More than a week after his club was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday was named the Jack Adams Award winner as the NHL’s Coach of the Year for 2019-20.
Cassidy, 55, won the award 17 years after being dismissed as the Capitals' coach early in the 2003-04 season as one of the youngest coaches in the National Hockey League.
“I’m 17 years older, you should learn,” said Cassidy, asked how he would counsel the younger version of himself some two decades later. “No matter what career, or any walk of life, you should be better at what you do, if you use your eyes and ears. Obviously, a better balance with my family life, allowed me to park hockey. Some days I probably overanalyzed it when I was younger. I tried to do too much sometimes instead of letting the job sort of organically flow and stick to your principles and ideas and what you believe in.”
Cassidy, promoted to bench boss in Boston in February 2017, became the fourth Boston coach to win the Adams, following in the footsteps of Don Cherry (1976), Pat Burns (1998), and Claude Julien (2009), the latter of whom he succeeded abruptly in 2017 and rallied the then-moribund Bruins to a playoff berth.
Cassidy, who grew up in Ottawa a fan of the Bruins and Bobby Orr, credited the likes of his junior coach, Brian Killrea, and ex-Blackhawks coach Darryl Sutter, his first NHL coach, for helping shape his coaching methods and philosophy.
“I’m a lifelong Bruins fan,” he added. “I was a Bobby Orr guy, growing up in Ottawa — Ottawa didn’t have a team then, so we were free agents in that regard," Cassidy said. "My mom was a Habs fan, and my dad Toronto, so I happened to pick Boston. So to follow those guys [Cherry, Burns, and Julien] is an unbelievable honor.
"And I even look back before them, I still have a relationship with Harry Sinden, who is good to talk to periodically. You go back to Milt Schmidt — there have been so many good Bruins coaches over the years. And I was fortunate to work in Providence as a head guy and come up to talk to Claude, so I am thankful for what he was able to teach me while he was here.”
Cassidy said he learned the news earlier in the day when he received a phone call from GM Don Sweeney and club president Cam Neely.
The NHL’s Professional Broadcasters Association selects the annual Jack Adams Award winner. Cassidy earlier this year was named a finalist with John Tortorella (Columbus) and Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia). None of the three was able to get their squad into the Eastern Conference finals, which pitted Tampa Bay (Jon Cooper) vs. the New York Islanders (Barry Trotz).
“It’s an exciting time,” said Cassidy, reflecting on how he felt when he received the news. “Tonight, I am watching the Islanders and Tampa — what are the Islanders doing, and if they beat [the Lightning], what did they do better than us?”
Cassidy noted that Neely and Sweeney were appropriately excited when they conveyed the news.
“This is for the whole organization,” added Cassidy. “It’s a team award. It’s everyone contributing. I get my name on the trophy, which is great, and I am honored to have it. But up and down the organization, I think everyone should be acknowledged when the coach wins.”
Under Cassidy’s leadership, Boston was the only club to reach the 100-point plateau in the COVID-19-shortened regular season, which went into cold storage on March 12. The Bruins rubbed out Carolina in five games in the opening round of the playoffs, then fell to Tampa in five games, unable to generate presence and production around the Lightning net.
“What are the Islanders doing different?” asked Cassidy, talking with the media via a Zoom call while watching the Islanders-Lightning series at home. "Are they getting to their game faster than Tampa is getting to theirs?
“That’s what they did to beat us. We were never truly at our game for long stretches of time. When you get two really good teams and there’s not a lot to pick from, that’s usually the difference.”
Cassidy added, as he often does, that he also was watching the Lightning-Islanders series because he is simply a fan of the NHL.
"I’m not going to lie, I like watching hockey,'' he said. “Two good teams . . . I’m not invested in either side, so the refereeing doesn’t affect me . . . I don’t care about that part of it, just want to watch the game and A, be entertained and B, steal some ideas from either side . . . and then watch the coaches a little bit.”