It’s the fall, and where else would Bruce Cassidy be but on the ice, helping a young defenseman?
He’s not coaching up Charlie McAvoy or Urho Vaakanainen, obviously, with the NHL in its strange-days offseason phase. He’s working with Cole Cassidy, his 9-year-old son, who is transitioning from forward.
Cole skates for the Boston Junior Eagles, and his dad said he’s there every practice. Older sister Shannon (11) plays town hockey in Winchester. Dad was her assistant coach last year, running drills at practice and rotating with other parents behind the bench when the Bruins were at home. He did the same for Cole.
“I’m involved without stepping on other people’s toes,” he said. “Whatever they need.”
His young pupils don’t care that he has a Jack Adams Trophy.
“The first time you meet them, it’s, ‘What’s [David] Pastrnak like? Why didn’t you score on your power play last night?’ ” said Cassidy. “Kids are funny. They say what they want. But now I’m just Cole’s dad.”
When the Bruins return, whether that’s in January, February, or sometime long after, Cassidy will be focused in large part on coaching his back line. Even before Torey Krug and his power-play gifts walked to St. Louis, Cassidy was focused on wringing more offense out of his defense.
They have to be better there. That much he knows.
Cassidy doesn’t know whether general manager Don Sweeney has finished adding to the roster. He expects Brad Marchand and Pastrnak to be ready soon after the 2020-21 Bruins hit the ice. He’s encouraged by new addition Craig Smith. But he doesn’t yet know how the next edition will be different from last season’s Presidents' Trophy winners, who couldn’t sneak by Tampa Bay.
“My head’s everywhere because I’ve got free time,” Cassidy said. "We don’t even know when the season will be starting. We’re not going to go through an exercise of changing a lot of stuff for guys potentially being out. Both those guys, Marchy and Pasta, had surgeries that are not that uncommon. They’re both in great condition, so I’m sure they’ll work hard to shorten that timeline.
“You play around with lines, but honestly, until we get a little closer, it’s an exercise in killing time.”
The Krugless power play (second in the NHL last year, 25.2 percent) is an area of concern for Cassidy. If the season began tomorrow, he would slot Matt Grzelcyk at the top of the formation. Next up would be McAvoy, who would present a different look as a righthanded shot. For example, David Krejci and McAvoy being righties means the former could feed the latter for one-timers. That wasn’t an easy option with the lefty Krug there.
“There’s always advantages however you set up,” Cassidy said. “If Charlie learns to be deceptive, fake it to Krech and get it over to Pasta, that one-timer — that’s one thing we don’t want to lose on the power play.”
Thirty other NHL teams know that the Bruins want to tee it up for Pastrnak in the left circle, or hit Patrice Bergeron in the slot. Grzelcyk or McAvoy can execute those plays. Where Krug’s absence will be felt is in the confidence and chemistry he expressed when he swapped places with Marchand on the wall, set up a long bomb off the boards to a streaking Pastrnak, or deftly walked his way through the neutral zone.
With Krug gone (and potentially Zdeno Chara to follow), between 20 and 40 left-side minutes could be available. There is no shortage of contenders, even without another move from Sweeney. Jakub Zboril showed some offensive skill in Providence. Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakanainen lean more defensive. John Moore has physical tools. Turning them into regulars is another matter.
As such, Cassidy will be more involved this year with the training of defensemen after practice, duties normally relegated to assistant coach Kevin Dean (Joe Sacco handles the forwards). As a head coach, Cassidy’s post-practice ritual is to find 3-5 players he hasn’t connected with that day, “whether it’s just, ‘Keep up the good work, I like what you did the other night,’ or ‘Hey, we showed you this on video, in D zone, you didn’t seem to get it, whatever,’ ” he said. “Those little one-on-one talks you have with players: ‘You missed practice yesterday, how’s your son doing, is he good?’ ”
He tries to make those connections when players enter the building, since after practice, they have workouts, refueling, and media appearances to handle before returning to their personal time.
Now, he plans to be another voice with Dean, teaching the whys and hows.
“Why when it goes low to high, why do we roll into the middle? Why do we roll outside? Why are we shooting on the ice for a tip? When are we shooting to score without shooting for a stick?” he said. “Start building in a little more of that and getting feedback so they’re comfortable, because they’re quick reads. When you’re on the offensive blue line and you make mistakes, they’re noticeable. They come back the other way.”
Few in Cassidy’s career have called it like Krug, who signed for seven years and $45.5 million with the Blues. Cassidy, who coached Krug in Providence beginning in 2012, spoke to him briefly before he hit the market, then “stayed out of the way,” Cassidy said. “I texted him after.
