Don Sweeney will return as Bruins general manager, team president Cam Neely said Thursday.
However, Neely turned up the heat on Bruce Cassidy. He left open the possibility that the coach may not be back.
“I think we have to look at making some changes as far as how we play,” Neely said during his end-of-year press conference at the team’s practice facility in Brighton. “I think Bruce is a fantastic coach. He’s brought a lot of success to this organization. I like him as a coach.
“So we’ll see where it goes, but I do think we need to make some changes.”
In September 2019, Cassidy signed a multiyear contract extension, which is believed to run through 2022-23.
Sweeney and Neely, former Bruins teammates who have been in management since 2007, are in agreement that Cassidy must find ways to generate a more consistent attack, particularly when defenses clamp down in the playoffs.
Ultimately, the fact that Cassidy has echoed that may not matter.
Neely pointed to his dissatisfaction seeing players continually, and unsuccessfully, try to gain the offensive zone by beating players one-on-one. Meanwhile, Cassidy noted during the team’s power-play struggles of the past few months that he was trying to convince players to be less “stubborn” on entries, and to score more ugly goals when the pretty plays aren’t working. He praised Taylor Hall, a rush-happy forward, for bringing more grind to his game.
Neely did not sound satisfied with the progress.
“We’ve got to do a little better job of getting inside the dots,” Neely said. “Maybe not try to have such a rush mentality. I thought we were getting a little stubborn at times, turning pucks over at the blue line, whether it was an entry on the power play or five-on-five.
“I think, at times, you’ve got to take what’s given to you and sometimes you’ve got to dump it in and go get it and grind it out.”
Young players, Neely noted, have been wary of making mistakes under Cassidy. The coach has had short leashes with several young forwards, from Ryan Donato to Danton Heinen to Jake DeBrusk to Trent Frederic. During his Monday chat with reporters, Frederic sounded unsure of his role. Cassidy noted that dissatisfaction with playing time is a common occurrence, and he is encouraged about DeBrusk’s rebound and Frederic’s development.
“There is some of that, no question, of players being afraid to make mistakes. Especially younger players,” Neely said. “I think that’s one of the things we have to change, is when younger players make mistakes, they’re worried they’re not going to play the next game while that game is still going on.”
Cassidy, who replaced Claude Julien in February 2017, is 245-108-46 (.672) in six seasons. He won the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year in 2020.
Each of his teams has made the playoffs, reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, losing in the second round in 2018, 2020, and 2021, and exiting after the first round in 2017 and 2022.
Whether Cassidy returns will be Sweeney’s call, Neely said. The GM has not given an indication, Neely said, possibly because of his own uncertain contract status.
Neely said he began talking with ownership after the March trade deadline about a contract extension for Sweeney, who worked this season on an expiring deal.
“I wanted to see how the year went,” Neely said. “We had a lot of changes last offseason. I wanted to see how that played out. January, February, March were really good months for us. The team really came together. We had a lot of depth. And I was happy with what he did at the deadline.”
The Bruins do not know whether Patrice Bergeron will return for a 19th season. A common thread connecting all of the worst teams in the NHL: They lack an elite No. 1 center. The Bruins would have to conduct major roster surgery to fill Bergeron’s spot, or it is certain they will tumble down the standings.
Neely conceded that he has thought in recent seasons, as the 2011 Stanley Cup championship core kept departing, about rebuilding. Asked if fans would accept a rebuild, he said it is not the plan.
“I don’t think anybody really wants to watch losing hockey,” he said. “You look at teams around the league that have lost a lot of hockey games over a number of years, they are in rebuilds, they get better draft picks and ultimately better players.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of the last 10-11 years of trying to stay in that window to win. Eventually it does catch up to you. But we do have some good young players in this lineup that hopefully we can build around in the next couple of years so we don’t have to do a complete rebuild.”