Without stating a reason for cause other than noting he wanted a “new voice” behind his team’s bench, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney dismissed Bruce Cassidy as coach shortly after 7 p.m. Monday.
Beyond the obvious — choosing to operate only via a news release trivializes such an important decision and also slights Cassidy’s exceptional work since taking over coaching duties in February 2017 — it’s an irrational, short-sighted, and scapegoating move by Sweeney and team president Cam Neely.
The dismissal, which Neely foreshadowed in his end-of-season comments on May 19, came just more than three weeks after the Bruins were ousted by the Canes in Game 7 in the opening round of the playoffs.
It was the 73rd postseason game of Cassidy’s coaching tenure here, and the end result again revealed the Bruins for what they are: A team, as constructed by Sweeney and Neely, with not enough parts to last more than a round or two in the NHL postseason. Cassidy took the fall for their collective shortcoming.
Specifically, their construction of a roster short of scoring moxie, lacking in speed, and absent the requisite grit needed when the playing temperature rises in the spring.
Per the press release, Sweeney will address the media in Brighton at 8 a.m. Tuesday, at which he’ll be asked to detail why he chose to dump a coach who led an average team to a .672 points percentage in 399 regular-season games behind the Black and Gold bench.
It would be unlike Sweeney, however, to provide much detail. Since taking over the job in the spring of 2015 following the dismissal of Peter Chiarelli, he has been the least communicative GM in the club’s history. Once was the time here when Harry Sinden was one of the most colorful, quotable, and sometimes irascible GMs in all of sports. Now the M.O. is 5 p.m. Friday news releases for updates on significant medical procedures performed on playing personnel — see: the last two Fridays — and then a 7 p.m., “Oh, hey, we deep-sixed the coach and we’ll talk about that tomorrow.”
Awfully weak tea for a franchise that still likes to harken back to its Big, Bad heritage.
In the news release, Sweeney, Neely, and executive son Charlie Jacobs all issued the boilerplate quotes expected in such situations. They thanked Cassidy for his loyalty and a job well done. Neely went so far as to praise him as a “fantastic coach.”
Neely got that right. So at least there’s that.
Cassidy directed the club to Game 7 of the Cup Final in 2019, when the roster still had franchise goalie Tuukka Rask in his prime, team captain Zdeno Chara playing to the bitter end with a cracked jaw, and David Krejci working in tandem with Patrice Bergeron as arguably the best 1-2 center tandem in the Original 31. We know where that went.
The squad that just lost to Carolina had none of those on the roster, and the playing stock didn’t stack up to the ‘19 iteration in overall talent or will. Even then, Cassidy was able to wring 51 regular-season wins and a sixth consecutive postseason berth out of them.
There has been an ongoing narrative around the club in recent months, seeping out in dribs and drabs since Jake DeBrusk’s trade request prior to this past season, that some players were disgruntled with Cassidy’s coaching style. In short, he was too hard on some players. Particularly young players, some of whom — Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen — were traded off.
More of that narrative inevitably will come up in the wake of Cassidy’s dismissal. To date, be it here or elsewhere, not a single player, assistant, or front office employee has stated it for the record.
If the narrative is true, Cassidy’s dismissal, in theory, could influence whether, say, Bergeron and Krejci opt to return next season, or if DeBrusk drops his standing trade request. The question then would become: Was Cassidy canned to mollify the players?
If so, that’s a wow moment. And good luck to the next guy, who’ll take the job thinking he has 21 general managers. No way to run a hockey team.
Cassidy was the least of the issues here. The players who got him canned, be it by their lack of talent or perhaps their carping, weren’t good enough.
Sweeney and Neely also haven’t been good enough these last three years. Sweeney, in particular, didn’t come up with suitable answers as Chara, Krejci, and Rask exited stage left.
On top of it all, Jacobs, ownership’s DNA on duty here, doesn’t know good hockey from bad hockey. He is useless when it comes time to assess how Sweeney, Neely, et al. have performed on the job. If gate receipts sagged, then Jacobs would be able to measure it. But that hasn’t happened. So, oh well, can the coach.
Now for Cassidy’s successor? Barry Trotz, dumped by the Islanders at the start of May, is the hottest name out there. Don’t be surprised if he’s already had talks with Sweeney. Or if he wants to go more with a Brian Sutter-like approach, maybe he’ll think a recycled John Tortorella will do the trick. Based on what we’ve seen of the current roster, hard to imagine a buy-in here for the Tortorella shot-blocking mantra.
Cassidy, bright and candid and straightforward, will be snapped up quickly if he desires to get right back to work. He signed a multi-year extension in September 2019 and has at least one year left on that deal. There are a handful of jobs open, including Detroit, Vegas, Philly, Dallas, and perhaps Winnipeg and Florida.
All coaches, of course, are hired to be fired. Even when it doesn’t make sense.
Even when those doing the firing haven’t done their job as well as the guy behind the bench.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.