“I’ll always respect Torey for what he did for the Bruins,” Cassidy said. “I wish him well. Not when he plays the Bruins. He’s got his business to take care of. So do I. I’ve said it all along, you meet a lot of good guys in this game.”
NOT A RUSHING DEFENSEMAN
Amid uncertainty, Chara waiting it out
The Zdeno Chara situation bears watching. Amid reports that the Boston captain, who has had offers from other teams, was “looking at all options,” agent Matt Keator reiterated to the Globe what he said last week: Chara is in “no rush” to decide his future.
Chara, who had Boston and Los Angeles among his finalists the last time he hit free agency (2006, or midway through George W. Bush’s second term) is not looking to be crowned King Z, or have an engagement de retour with Claude Julien in Montreal. Tampa Bay’s cap space wouldn’t allow it anyway, but he’s not trying to join Tom Brady down there.
“He’s an iconic player, a personality, and a leader,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said, “and we want to make sure we’re dealing with this with the utmost respect.”
It’s just that no one in the stick-and-puck industry knows what next season will look like, or when it will begin. Chara, like all his peers, remains at home, waiting.
Asked last week about Chara’s expected role, Sweeney said there was “no ambiguity” about it. He offered no specifics, but reduced minutes would be part and parcel. Chara, 43, logged 21:01 per game last season. His shorthanded TOI (3:11 per game) was most on the Bruins (slightly ahead of PK partner Brandon Carlo) and 12th in the league. Among left sticks, Jeremy Lauzon would be first up.
Profits and losses in free agency so far
Four winners and losers from the first week of NHL free agency:
▪ Taylor Hall: Next to Jack Eichel, he can jack up his numbers by the trade deadline, entice Buffalo into recouping some assets if they’re out of the playoff race, and once again enter the market as the top UFA forward next season. Or, he can stick around and help Buffalo rebuild.
▪ Canadiens fans: Optimism is a heck of a drug. The team is more competitive after GM Marc Bergevin landed Josh Anderson and Tyler Toffoli, re-signed Brendan Gallagher, and got a quality backup (Jake Allen) for Carey Price.
▪ Detroit: Still a lottery team, but with several more legitimate NHL players on the roster (Thomas Greiss, Vlad Namestnikov, Bobby Ryan, Troy Stecher, Marc Staal, Jon Merrill), they may have added 20-30 points in the standings. Not that it gets them anywhere, but wins are building blocks.
▪ Kevin Shattenkirk: Won a Stanley Cup on a prove-it deal in Tampa, then got three years at $3.9 million in Anaheim, including a 12-team no-trade list.
▪ Forwards: Sitting on the market entering the weekend: 20-goal scorers Mike Hoffman and Anthony Duclair, promising Dominik Kahun, speedy Andreas Athanasiou, and veterans Mikael Granlund, Alex Galchenyuk, Derick Brassard, and Conor Sheary. No one’s breaking the bank on their next deal.
▪ Arizona: Might be a tough few years in the desert. Unable to get assets for Hall. No trading partners for Oliver Ekman-Larsson or Phil Kessel. Cap-tight and lacking both draft capital and high-end talent. The Kachina jerseys look great, though.
▪ Chicago: Let quality veteran Corey Crawford walk (to New Jersey, of all places), swapped Brandon Saad for Nikita Zadorov, and annoyed an aging core of stars.
▪ Tampa Bay: Found no help on the Tyler Johnson trade market, still has to re-up RFAs Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak. The hardest part is winning a Cup. The second-hardest part is keeping it together.
Duggan did her part for women’s cause
Meghan Duggan, the pride of Danvers, leaves a glittering mark on women’s hockey.
Duggan, 33, hung up her skates last week. She will now focus on her roles with USA Hockey (board of directors), the Women’s Sports Foundation (board of trustees), and the NHL Player Inclusion Committee (member).
A lot of family time is ahead, too. Duggan and her wife, former Canadian Olympic foe Gillian Apps, had their first child, son George, in February.
Duggan is one of Team USA’s second golden generation. The young girls who watched the Americans captained by Cammi Granato take gold in Nagano in 1998 set a goal to do the same, and realized their dream 20 years later in Sochi.
Her journey, from donning skates at age 3 with her brother, Bryan, in Danvers town hockey, to Wisconsin, to the CWHL and NWHL, was always about the Olympics. Along the way, Duggan found her voice. Any captain of a gold-medal-winning side would retire with immense pride. Duggan steps away knowing she fought for equality, and won.
She was a major presence in 2017 as the US women engaged with USA Hockey in a 15-month dispute over unfair pay and unequal treatment. They threatened to boycott the 2017 World Championships. Standing strong earned those elite-level players a livable wage — reportedly about $70,000 a year, up from about $6,000 they received every quadrennial — and travel stipends and accommodations on par with the men. USA Hockey also agreed to boost marketing for the team and support elite girls' programs.
