guys in on a regular basis,” Sweeney offered. “We want guys to learn from their mistakes. It’s going to happen. No one’s perfect and we’re okay with that. But at the end of the day, when you’re vying for a championship, the closer you get to that, any player young or old has to make sure that their game’s buttoned up.
“That’s our job as a staff to make them better. Head coach and assistant coaches. Honestly I can’t say enough about [Jay Pandolfo], Joe Sacco, Kevin [Dean], now Chris Kelly. Like they poured their heart and soul into making these guys better and I hope at some point they appreciate that down the road that they cared about the player and cared about him as a person.
“And I think I fit into that category.”
But he was also aware of some the issues that came up during his tenure. Jake DeBrusk requested a trade. Anton Blidh made it known that he wasn’t happy sitting in the press box for weeks at a time. Peter Cehlarik blasted Cassidy on his way out of the NHL. Guys like Trent Frederic struggled to properly find their footing, and Jack Studnicka wanted more of an NHL look.
“Not every player is going to work out, not every player going to connect with you,” Cassidy said. “In my next challenge, I’ll make sure that I’m mindful of the messaging because I respect [Sweeney] when he talks to me about what you need to do better. He’s been in the game a long time, so that’s something I have to take with me to the next job, but still drive home the accountability because I don’t think you have much of a team if players aren’t held accountable to a standard.”
Cassidy was warned about publicly calling players out
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. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)
When it came to the messaging and its effectiveness, a lot has been made about Cassidy and his propensity for not sugarcoating a player’s struggles or mistakes in his postgame interviews with the media. It was something that was brought up to Cassidy by management (and some players) throughout his time behind the Boston bench.
“Cam [Neely] had come to me once and said, ‘Listen, just be careful because it can be construed the wrong way with players.’ 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,'” Cassidy revealed. “Sometimes, I think a narrative gets created in the media that maybe wasn’t meant. I’ve been often asked, for example, ‘What’d you think of [goaltender Jeremy] Swayman’s play tonight?’ ‘Yeah, I thought he was OK, but their guy made a save or two at the key time.’ And then it’s like, ‘Well now you’re throwing Swayman [under the bus] … you know what I mean? And it gets – it creates a bit of – maybe not the message that I was trying to say was, ‘Hey, he’s been better, he was OK,’ but I should have said, ‘Hey, that’s not the reason we lost,’ expand on it. And 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.”
From my understanding, aside from postgame comments about timely saves (which were delivered in the immediate aftermath of a game result), players were never ‘blindsided’ by anything Cassidy said to the media. They had heard it from the coach directly before it was ever said into a microphone. The accountability was not something that the Bruins organization was exactly worried about off the jump, either, as the team wanted a more direct communicator after what happened throughout the final years of Claude Julien’s tenure behind the bench.
Cassidy also noted that he leaned on his veterans and vice versa to get a message across when it was called for.
“Over the course of my time here, I went to our leadership group a lot. ‘What’s going on?’ ‘Hey, this player here, I don’t think he’s receiving your delivery as well as the player beside him.’ ‘OK, thank you.’ And then it’s you bring the player in, we talk, and that becomes a little more of an interpersonal back-and-forth, as opposed to less, direct on the bench, ‘Hey this is what we need’ and move on. And that’s what I wanted out of those guys. You want to correct and get to the perfect way to communicate to players as quickly as possible, and that’s easier said than done.
“Those are a few examples over the years that they’ve talked to me, and I respect that. [I’m] trying to get better in every aspect of coaching from on the ice to in front of the media, in the dressing room. Those are a couple of times over the years.”
Did things ever ‘break down’ between Sweeney and Cassidy?
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 26: (L-R) Head coach Bruce Cassidy and General Manager Don Sweeney of the Boston Bruins speak during Media Day ahead of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 26, 2019. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The break-up between the Bruins and Cassidy — or, really in this case, Sweeney and Cassidy — was not an easy one. As Cassidy noted, the working relationship between these two dated all the way back to when Cassidy first joined the organization, as Sweeney ran the day-to-day operations of the P-Bruins for a large chunk of Cassidy’s tenure on the farm. But did the strain of almost a decade and a half together eventually hit a breaking point?
