On Tuesday morning, we woke up to find out that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was fined a hefty $25,000 for his comments regarding the officiating in the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Whether or not you agree with last season’s Jack Adams Award winner, here are all the facts of the situation that highlight the Islanders’ recent stretch of good sportsmanship.
Before we dig deeper, there is no way to account for missed calls in these statistics. There are thousands of eyeballs on every game, so we all see events on the ice from a different perspective, making it nearly impossible to come to the same conclusion. Yes, there is a rulebook, but it is almost impossible to call every minor bump and fall.
The Cassidy Years (2017 – Present)
In October 2016, Cassidy became an assistant coach for the Bruins. Head coach Claude Julien had a magical run with the team, including two trips to the Final and a championship in 2011. He was relieved of his duties in February 2017, which allowed Cassidy to take over.
The Bruins have always been a tough team to play against. In the 1970s, they were referred to as the Big Bad Bruins and would throw down with any opponent. One of the franchise’s greatest players, now president, Cam Neely, is considered the last great power forward; he could score 50 goals and lead the team in penalty minutes at the same time. They often say that grit and toughness win championships, and the Bruins have always modeled their roster based on that.
In 2017-18, the Bruins ranked 7th in penalty minutes in the league, including 266 minor penalties (17th) and 28 majors (5th), which averages out to 9.51 minutes a game (7th). Defenceman Kevan Miller led the team with 70 minutes, and Brad Marchand was second with 63 minutes.
When Cassidy had ‘interim’ removed from his job title to start the 2018-19 season, the Bruins became an even more formidable team to play against. Their 797 minutes, 27 majors, and 9.72 penalty minutes per game all ranked second across the board. The team collected 276 minors to finish 7th overall. Marchand not only led the team in scoring with 100 points, but he also led the team with 96 penalty minutes, beating out defenceman Matt Crzelcyk who had 68.
After they lost in the Stanley Cup Final, the black and gold witnessed a drop in most penalty-related categories the following season, likely due to the pandemic-related hiatus that shortened the season to 70 games. Boston collected 682 minutes (6th) thanks to 239 minors (5th) and 20 majors (3rd). They produced an average of 9.74 minutes a game (6th), meaning if they had played another 12 games, they might have seen an uptick in their final numbers. Again, Marchand scored a boatload of points and led the team with 82 penalty minutes, beating out former captain Zdeno Chara who had 60.
When hockey resumed in January 2021, the Bruins again contended for most penalty minutes. In 56 games, they managed 533 minutes, good for 5th overall. They were whistled for 194 minor penalties (1st) and 15 majors (11th), keeping pace with the previous season’s penalty minutes per game average at 9.52 (5th). Trent Frederic ended Marchand’s streak of leading the team in penalty minutes, with 65, while Jeremy Lauzon had 40 minutes from the back end.
Since Cassidy has taken over the bench, the Bruins have relied on power-play goals for much of their offense. In 2018-19, their power play ranked 3rd (25.90%), converting 65 times (3rd) on 251 opportunities (8th). They scored 259 goals that season, and power-play goals accounted for 25% of their offense. The following season, 2019-20, their power play clicked at 25.22% (2nd) and scored 57 goals (2nd) on 226 chances (5th). With 227 regular-season goals, their power-play tallies again accounted for 25% of their offense. This season, the Bruins’ power play ranked 10th at 21.88%, and their opportunities took a hit, 160 (16th), and goals, 35 (14th), which accounted for 21% of their 168 total goals.
The Trotz Years (2018 – Present)
Cassidy is grasping at straws by calling out the officials in their second-round series against the New York Islanders (from ‘Islanders fans will make Bruce Cassidy pay for big mistake,’ NY Post, 06/08/2021). The two teams are like night and day, and as the leader of a team that annually ranks among the best in racking up penalty minutes, the complete opposite is happening on Long Island.
Barry Trotz became the Islanders’ head coach before the 2018-19 season. In his first season, his team had only 644 penalty minutes, or 7.85 penalty minutes a game, and ranked 22nd in the league. Their 243 minors ranked 27th while 16 majors ranked 11th. Captain Andres Lee had 58 minutes to lead the forwards, while Scott Mayfield had 68 on the back end.
The numbers went up a tad in 2019-20, with 575 minutes, which ranked 16th. Their 185 minor penalties ranked 30th overall, while their 17 majors ranked 7th. With 8.46 penalty minutes a game, the team was 14th overall. Ross Johnston had 78 minutes for the team lead, while Mayfield’s 53 led the defense.
In the shortened 2020-21 season, the Islanders only spent 370 minutes in the box, which ranked 29th overall. They committed just 130 minor penalties (30th) and six majors (30th), which gave them a 6.61 average, good for 29th in the league. Matt Barzal led the team with 48 minutes, with Mayfield finishing in second with 38.
The Islanders’ opportunities on the power-play are in stark contrast to their rivals from Boston. During the 2018-19 season, the team scored 33 power-play goals (30th) on 227 chances (23rd). The extra man clicked at 14.54%, which ranked 29th in the league. Only 14% of the Isles’ offense came from the power play (33/228). During Trotz’s second season behind the bench, his team again had little success on the power play, scoring at 17.26% for a 25th overall ranking. They scored 29 goals (30th) in 168 opportunities (31st), which accounted for 15% of their offensive output (29/192).
They often say the third time’s a charm, and during the 2020-21 season, the Islanders saw an uptick in all categories. Even though they had the 20th ranked power play at 18.75%, they tallied 27 goals (24th) on 144 opportunities (28th). More goals in fewer opportunities accounted for 17% of their offense.
The Bruins have struggled in their second-round matchup against the Islanders. They can cry foul all they want to make up for their shortcomings; however, the angle they tried to use with the media regarding poor officiating put their reputation on the line and hurt their chequebook.
Considering the two bench bosses and how they deploy their players, the Bruins rely heavily on their power play, which scores a quarter of their goals. Whether Cassidy was right in his assessment doesn’t change the fact his opponents don’t play that style. The Bruins are on the verge of elimination because their opponents don’t provide them with the opportunities they thrive on to be successful.
Of course, there is no clear-cut evidence to back up the “shady” refereeing that Cassidy referred to in his comments. We can call penalties as we see them, but the NHL has a system that ensures the best refs in the game are employed as the season winds down. No one is perfect, and calls do get missed, but no one can label the Islanders saints or goons.