Five days following the Boston Bruins‘ elimination in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, team President Cam Neely spoke with the media two days after coach Bruce Cassidy did and one more after general manager Don Sweeney did. Neely touched on a number of subjects surrounding the Black and Gold, but his biggest comment centered around Cassidy.
“I mean, he’s brought a lot of success to this organization. I like him as a coach,” said Neely. “So, we’ll see where it goes. But I do think we need to make some changes. And I think Bruce, a couple of days ago he alluded to that. So, we’ll see where that goes with that.”
It certainly was not a ringing endorsement for the Bruins bench boss and it leads to wonder if Cassidy’s job is in jeopardy. If it is, Sweeney and Neely would be making a mistake.
Cassidy is Not the Problem With the Bruins
Cassidy was hired in the middle of the 2016-17 season, replacing Claude Julien behind the Boston bench. He just wrapped up season six and his team won 51 games for the second time in his tenure, also reaching the feat in 2017-18. They won 49 games in 2018-19 and had 44 wins in the shortened 70-game 2019-20 season, which was stopped in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He has a 245-108-46 record with the Bruins.
He has a 36-37 playoff record and led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, before they lost in seven games to the St. Louis Blues. They have made the playoffs each season Cassidy has been in charge.
This season, the Bruins were struggling until they were shut down on Dec. 18 because of a COVID-19 outbreak within the team. Following the shutdown, Boston returned to the ice on Jan. 1 and was one of the best teams in the NHL after Cassidy made a series of changes with his forwards. He made a series of adjustments to his lines and they quickly paid off. David Pastrnak was dropped to the second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula, with Craig Smith moving to the top line. In February, with Smith struggling, Jake DeBrusk was moved to the top line and thrived for the most part for the rest of the season, playing some of his best hockey. He remained with the Black and Gold despite requesting a trade and even signed a two-year contract extension for $8 million.
Cassidy, who had a stint for a year and a half with the Washington Capitals as their head coach from 2002-04, has always been one to call out a player publicly. He did it multiple times last season with DeBrusk and then in November, it was Hall’s turn to be called out. In his six seasons, when he did call out a player, they usually responded.
Cassidy Plays What is Given to Him
The roster construction is not fully up to Cassidy, although he most likely has a say in some personnel. It’s the front office that makes the call on the roster and this season, Cassidy won 51 games with a roster that a lot of coaches would have struggled to get 50 wins out of. It is a roster with a core group that is on the backend of their careers, but the prospect pool is not as deep as it needs to be with a team facing a possible rebuild.
Drafting has been an issue for the Bruins, with no need to look further than the 2015 Entry Draft and the three consecutive picks that Sweeney had in the first round at No’s 13, 14, and 15. Jakub Zboril was selected first and just signed a two-year extension after really only one full year in the NHL, DeBrusk was selected second and has requested a trade, and Zach Senyshyn was taken with the third and final first-round pick also requested a trade and was dealt to the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline in March.
Jack Studnicka was drafted in 2017 and has yet to reach his potential, something the Bruins could have used in recent seasons, while there are some promising prospects taken over the last couple of drafts, however, their impacts will not be felt for some time. The Bruins have hit on some draft picks with Charlie McAvoy, Jeremy Swayman, and Brandon Carlo, but others who showed promise have been traded. Sweeney had also traded his first-round picks multiple times to address a need at past trade deadlines.
Last summer’s free-agent signings Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek did not perform well enough, while Haula thrived the second half of the season as the second-line center. Derek Forbort got better as the season went along and Mike Reilly had his ups and downs, but was not the player the Bruins were hoping for when they acquired him in April of 2021 from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline. After losing David Krejci last summer, the Bruins never filled that hole as the No. 2 center behind Bergeron.
Whether it’s on the GM, Neely, or owner Jeremy Jacobs, the Bruins have not had the players over the last three seasons to win their second Stanley Cup in 11 years. Who knows what would have been the outcome in 2019-20 when they were the only team in the league with 100 points at the March shutdown? They very well could have made a run that spring and made up for 2019, but we’ll never know. Bubble hockey was tough that summer and not worth someone losing their job. This season, there was not enough depth scoring with the forwards and the defense was not good enough in their own defensive zone at bad times.
Cassidy is a demanding coach which sometimes that can be a turn-off to the players and coaches can sometimes “lose the locker room” which may or may not be the case with the Bruins. Making a change behind the bench for next season could be a mistake, but Neely’s comment certainly hints at it being a possibility, most likely after Sweeney’s contract beyond this season is finalized. Cassidy made the best of what was given to him. He was handed no true No. 2 center, a defensive unit that needed an upgrade at the trade deadline, not much scoring depth behind the top scorers and he still won 51 games.
In sports, coaches are the first to take the fall when expectations are not met, but in this case, moving on from Cassidy is not the move to make when expectations were not met this season.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.