Cassidy never felt that the two had a communication breakdown as much as they naturally seemed to drift when Sweeney’s focus was forced to look more towards the future than the day-to-day of the team.
“As the year goes on, Donnie needs to prepare for a number of different things, like the draft. So he’s off watching high-end prospects who could be future Bruins. He’s watching some of his own guys, like [Fabian] Lysell and [Mason] Lohrei, for example, that have talked about being the closest to being ready. He’s in Providence,” Cassidy said. “And so, you still communicate, don’t get me wrong. I mean, we all have cell phones, etc. But I mean, it becomes a little more on his plate in terms of the future than there is from my end. I’m always in the moment. So I don’t know if it broke down that much, other than – as a coach, you know you’re going to get [from a GM], ‘This is working, I believe in it, what about this way? And sometimes you stick to your guns, because you have to, and other times you’re open-minded, say ‘Yup, OK, we’ll try that.'”
One thing that came up between the two: Accountability for players and the ‘why’ behind it.
“I think over the years, those discussions just always were continually evolving,” Cassidy offered. “I had my thoughts and beliefs on how some of the guys that drive the team deserve to be treated and how much rope they would get versus maybe the other players. So I would say that, we discussed from time to time.
“I don’t think that was any different than a lot of other years, myself. He may think differently, but I don’t see it that way. I think we went to work every day to try to win, make the team better, get ready for the playoffs, and that that was my approach.”
To the point (Part 1): “Did you get a raw deal?”
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 31: Head coach Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins handles the bench during the second period against the New York Islanders in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A pretty blunt question posed to Cassidy: Do you feel you got a raw deal?
“I wanted to come back and coach and the Bruins,” Cassidy, speaking in a room adorned with framed photos of Bruins team both during and before his time as head coach. “It’s been a privilege and an honor. You know, the 14 years here, in different capacities in the organization, and the Bruin is basically tattooed to me. So, that’s the difficult part: the friendships you make, business relationships with people, the personal relationships.
“‘Raw deal?’ I don’t know about that. I feel I did my job. We can always get better. We can always be better. Every coach, player, management, anybody walks away from the game at the end of the year [asking], ‘Where could I have done better to be the last team standing?’ It’s not that easy. We were close, obviously, in ’19. Still bothers me to this day. We could have done better. But at the end of the day, I understand the business part of it, I really do that coaches come and go. I got an opportunity because a very good coach got let go who won a Stanley Cup here. So, I get it.”
It’s no secret that this is the only job that Cassidy’s wanted, and that this was a punch to the gut. He also seemed willing to work through whatever the B’s were going to go though as a potential retooling club.
But that, as he noted, is out of his control.
“At the end of the day, did I still want to be here? Absolutely. Do I want to coach in this league? Yes, as soon as possible, because it’s what I do. I coach and I love to do it,” Cassidy remarked. “So that’s how I’ll answer that. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for Donnie and how we’ve built our relationship over the years. He’s got a job to do. He made a decision. That falls under his purview, to decide who the next coach is. He made a decision. So now I’m on to the next challenge.”
To the point (Part 2): “Are you being scapegoated?”
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – JUNE 21: (L-R) Don Sweeney and Cam Neely of the Boston Bruins attend the 2019 NHL Draft at the Rogers Arena on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Given Cassidy’s record, as well as some of the seemingly out-of-Cassidy’s-control issues brought up by Sweeney, there’s been a feeling that the head coach is being scapegoated and taking the fall for a front office that hasn’t held up their end of the bargain. Particularly when it comes to drafting and roster building. (I’ve made it clear that it’s how I feel, but I’m just a guy.)
Is that a sentiment shared by Cassidy?
“I don’t know,” Cassidy said. “You guys will have to determine that.”
