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tara sullivan

The Bruins definitely have problems to fix, but Bruce Cassidy isn’t one of them

Bruce Cassidy is 245-108-46 as Bruins coach and has reached the playoffs in all six seasons, including a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2018-19.MARK STOCKWELL FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

The lasting image from the Bruins’ disappointing first-round playoff exit was Brad Marchand choking back tears, the mere possibility that longtime teammate Patrice Bergeron might have played his final game leaving Marchand an emotional wreck.

At that moment, it sure seemed that Bergeron’s fate threatened the most seismic shift to the foundation of the franchise.

But just a few days later, Cam Neely dropped a bomb that indicated even more potential upheaval, and if the team president follows through and allows his designated decision-maker Don Sweeney to fire coach Bruce Cassidy, cue the complete surrender to a rebuild.

Never mind the complete surrender of common sense.


Of all the problems facing the Bruins in getting back to true Stanley Cup contention, Cassidy is far down the list. Look first to their aging roster, or to their talent drain of the last few seasons, or to their dry pipeline of young talent, or to their poor drafting. All issues that fall at Sweeney’s feet, not Cassidy’s.

So it was quite a stunner when Neely used last Thursday’s end-of-season news conference to simultaneously promise a contract extension to Sweeney while leaving the door wide open to replacing Cassidy.

“I think we have to look at making some changes as far as how we play and the way we do some of the things,” he said. “I think Bruce is a fantastic coach. I mean, 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. And I think Bruce, a couple of days ago, he alluded to that. So, we’ll see where that goes.”

Cue the clouds, black and thick, their layer of uncertainty hovering over the Bruins.


What does the future hold for Bruce Cassidy?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

All of it unnecessary, considering what Cassidy has done since replacing Claude Julien in February of 2017. He owns a 245-108-46 record and has reached the playoffs all six of his seasons on the bench, including a memorable run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2018-19. Only two current NHL coaches have reached the 50-win plateau twice with their current teams: two-time defending champion Jon Cooper in Tampa Bay (four times) and Cassidy.

But Neely wants more, specifically from the offense, a shortcoming he seemed all too willing to blame on Cassidy rather than on his friend and former teammate Sweeney, who built a roster devoid of the type of scoring threats Neely covets. The type of offensive scoring threats Sweeney could have secured back in 2015, the draft that will live in infamy. With three successive first-round picks, Sweeney took Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn, passing on the likes of Mat Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot, and later, in the second round, Sebastian Aho. Any one of those would have looked mighty good in the Bruins offense.

Both Sweeney and Neely have owned up to that disastrous draft, and to be fair, Sweeney had only been on the job for weeks. But there’s no disputing the lasting effect of the mistakes, right through to now, with yet another draft year with no first-round pick, the result of much-needed deals and swaps to get a spark (this time Hampus Lindholm). That’s not on Cassidy.


What might end up dooming Cassidy is his heavy coaching hand, one that can obviously grind on players, from David Krejci to Trent Frederic to, perhaps most of all, DeBrusk. But even if DeBrusk maintains his trade request into this offseason, he did rebound on Cassidy’s watch, emerging with a strong playoff performance in the loss to the Hurricanes.

And young players that Cassidy might be charged with not developing enough — Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, Anders Bjork — certainly haven’t gone on to light it up elsewhere.

And think about it: If Cassidy were to be let go tomorrow, how fast would his suitors line up? He’d have a new job in no time, right behind Barry Trotz as the hottest free agent coach on the market.

Bruce Cassidy has led the Bruins to the playoffs in all six seasons he's been behind the bench.Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

The truth of the Bruins’ uncertainty goes far deeper than the man on the bench. Their best player is the soon-to-be-37-year-old captain who seems headed toward retirement, a departure that would fall in line behind those of Zdeno Chara, Krejci, and Tuukka Rask. They need a talent infusion more than they need a coaching change, and prospects Fabian Lysell and Mason Lohrei seem at least another full season away from helping.

In the end, the Bruins could easily stick with the status quo and let Cassidy coach out the final year of his contract, to be a lame duck the same way Sweeney was this past season and let him feel he has to earn the extension one more time.


Fans are still filling the seats and revenue is still flowing in. But six years into his Bruins tenure, and six playoff appearances later, the word here is that Cassidy has earned that extension already. He took them to a Stanley Cup Final, he helped Marchand round off the rough edges well enough to be ready to take the captaincy from Bergeron should he retire, and he is engaging and insightful when talking about his team. He is the least of their problems.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.