It’s two-plus weeks since Cam Neely hinted at a possible change behind the Bruins bench, along with saying the same day a new deal for general manager Don Sweeney was in the works.
It was going to be “the next day or two,” Neely said May 19, that he would “hopefully hammer something out” in terms of a new contract for Sweeney. Now, it appears the ex-power forward in charge is swinging a velvet hammer.
Yep, it has been a slow roll on Causeway Street, other than word May 27 that Brad Marchand underwent surgery on both hips, followed by Thursday’s announcement that bit prospect Joona Koppanen has a new deal for what projects, to be realistic, as his sixth season in AHL Providence. And late Friday, the Bruins announced that Charlie McAvoy will need six months to mend from shoulder surgery, Matt Grzelcyk will need five months, also due to shoulder repair, and fellow defenseman Mike Reilly (ankle surgery) should be healed by training camp.
Oh, and longtime skills coach Kim Brandvold won’t be returning to Bruce Cassidy’s staff — if, in fact, Cassidy and crew are still in place when the puck drops in October.
Brandvold, an ex-UMass Lowell defenseman, left to join Jay Pandolfo’s staff at Boston University — a move the Bruins only acknowledged via their Twitter account on Thursday.
The lack of alacrity in decision-making here is, at best, curious. No new deal yet for Sweeney has been made public. Also, no knowing if Cassidy is still the coach, or if, say, Barry Trotz, the hottest name available among the nomadic coaching brethren, will be calling the shots here in 2022-23. Trotz, arguably, is the only one out there with the profile for the job.
Frankly, removing Cassidy makes zero sense, considering the results he’s delivered with the playing stock he’s been dealt. True, postseason results (14-17) the last three years have not paired up with his stellar .673 points percentage in the regular season, but one need only to look at the pace, skill, and grit in the remaining four playoff teams to realize the Bruins aren’t close to being true Stanley Cup contenders.
Neely was right in his end-of-year news conference, noting his team’s need to find a new playing approach, and that’s particularly true when it comes to finding ways to score in the playoffs. Some of that is method, sure, but as has been pointed out here repeatedly of late — the Bruins lack the speed, skill, muscle, and depth to maintain puck possession around the net and score goals. Too many fly-bys. Too many low-percentage scoring attempts. Too little finish, even less net presence.
Could coaching change things? Sure. We saw how Cassidy’s fresh approach redirected the fortunes of a franchise that had gone stale under Claude Julien’s predictable, conservative tutelage. When Cassidy took over, remember, the Bruins were in the 26-23-6 express lane for what was destined to be their third consecutive playoff DNQ. They’ve gone on to play at a .672 clip since and make the playoffs in six consecutive seasons.
Making matters worse, the backline has delivered precious little to the offense the last couple of playoff seasons. That could have changed this spring, had Hampus Lindholm not been belted to Palookaville early in the Carolina series.
In the end, even with the talented McAvoy gaining confidence, the backline added little dynamic to the scoring equation. The six pack hasn’t had the same pluck, especially at playoff time, since the loss of free agent Torey Krug to the Blues following the 2019-20 season.
It’s also a backline that has seen its courage quotient sag considerably in departures the last two seasons of strong men Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller. Parts lost. Parts not replaced. Really not a coaching issue. In Round 1, the Hurricanes consistently swarmed and agitated around the Bruins net, and the pushback was not, let us say, of playoff caliber. Moxie was not about to sign on as an advertising partner.
That said, would be it a surprise to see Cassidy get the gate? Not in the least. Change for the sake of change once was a staple here in Harry Sinden’s GM era. Exhibit A: canning Rick Bowness after one season, after he steered the club through three playoff rounds in ‘the spring of 1992. The Bruins didn’t make it into the third round again, by the way, until their successful Cup run of 2011.
The postseason results here have fallen off the last three years more as a result of personnel loss than coaching or playing/tactical approach.
The club that went to the Cup Final in 2019 under Cassidy had netminder Tuukka Rask in his prime, Krug firing from the backline (2-16—18 in 24 games), David Krejci anchoring a second line and star forwards Marchand and Patrice Bergeron each with three fewer years on their odometers. Bergeron, 36, may now call it a day, and Marchand, 34, has a long rehab in front of him.
The talent drain rests solely Sweeney and Neely. The buck literally stops with them. In hopes of plugging the drain, Sweeney last summer spent $74.85 million tying up seven unrestricted free agents, a group that delivered mixed results.
