By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
During his meeting with the press following yet another overtime loss that ended the Bruins season on Sunday evening, interim head coach Bruce Cassidy was asked if he wanted to return to the team with the interim tag removed next season. His response was instantaneous and straight to the point, “Absolutely. 100 percent.”
As to the question of whether general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely should lock the man known as Butch up with a contract to coach the team going forward, the answer should be the same.
Absolutely. 100 percent.
Let’s face it, both Neely and Sweeney have Cassidy to thank for saving their phony baloney jobs, rescuing a team that was headed towards their third-straight season of not making the playoffs. The Bruins players had tired of former head coach Claude Julien’s defense-first approach to the game, and on too many occasions; they simply just went through the motions when game time came.
Cassidy took the very same roster that Julien was given, and inserted life into a seemingly dead group. He loosened the death grip Claude had on his players, and they responded in turn. Once he took over, it was easy to see that a weight had been lifted off the team, a weight that was once again causing the team to sink yet again down the stretch.
There is no getting past the fact that the Bruins roster has been – and will continue to be, even more so in the next couple of years – a work in progress. The insurgence of young, inexperienced players is going to get more frequent in the coming years. Cassidy’s proven ability to work with developing talent – he had a very successful five-year stint coaching the baby B’s with not a ton to work with – is an asset that should not be overlooked going forward.
Even during this brief playoff run, he showed the ability to adapt to what he was given – he lost all but two of his regular six defensemen for at least a portion of the series against Ottawa – with the role he let rookie Charlie McAvoy carve out for himself, even though he had never played an NHL game prior to the start of the six-game battle.
Sure, it was because of necessity, but do you think Julien would have been willing to show such faith in a fresh-faced kid, who couldn’t grow a playoff beard if his life depended on it? If you think he would have, my guess is that you still believe in the tooth fairy, and you think babies come from the stork.
As far as interviewing other candidates outside the organization, the obvious question is why? Sweeney served as the general manager of the Providence B’s for four of the five years Cassidy was the bench boss there, if he didn’t have faith in him as a head coach, he never would have put him in the position he did to start the season; essentially as the successor to Julien, who he knew, there was a good possibility he was going to show him the door, sooner rather than later.
It has been widely noted that the Bruins have a lot of kids on the come in their system. Not all will pan out – that’s just the way it is when you are dealing with a bunch of teenagers who are still finding their game and their personalities – but if the B’s are going to be successful in developing and integrating them at the NHL level, they will need a guy like Cassidy in order to make that huge leap as easy as possible.
The Bruins team as currently constituted is not even close to being a contender. The contrast between their top-end talent and the rest of their roster is stark, to be kind. However, this first voyage into hockey’s second season should go a long way in education the David Pastrnaks, Colin Millers, Frank Vatranos, Noel Acciaris, Joe Morrows and McAvoys – players who can only benefit from being exposed to the intensity of playoff hockey – and – in theory, at least – should take them one step closer to becoming the foundation that the next Stanley Cup contending team is built upon.
The Bruins took some very important steps forward with their play down the stretch, and into the playoffs, despite the outcome. The next – and perhaps, most important – step is to take the interim tag off of Cassidy, and give him the keys to the head coach’s office on Causeway Street, full time.
Follow on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.