It has been a little over two weeks since the Boston Bruins decided to fire Bruce Cassidy, and there remains an empty void behind the bench. The interview process continues, reportedly with David Quinn meeting with the Boston brass this week about the opening. Until the position is filled, though, speculation will run rampant about who the next coach will be.
As it turns out, the Bruins were not the only Eastern Conference team to relieve a successful coach from his role. Tuesday, the Florida Panthers announced they would not retain interim Head Coach Andrew Brunette, instead opting for the services of former Winnipeg Jets Head Coach, Paul Maurice.
Pros of Hiring Andrew Brunette
After taking over the Florida Panthers from Joel Quenneville, Brunette proceeded to stay right on track. He guided the Panthers to a Presidents’ Trophy, powered by the league’s highest scoring offense since the 2004-05 lockout. This is the strongest point in favor of Boston hiring Brunette. He has success, and that came from a high-flying offense, a trait Don Sweeney and the Bruins want in their next coach.
Brunette is also part of the new, younger wave of NHL coaches, adept at connecting and communicating with the modern player. Bruce Cassidy’s failure to properly communicate with younger players is likely what cost him his job, but this should not be the case with Brunette. He can point to his success with Panthers rookies like Anton Lundell — a player who has been disgruntled with past managers — Anthony Duclair, and a young goalie in Spencer Knight. There are some parallels between these players and the Bruins group, with up-and-coming prospect Fabian Lysell, disgruntled contributor Jake Debrusk, and young netminder Jeremy Swayman. It is not hard to get excited about Brunette’s track record.
Cons of Hiring Andrew Brunette
The argument against Brunette is simple: if he was such a good coach, why didn’t Florida hire him outright? Brunette’s case is similar to David Quinn in that he is a young coach who would appear to be a rising star and popular pick for a wide variety of positions, but the teams that had both coaches originally decided to let them walk or get rid of them. What do these teams know that others don’t?
Also, in the same vein, if Brunette is such a great coach, why did the Panthers struggle against the eighth-seeded Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, and ultimately end their season by losing four straight to their cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning? In both series, the Panthers seemed set in their ways and unwilling to adapt their style to what their opponents were giving them. The lack of adjustments shown by Florida during the postseason could be a worrying indicator that Brunette was propped up by the star power of his Panthers team, rather than extracting the best from the players with his coaching style.
It is safe to assume any team with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, and a return to form Sergei Bobrovsky should be competitive. Factor in the supporting cast Florida enlisted of Sam Bennet, Sam Reinhart, mid-season acquisition Claude Giroux, and MacKenzie Weegar on the backend, with an heir-apparent franchise goalie in Spencer Knight waiting in the wings, and I think even I could throw lines out that would be competitive. So, was Brunette really adding that much value?
What Should the Bruins Do?
Even given the question marks around Brunette, he is a strong coach and will be a candidate for any number of the remaining head coaching vacancies, but I am not sure he fits into Boston. Partly based on the timing of this announcement, it would appear the Bruins already have their list, and are working through the process of interviewing and deciding on the best option. With a maximum of just over a week left in the Stanley Cup Final, I doubt the Bruins want to restart the process and background on a brand-new candidate.
As a betting man, I would still throw my chips down on either Jay Leach or David Quinn being hired by the Bruins. Both already have experience coaching young, up-and-coming players, along with strong connections to the organization. Plus, again back to the scheduling, both options have been free to meet and interview with the Bruins whenever they wanted to following the Bruce Cassidy firing.
A final factor that some fans may not want to talk about, but is becoming clearer and clearer by the day, is the Bruins are rapidly approaching the end of their championship window. If all goes right, they may be able to make one, maybe, and I mean just maybe, they can eke out a second deep playoff run with this core, but the new coach that is brought in will be brought in to foster a youth movement and help develop the new core that the Bruins will need to assemble. Is this a position Brunette wants to find himself in? Moving from a Presidents’ Trophy-winning team to a team on the verge of a rebuild in the not too distant future?
It is unlikely, especially with an appealing opening in Detroit where the Red Wings are starting their ascent out of a rebuild. Also, there is no rule saying Brunette must return to a head coaching position immediately. Maybe he waits for next season to begin and sees which wannabe contender flounders out of the gate and needs a fresh voice to get the team on track. While I think Brunette is a coach many teams would be lucky to have and happy to consider, I do not feel the Bruins Head Coaching opening is right for him at this time.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.