“That’s a big part of our team’s legacy,” Duggan said. “It’s something USA Hockey can be proud of. We were able to work through that, move through things together, and be on the right side of history.”
You can log on to USAHockey.com and buy the jersey of Duggan, Kendall Coyne-Schofield, or any other Team USA women’s player.
But the women’s game has a long way to go. Low pay and arduous travel hamper the ability of those in the National Women’s Hockey League (and previously, the defunct Canadian Women’s Hockey League) to live and train with total focus.
Rather than support the NWHL, most Olympic-level players in North America aligned with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players' Association. The PWHPA, after its “Dream Gap Tour” of 2019-20, has plans to keep barnstorming this year.
The NHL is wary of choosing sides. It is certain to involve women at its feature events, as it did in last season’s well-received 3-on-3 exhibition at the All-Star Game in St. Louis. A WNHL wasn’t close to happening even before COVID-19 hit.
As for the NWHL, founder Dani Rylan Kearney stepped down Tuesday, making way for Tyler Tumminia to become interim commissioner. Rylan Kearney remains involved with a consortium that owns four of the league’s six teams. Boston and Toronto are the only independently owned clubs.
Thornton stays busy in Switzerland
New Maple Leaf Joe Thornton, 41, will flash his Swiss passport and play for HC Davos until the NHL pokes its head out of the cave for 2020-21. Postponements have dotted the Swiss National League, which has limited fan attendance, but Thornton was expected to make his debut Friday.
Thornton met his wife, Tabea Pfendsack, while playing in Switzerland during the 2004-05 lockout. He has long returned there for offseason training. Including the 2012-13 lockout, he has 90 points in 73 games over there.
Old pal Patrick Marleau — taken No. 2 overall in the same draft (1997) that saw Thornton go No. 1 to the Ray Bourque/Pat Burns Bruins — re-upped for one year and $700,000 with the Sharks. Had the Leafs not pulled the trigger on that same deal Friday, Thornton sounded happy to sauce pucks around the Swiss Alps.
“I was born to play hockey,” he told Swiss outlet MySports. “I’ll play as long as I can, as long as I’m healthy.”
Would Jets sniper Patrik Laine show up to training camp? Yes. Would he prefer a trade out of Winnipeg? Yes. His reps said this past week that Laine, who scored 44 goals three seasons ago, is not seeing the kind of ice time befitting a 21-year-old with 138 goals on his ledger. The Jets aren’t giving away Laine, who enters the last year of a $6.75 million bridge deal . . . As a proponent of big, crazy ideas, I loved hearing the NHL float the idea, via the Toronto Star, of starting the season on postcard-perfect Lake Louise in Alberta. That place is pure . . . The NHL wants to have a 2020-21 season wrapped by July 23, when the rescheduled Summer Olympics are set to begin in Tokyo. It would not make rights-holder NBC happy to jam the Stanley Cup Finals and the Opening Ceremonies into the same time slots . . . The ECHL will play a split-season schedule, with 13 teams beginning a 72-game season on Dec. 11, and the rest of the clubs beginning a 62-game slate on Jan. 15. The only club sitting out: Atlanta, the Bruins' affiliate. All Gladiators with ECHL deals were made free agents. Unclear entering the weekend what that meant for the handful of players with Bruins contracts who spend time in the ECHL annually . . . Would the Blackhawks really trade Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, as was speculated after Toews gave an interview to the Athletic expressing his unhappiness at the signs of a Windy City rebuild? Can’t see it, at least not yet. Both have three years left at $10.5 million cap hits, so that’s probably pandemic-prohibitive for a lot of teams. Same goes for Brent Seabrook, currently on injured reserve with four years of a $6.875 million cap hit. Duncan Keith, 37, is less weighty against the cap (three years left at a shade over $5.53 million). But he doesn’t have to go anywhere. Like the other core members, Keith has a no-movement clause. Ex-GM Dale Tallon gave him 13 years of guaranteed stability, and handed eight-year NMCs to the other three, in a different economic reality for the NH . . . Davos is selling Jumbo Joe jerseys (No. 97) for 340 Swiss Francs, which is about $372 US . . . American resident Bruce Cassidy recently became an American citizen. How’d he do on the test? “I nailed it,” he said. “They gave me a list of 100 questions. I’m going to guess 80 of them I knew already. I do pay attention to the history, politics, geography of the United States. I’ve been here a long time. When the test came, I nailed it. They asked me six questions, I got 'em all right, so they said ‘You passed.’ I aced it. I studied hard. Crushed it.” A reminder: Get out there and vote.