One of those hires, Nick Foligno, probably will be cashed out when the first buyout period begins July 1. Similar to the far pricier David Backes hire of 2016, Foligno was acquired off reputation, said all the right things, had the very best intentions, but didn’t have the legs to get the job done.
Foligno should have been one of the guys — perhaps the only guy, as things played out — to be that mule-like presence in front of the net, willing a key goal over the line to keep the Cup dream alive. Didn’t happen. Final playoff line: 0-1—1 in seven games. Painful.
Three months to go before the new season begins. Lots of questions to answer. And much improvement needed from the corner office.
LAND OF OPPORTUNITY
Trotz controls coaching carousel
Barry Trotz, believed to have interviewed for every coaching opening other than the long-vacant California Golden Seals job, essentially is controlling the league-wide order of things. Abruptly let go by the Islanders at season’s end, he is a prime example of a club making a change for the sake of change.
An accomplished veteran of 23 NHL seasons as head coach, with one Stanley Cup title (2018 Washington), the 59-year-old Trotz will have his pick of jobs, including a return home to coach the Jets if so desired. Born in Winnipeg, he began his coaching career with the 1986-87 MJHL Kings in Dauphin, Manitoba, about 200 miles northwest of Winnipeg.
Current NHL job openings include Vegas, Winnipeg, Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, and possibly Florida. It’s a good bet that Trotz also has talked to GMs about taking over benches in cities where coaching changes haven’t been announced.
The Panthers, swept by the Lightning in a Round 2 shocker, have yet to make public whether Andrew Brunette will be retained. He took over as interim coach in Sunrise when Joel Quenneville, a perfect 7-0-0 at the time, abruptly resigned as part of the fallout from the bungled Kyle Beach sexual assault case during Coach Q’s Chicago days.
Vancouver, as expected, opted to keep Bruce Boudreau on the job, following his fine rescue performance (32-15-10, .649) after taking over for Travis Green (8-15-2 when he got the gate).
The Canadiens this past week made formal a multiyear contract extension for Martin St. Louis, who went 14-19-4 after taking over Les Glorieux bench at midseason. St. Louis’s results were modest, when measured in points, the Habs still finishing last in the overall standings. But he put a charge in the bench, lifted the pace of play, and perhaps most important, stimulated a fan base that was fed up.
Once Trotz chooses his landing spot, other openings will fill in quickly, with Peter DeBoer (canned in Vegas) next in line. Each would be an excellent fit for the Red Wings with prime young talent Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider to benefit from their guiding hand.
Don’t be surprised, though, if GM Steve Yzerman goes off the grid with his pick for the Winged Wheels. He was in charge of the Lightning when Jon Cooper, with zero NHL experience, was brought aboard to run Tampa Bay during the 2012-13 season.
Cooper, now 54, is considered the best in the game, still with a chance to pin up a third consecutive Cup title. It would be nearly impossible for Yzerman to come up with a Cooper clone, but prior success could embolden him to steer clear of the deep bin of recyclables, stocked with such names as John Tortorella, Claude Julien, Green, et al.
Bruce Cassidy, hired on by then-Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli as an assistant coach in Providence in 2008-09, still had a year left on his deal in Boston when Don Sweeney signed him to a multiyear extension at the start of training camp in 2019. If Cassidy is cut free now, he has at least one year, possibly two, to find work. He would be snapped up quickly, provided the marketplace for the coming season hasn’t already been settled.
Devils are open to dealing pick
Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald caused a bit of a ruckus last month by only stating the painfully obvious, that he’d seriously consider giving up his first-round pick (now locked in at No. 2) for a player who could plug right into the lineup and lift team results now.
Fitzgerald, a former Bruins forward from Billerica, already has a bunch of slick teenyboppers, especially among his forwards, names such as Jack Hughes (21), Nico Hischier (23), Yegor Sharangovich (23), Dawson Mercer (20), and Michael McLeod (24).
But the Devils last qualified for the playoffs in 2018, their only postseason appearance since being rubbed out by the Kings in the 2012 Cup Final. The distant sons of the Trappist Wonks have won but a single playoff game in 10 years.
So really, what’s the ruckus?
“I said this two drafts ago, when we had three first-round picks,” noted Fitzgerald. “I’m open to whatever can help our team improve.”