(Probably a pretty telling answer within that answer.)
But Cassidy didn’t feel as if there was some sort of massive falling out with management prior to his dismissal.
“I feel like our relationship was solid. I talked to Donnie all the time. I’ve worked for him for 14 years. Peter Chiarelli brought me in a long time ago and then it was predominantly Donnie in Providence and all of Donnie in Boston,” Cassidy, who first joined the organization in 2008 as a P-Bruins assistant coach, said. “Built a relationship with Cam. Obviously, I’m in tune of what was said. But at the end of the day, I have a solid relationship with them. Always had.
“When you go through that long of a time with one another, you’re going to have days where you don’t always see eye-to-eye and you have to go to your separate corners and get back and go to battle together. And I believe that’s what happened. Donnie, we were in lockstep on how this is how we’re going to play and we would always discuss the roster, what’s available. Again, there’s going to be disagreements on certain issues, but I felt we were on the same page as to where we wanted to take the team. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as I wanted to, but that’s how I’d summarize it.”
Cassidy and The Captain
TORONTO, ONTARIO – AUGUST 19: Head coach Bruce Cassidy and Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins celebrate their teams 2-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round. (Elsa/Getty Images)
If the ex-B’s coach could take one person with him to his next stop, it’d be captain Patrice Bergeron.
“Well, I would like to take [Bergeron] with me,” Cassidy admitted when asked about his experience with Bergeron throughout his time with the Bruins. “First of all, because I think he’s an unbelievable player, human being and leader. I thought we had a tremendous relationship and not much else to say. I respected the hell out of everything he did.”
“If I had something I felt need to be said in a room, I said it. I just wanted him to sort of say, ‘Hey, listen, come to me if there’s the issues here we need to address,'” Cassidy acknowledged. “For example, if you see a player that really needs a pat on the back or he’s drifting and needs to take it, get your ass in the gym and do a little extra work. Both sides of the ledger, you know, you come to me and we’ll address it as a staff, because I think that’s important.
“He’s in there every day. He knows and gets a temperature for the room. As do I. It’s not like I’m never in the room and not going through there and and talking to guys about how are things at home or I see your parents are in town, you know, how they do things like that. And, and then, hey, how’s your game? You look like [your] body language is off but he helps you with those things as a coach. And I have tremendous respect for guys that can do that and then lead by example being the hardest worker in practice, by doing things the right way. So there’s just a lot of good there.”
One thing that proved to be a bit difficult: Expecting every player to have the same drive and work ethic as Bergeron. It’s not something that every athlete has built in them, Cassidy admitted.
On firing assistant coach Kevin Dean
Jan 23, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy reacts during the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. (Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports)
It’s obviously pretty strange that the Bruins allowed Cassidy to fire assistant coach Kevin Dean, only to fire Cassidy weeks later. Now, I guess part of that comes with the fact that Cassidy was told his job was ‘status quo’ when the Bruins conducted their exit interviews in mid-May.
Cassidy and Dean did have some friction during the season, and you could read between the lines with Cassidy constantly talking about the need for more offensive production from the backend.
But as for the decision to move on from Dean, Cassidy sang a tune similar to Sweeney in regards to Cassidy’s dismissal.
“Ton of respect for Kevin. He’s going to work in this league. We had been together five years in Providence, five years in Boston, and I just felt that he needed to go work and hear another voice for him and we needed to bring in another voice for me and the players,” Cassidy said. “Maybe a little more tilted towards the discussion was activating our D a little bit more. Kevin’s strengths are numerous. He came from the New Jersey Devils organization that prides itself on defense, so do we. He’s a big reason for our numbers being very good defensively, especially in his area of D he should promote that for for whatever job that he’s aiming to get.
“We were just looking at maybe a guy that tilted more towards the offensive side of things because that’s where I feel that the game was starting to go and where we could be better. That’s the only reason.”
Cassidy went on to note that he ‘loves’ Dean, and that he had not started talking with any replacement options between the time of Dean’s dismissal and his own firing from the organization.
