Bruce Cassidy Deserves Extra Credit

Following the 2013-14 season, things went downhill for the Boston Bruins. In 2014, the team claimed the Presidents’ Trophy and advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs only to fall in a disappointing series against their hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens, in seven games.

That was the last season that the Bruins made the playoffs under head coach Claude Julien. After the loss, nothing went right for the Bs. They were nothing more than a lackluster team; they won a few games here and lost a few games there, just like any average hockey team. Were they living up to the history of their storied franchise? Definitely not. Not even close.

Four years after that Presidents’ Trophy-winning season, the Bruins are finally making headlines again, with a record of 38-15-8. They might not be the top team this season, as there are a handful of other teams in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy (Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights, Toronto Maple Leafs, Nashville Predators to name a few), but the Bruins are more interested in the Stanley Cup.

There are a number of reasons why Boston is back in the hunt for the Cup, but none is bigger than head coach Bruce Cassidy, who just celebrated his first anniversary as the man in charge. Cassidy deserves extra credit for what he has accomplished in such a short period of time, especially considering where the Bruins were before he arrived.

Bruce Cassidy Riley Nash Danton Heinen Bruins
Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Right Man for the Job

Even when Cassidy was chosen to replace Julien, he knew he had big shoes to fill. The last two seasons under Julien didn’t go well and the team desperately needed a new direction but doesn’t take anything away from the team’s success during Julien’s tenure. Fans may have had mixed emotions about him at the end, but nobody can deny that he had a positive impact. After all, he is the franchise’s winningest coach.

He came awfully close to reaching 10 full seasons as the Bruins’ head coach. In 2007-08 (his first behind the bench), he brought a floundering Bruins franchise back to life and led them back to the playoffs. In 2011, they won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 39 years (which is a heck of drought, especially for a hardcore hockey town like Boston) after beating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.

Two years later, Julien had the Bruins back in the Cup Final and came within a few minutes of pushing the Chicago Blackhawks to Game 7 before everything unraveled in 17 seconds (as a Bruins fan, I’m still trying to recover from that, even five years later). And then, of course, there was the Presidents’ Trophy-winning season in 2014.

The Julien era can be remembered for more positives than negatives. After he was fired in February 2017, when the team struggled to a 26-23-6 record, the Bruins needed to find the right guy to replace him. They needed to find someone who understood what success and winning meant to the franchise and its fans.

Cassidy was that guy. Even though he had only officially joined the organization as an assistant coach before that season, he had spent years with the club and knew what would be expected of him. He joined the Providence Bruins of the AHL in 2008 and served as an assistant coach for three years before being promoted to head coach in 2011. In just his second season at the helm in Providence, his team secured the best record in the league with a 50-21-5, and Cassidy continued to have winning seasons in Providence before arriving in Boston in 2016.

Claude Julien
Claude Julien spent almost 10 full seasons in Boston before being fired in February 2017. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Immediate Impact on the Bruins

When Cassidy was appointed as the new head coach, the Bruins found the new direction they needed. As it does with most new coaches, it can take a season or two to polish a new system before the team reaches its true potential. With Cassidy, however, the Bruins instantly became a new team.

How did Cassidy get this team going in the right direction? He didn’t necessarily rearrange the entire system from the Julien era (although he did make a few changes that compliment his own hockey expertise), but sometimes just a fresh face can go a long way. Cassidy knows that even his best players are going to have off nights now and again, and if he notices that one of his guys isn’t playing his best, he won’t hesitate to keep them off the ice for longer periods of time. He tries to keep his hot players on the ice at all times, which is a pretty good formula for winning hockey games. Under Cassidy, the Bruins have been putting more pressure on pucks and forcing turnovers, allowing them to keep pucks in their opponents’ zones more often than not.

Cassidy’s style began to pay immediate dividends after he started running the show last February, and the Bruins turned their season around with an 18-8-1 record to finish it out, qualifying for the playoffs. Even though they were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators in the first round, it was evident that Cassidy’s system worked.

With a little under two months remaining in the 2017-18 season, Bruce Cassidy has continued to work his magic. The Bruins are back near the top of the NHL standings and are poised for a run at the Stanley Cup. I don’t think it would surprise anybody if they won it all. When the Bruins fired Julien and were searching for answers, did anybody think they would be in this position just one year later? Give a majority of the credit to Cassidy, because he’s the biggest reason for this epic turnaround.