Subtext: Enough of the kids and the promise of good things just around the corner. It’s time to make the Devils relevant again, the pressure all the higher in Newark with the Rangers possibly about to play for the Cup.
The Canadiens, with pick No. 1, most likely will claim OHL Kingston center Shane Wright when the draft opens July 7 in Montreal. The next-best North American, as ranked by Central Scouting, is the Pittsburgh-born Logan Cooley, a center with the US National Team Development Program.
Neither Wright nor Cooley could be expected to provide the kind of jolt the Devils need now. However, if Juraj Slafkovsky is still on the board at No. 2, that could influence Fitzgerald’s trade thoughts. At 6 feet 4 inches, 218 pounds, Slafkovsky should be able to slot right into the varsity and provide some pop at left wing.
Slafkovsky played seven games for Slovakia at the Olympics in February and scored seven goals. He played eight more games in the recently concluded World Championship and delivered a 3-6—9 line.
“Absolutely,” said Fitzgerald when asked if he’s willing to deal. The willingness likely will wilt if Slafkovsky remains in play when the Devils are called to the podium at the Bell Centre.
McNab is back on the air
A delight to hear ex-Bruin Peter McNab, who battled serious health issues late last year, handling analyst duties on the Avalanche radio feed for Games 1-2 of the Western Conference finals against the Oilersl.
Maxy, among the game’s most congenial characters, did not go north for Games 3-4 in Edmonton. “No travel yet,” he noted via text late Thursday night. “But it will be exciting!”
If the series returns to Denver, you can listen to McNab’s insightful work by clicking through to the Avalanche feed via nhl.com. McNab’s heyday came in Boston in the mid and late ’70s with Don Cherry’s Lunchpail AC, consistently clicking for 35-40 goals a season.
He was dealt late in the 1983-84 season to the Canucks for Jim Nill, now the GM in Dallas. The headline here read: “Bruins get Nill for McNab.”
Where it began, I can’t begin to know. Crooners David Pastrnak and David Krejci joined their Czech teammates in full voice, celebrating their bronze medal Sunday at the World Championship with a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline.” Final score: Czechia 8, United States 4, the Czechs’ first medal at the Worlds since 2012 So good. So good … Saskatchewan-born Jessica Campbell, 29, who played her college hockey at Cornell, was behind Team Germany’s bench as an assistant coach at the Worlds, the first woman ever to coach in the IIHF men’s tourney. She also was an assistant coach with the German men’s team in Nuremberg this past season, marking a first for women in the DEL … But for acquiring Hampus Lindholm from the Ducks, and surrendering their first-round pick in the swap, the Bruins would have selected No. 22 in the upcoming draft … Arizona (3), Seattle (4), and Philadelphia (5) will follow the Canadiens and Devils (if) to the podium … The Avalanche, who could breeze to the Cup Final after taking their first two at home against the Oilers, bumped out to a 2-0 lead in Game 2 with strikes by Artturi Lehkonen and ex-Northeastern defenseman Josh Manson. Both were deadline pickups by sharp-eyed GM Joe Sakic. Lehkonen came from the Canadiens, costing the Avalanche defenseman Justin Barron (pick No. 25 in 2020) and a second-round pick in 2024. Manson, who could be on Don Sweeney’s UFA shopping list next month, was acquired for Boston College defenseman Drew Helleson and a second-round pick in 2024 … Jake DeBrusk would not be enough for Fitzgerald to yield his No. 2 pick to Boston. But DeBrusk and a defenseman, be it Matt Grzelcyk or Brandon Carlo, might get it done. The Bruins have immediate need at center, especially if Patrice Bergeron goes, but the 6-4 Slafkovsky would be enticing … Nick Foligno made $3.8 million this season, and has a $1 million signing bonus for 2022-23 that cannot be bought out. If they buy him out, the Bruins can cut one-third off the remaining $2.8 million obligation, which would net him approximately $6.76 million for his year in the Spoked-B. Instead of a $3.8 million cap hit in 2022-23, the assessment would be over two years. According to capfriendly.com, the charge would be $1.933 million for next season and $933,000 for 2023-24 … Jeff Gorton played hockey at Bridgewater State. Kent Hughes was a captain at Middlebury. Martin St. Louis was a sensation at Vermont. Now all three US college-trained players steer the fortunes of the Montreal Canadiens. Aie! La renaissance et complet.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.