There’s positives, but Cassidy still wears 2019 on his sleeve
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. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)
If there’s one thing that’s stuck with Cassidy, it’s his lamenting of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
With a Game 7 in their building, and a legacy on line, the Bruins came up short. It’s something that haunts Cassidy to this day.
“I’ll never forget that we weren’t able to get the job done,” Cassidy said. “Every game before that is a terrific memory in terms of playoff run. It’s exhilarating to have that opportunity. And that’s my goal: To get my name on the Stanley Cup. That memory is a tough one.
“We were very close. [I’ll] always be disappointed and apologetic to the fans of the Bruins that we didn’t quite finish the job.”
But Cassidy did get a taste of success with the Bruins in 2011 as the leader of the Black Aces. Cassidy ran through practices — he was even tasked with putting Bergeron through a proper workout when Bergeron was working his way back from a concussion at the end of the second round and into the third round — and got to lift the Cup on Vancouver ice.
“I knew my place. But still, to be able to lift [the Stanley Cup] is an outstanding memory, being on the Duck Boats after,” said Cassidy. “I played a very, very, very small part in it, but still felt like, ‘Hey, this is something I want to do as the head guy.'”
Some (hockey coach) parental advice to the kids after firing
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 27: Head coach Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins speaks to the media following his teams 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 27, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
The Cassidy family has loved everything about Boston. It’s all their children, Cole and Shannon, have known, and Bruce even serves as a Little League coach for his son’s team in Winchester.
Word of an uncertain future has been tough, but it’s come with a simplified, total-hockey-coach answer in regards to any chirps thrown Cole’s way.
“Listen, he’s used to it a little bit at school. It’s a passionate fanbase and, you know, [I’ve said] like Cole, if one your classmates says your dad sucks or the Bruins suck, well, you know, use your words, buddy. It’s part of what happens. Now if they start talking about your sister and your mother, you’ve got the green light to punch ’em in the nose.
“For anybody that’s a father, you have to talk to your children about, ‘Hey, you know, this is what’s going to happen. You know, listen, I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know where we’re going to be next, but we’re fine, like everyone’s healthy, you know’? I mean, the first thing you go through, there’s a little bit of that sort of shock effect.”
So, what’s next for Bruce?
Dec 29, 2019; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy speaks with the media after a game against the Buffalo Sabres at the TD Garden. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)
That said, the family will be on the move at some point this year if Cassidy has his say.
“Absolutely,” Cassidy said of coaching in 2022-23. “This is what I do. Obviously, I have a family [and] you have to make sure it’s the right opportunity for myself and my family. And they’re the right fit and I’m the right fit for them.”
Cassidy also confirmed that he’s been in talks with multiple teams since his firing, but didn’t want to get into the specifics out of respect for those teams and their respective hiring processes.
My sense is that the Red Wings are among those interested. There’s a bit of a relationship there, and the Red Wings are a team on the rise with their plethora of young talent. The Flyers have also made a call. But Cassidy’s top priority as a coach is lifting the Stanley Cup, which makes a team like the Vegas Golden Knights an obviously attractive opening, and that’s without getting into a Vegas roster construct that absolutely plays to Cassidy’s strengths and wants as a coach.
Bruce’s final message to the media? Go Celtics.
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MAY 30: Fans react during Game Four of the Eastern Conference first round series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on May 30, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
In a fitting way, Cassidy’s final message shared to the Boston media wasn’t about the Bruins. Or hockey at all.
It was instead about another Boston team and their chances of bringing it home.
“I want Brad [Stevens] and Ime [Udoka] to get us the title,” Cassidy, wearing a Celtics shirt, said. “They’ve had a fantastic year. They’ve been a joy to watch. A bit like our season, it took them a while to get going. But they look great.
“And the Cassidy family is behind them 100 percent. Go Celtics.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has been covering the Bruins since 2010, and has been a member of the Boston chapter of the PHWA since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.