By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
For much of the season under former head coach Claude Julien; the Bruins offense was one dimensional. If Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the two-headed monster of David Pastrnak or David Backes weren’t producing, more times than not the B’s would be on the losing end of the scoreboard.
Julien’s preference for defining players’ roles and inflexible approach to rolling four lines regardless of the situation in the game, often times resulted in younger players regressing, and veterans (Hello, Jimmy Hayes!) getting ice-time that they just plain didn’t deserve. Sure, Claude would tweak his lineup occasionally, but when times – or games – got tight, he would lean on his veterans regardless of how they were playing at the time.
Whether you agree with them speaking out or not – team president Cam Neely seemed annoyed that the kids were kicking Claude when he was out the door on an appearance on the 98.5 The Sports Hub Felger and Mazz show last week – with what first Ryan Spooner and then Frank Vatrano had to say about their relationship with the defense first bench boss, it belies the disconnect that was taking place in the Bruins locker room.
“It felt like the last coach, he just didn’t really trust me,” Spooner said last week when he spoke to the media after practice. “It might have been kind of on me, just not playing to the potential that I have. At the same time, too, though, I just don’t really think that he liked me as a player.”
Those comments were echoed only a couple of days later when Vatrano described his relationship with his former head coach to the Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich program. “For me, I didn’t have the best relationship with Claude, but that comes with time,” said the second-year center turned wing.
“Obviously now, [Bruce Cassidy] is our coach. I have a real good relationship with him, having had him last year for a year. Obviously, Claude had his guys and he trusted his guys that he’s had for a while, which is something that you can understand, especially … he’s got a good relationship with them. At the end of the day, I didn’t have the best relationship with him, but I think he liked me as a player and I liked playing for him while he was here.”
Call it kids popping off – or perhaps celebrating their liberation publicly – or call in whining, the fact of the matter is, Julien struggled to get the most out of his young roster due to his inability to accept the mistakes that are always there when you have players trying to find their way in the NHL. Whatever it was, the transformation of the team under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has been undeniable.
Cassidy, who had many of these younger players during his time as head coach of the baby B’s in Providence from 2011 to 2016, seems to be more in tune with the several fresh faces on the Bruins bench; and more willing to put them in a position affect a game – mostly in a positive fashion, thus far – during crunch time.
As a result of his more player – especially younger player – friendly approach, Cassidy is getting contributions from his top three lines, pretty much on a nightly basis. Never was that more apparent than in Saturday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils, who are simply playing out the string, evidently didn’t send goaltender Cory Schneider the memo that the season is all but over. The former Boston College backstop made the Bruins night difficult, shutting the door on the B’s who dominated the play pretty much all night.
It took a sweet play started by a Vatrano hit behind the Devils net, which popped the puck loose from defenseman Damon Severson and fed it out front to deadline addition Drew Stafford, who found Spooner perched alone aside the net, with 24 square feet staring him in his face.
Bing, bang, boom; the Kicking Claude Twins combined for the game-winning goal, while getting Stafford – whose power-play goal earlier in the game was called back for a questionable goaltender interference call – his first point in a B’s sweater. Something that most likely wouldn’t have happened under the veteran-centric Julien in a close game, midway through the third period.
Anyone who follows this team closely, knows that the future of the Bruins lies in the ability for the prospects they have drafted in recent years developing into the players the team thinks that they can become. In order to give them the best opportunity to do that, the team not only needs to be patient when it comes to them maturing and growing into an NHL caliber player; they also need to have a head coach who will not bury them on the bench if they make an inevitable mistake once they make it to the big club.
In his short time behind the Bruins bench, Cassidy has shown a willingness to let his players play to their strengths, instead of forcing a rigid system that slows their development. All signs are pointing to the interim tag being lifted for the B’s new bench boss, which could be a boon for the kids in the Bruins system who have been tagged as the group that will turn the team back into a contender.