It is never easy to be told that your services are no longer needed. As a head coach of a sports team, that day can come at any time. Just ask Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
Cassidy had his first shot as a National Hockey League head coach with the Washington Capitals 18 years ago. A young 37-year-old boss, he brought the Capitals to the playoffs in his first season. However, his second season was a short stint behind the bench as he was fired 25 games into the 2003-04 season.
Related: Boston Bruins’ Coaching History
Following his firing in Washington, Cassidy spent a year as an assistant coach under Trent Yawney with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2005-06 season. After 10 years working his way through the minor leagues, he found a home and a lot of success behind an NHL bench.
Cassidy Joins Julien in Boston
In May of 2016, Cassidy was promoted by Bruins general manager Don Sweeney to become Claude Julien’s assistant coach following a five-year stint with the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL). Boston was coming off of their second-straight non-playoff season under Julien after two trips to the Stanley Cup Final in the past five seasons.
Fifty-five games into the 2016-17 season, Sweeney fired Julien as the Bruins were tinkering with missing the playoffs again. Cassidy was named coach for the remainder of the season and guided the Bruins to an 18-8-1 record over the final 27 games, which was good enough to get into the playoffs. The Bruins lost in six games to the Ottawa Senators in the first round. Following the season, Cassidy’s short stint as the boss seemed to bode well for the future.
Each Season Got Better
After a strong finish to the previous season in 2017, all eyes were on Cassidy beginning his second season as Bruins head coach for the 2017-18 season. Would the Bruins follow the trend that happened in Washington where the Capitals took a fall in his second season or would the Bruins continue to make strides under Cassidy? The answer became pretty clear.
His first full season in Boston, the Bruins won 50 games and finished second in the Atlantic Division to the Tampa Bay Lightning by one point. Boston saw significant development in their young players under Cassidy with David Pastrnak leading the team with 35 goals, one better than Brad Marchand. Brandon Carlo became a better defenseman after he was paired with Zdeno Chara by the Bruins coach. That season, the team recorded only one losing month (in which they went 1-3-1 in April).
In the playoffs, the Bruins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the opening round for Cassidy’s first postseason series win as their coach, before the Lightning eliminated them in five games in the second round. Despite the disappointing ending in the postseason, Cassidy proved that he was more than ready to be a successful NHL head coach in his second try.
Players Excel Under Cassidy
Each season under Cassidy, Pastrnak has increased his goal total. This year, Pastrnak shared the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Award with Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals and is in the running for the Hart Trophy. Marchand has increased his assist total each year as well. Last season, he had a career-high 64 helpers and was on pace to pass that this season with 59 in 70 games, but when the league was paused because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, his quest for a fourth-straight season high in assists came to an end.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask is having a Venezia Trophy season and will be a finalist for the award. This season, he is 26-8-6 with a 2.16 goals-against average (GAA) and a .929 save percentage (SV%). For the second-straight season, Cassidy managed his All-Star goalie’s minutes by splitting time with backup Jaroslav Halak.
During his tenure in Boston, Cassidy has the knack for pushing the right buttons at the right time. He has called out his defensive unit publicly in January after a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After that loss, the Bruins’ defense played more physical and was much better, while the team went 16-4 over before the league pause.
Cassidy Faces Biggest Challenge
Last season, the Bruins lost in seven games to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final after a second-straight finish behind the Lightning in the Atlantic Division. This season at the time of the COVID-19 pause, the Bruins were on course to win the Presidents’ Trophy as they were the only team with 100 points. They were six points ahead of the Blues and eight up on the Lightning with 12 games remaining. They had 44 wins and were in position for their second 50-win season under Cassidy in three years.
As the league gets ready to begin their playoffs later this month in a Hub City, it won’t be easy for coaches to get their teams ready to hit the ice to compete for a Stanley Cup championship after a four-month break. In his first three seasons behind the Bruins bench, Cassidy has shown the ability to push the right buttons to get the best out of his talented team. If he does it again one more time, he could cap this season with a championship.
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.