Bruce Cassidy and his wife, Julie, have two middle-school-aged children, Shannon (13) and Cole (11). They are all dealing with the fallout of the past week, which began one of the transient stretches that come with being an NHL coaching family.
In Cassidy’s 14 years with the Bruins’ organization, the family had gotten used to some aspects of living here.
“There’s a passionate fan base,” Cassidy said. “Like, ‘Cole, if one of your classmates says, “Oh, your dad sucks” or “The Bruins suck,” use your words, buddy. It’s part of what happens.’
“ ‘Now, if they start talking about your sister or your mother, you’ve got the green light to punch ‘em in the nose.’ ”
Cassidy, who was surprised to be bounced after five-plus years as coach, instantly became a person of interest to several NHL teams with vacancies. The open jobs include Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, Vegas, and Winnipeg, all of whom would consider hiring him.
Cassidy, like everyone in the game, wants to improve. At his next stop, he hopes to fix some of the communication breakdowns with his bosses and players that hampered him here. But the Bruins’ decision to can Cassidy, who leaves with a .672 points percentage in the regular season and a 6-for-6 run of playoff appearances, was roundly bashed by fans and questioned by the media.
Why him, one reporter bluntly asked Don Sweeney in a news conference, and why not you?
“It may fall the other way at some point in time,” the Bruins general manager replied. “Today, that’s not the day.”
Dreary days may be coming for the Bruins. They would be of Sweeney’s doing, not Cassidy’s.
Entering his eighth year as general manager, Sweeney has seen several of his trades work out — Hampus Lindholm looks like an excellent pickup, and he’s fortunate Taylor Hall steered his way here — but his free agent signings have been underwhelming. The contracts of Matt Beleskey, David Backes, and John Moore became throw-ins in trades. That of Nick Foligno, if not bought out this summer, looks like another.
Sweeney points to the Bruins’ go-for-it mind-set as a reason that the prospect pipeline isn’t flowing. No, they haven’t chosen in the top 10 on his watch. But he has made 43 draft picks in seven years. Four of those picks, as of now, could be considered NHL regulars: Charlie McAvoy (14th overall in 2016), Brandon Carlo (37th, 2015), Jake DeBrusk (14th, 2015), and Jeremy Lauzon (52nd, 2015).
Trent Frederic (29th, 2016), Jeremy Swayman (111th, 2017), Jakub Zboril (13th, 2015), and Jack Studnicka (53rd, 2017) have a chance, and the Bruins are excited about the potential of Fabian Lysell (21st, 2021) and Mason Lohrei (58th, 2020). But that’s not a lot of sizzle, especially when considering the potential game-changers Sweeney passed on with those three consecutive first-round swings in 2015.
Compare that with a rival franchise that’s had similar draft capital over the same stretch, the Lightning. While going for it and trading away first-rounders, they’ve pulled Anthony Cirelli (72nd, 2015) and some depth players (Cal Foote, Alexander Volkov, Brett Howden, Libor Hajek, Ross Colton, Mitchell Stephens, Mathieu Joseph). Not an overwhelming haul, but they used three first-round picks in that time. Boston has had eight.
Someday, the Lightning will have to replace their Stanley Cup-winning stalwarts such as Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman. No easy task, sure. To date, Sweeney has failed to find suitable successors to the Bruins’ 2011 championship core. If Patrice Bergeron opts to retire, Brad Marchand would be the only alum of that team left standing.
Marchand will be down until Thanksgiving recovering from double hip surgery. Young mainstays McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are out at least until then with shoulder surgeries. Those problems aren’t on Sweeney, just like he can’t be faulted for the concussions that ended Rick Nash’s career after the 2018 deal to bring him in as David Krejci’s right wing.
When Sweeney was asked if he thought, in a best-case scenario, that his team could compete for a Stanley Cup next year, he said yes — if Bergeron returns, and they get healthy. Translation: They are not a contender.
Typically, players returning from hip surgeries aren’t right for an entire year. This is not to doubt the competitive drive of Marchand or the skill of the Bruins’ medical team, but don’t expect the 34-year-old winger to be skating with his familiar zip when he returns midseason.
If Bergeron doesn’t come back for a 19th season, the situation looks even bleaker. If David Pastrnak, whose contract expires next summer, doesn’t want to return, a trade for futures is the only sensible option.
After some truly dark days following the trades of Ray Bourque and Joe Thornton, the Bruins have been on a 15-year run of competitiveness. They have one Stanley Cup, three appearances in the Final, and they made the playoffs 13 times.
Concurrently, business has been booming at Delaware North. The Bruins once again placed high on Forbes’s list of most valuable NHL teams, worth $1.3 billion as of last December. That was up 30 percent over the previous year. Coming off the 2011 Stanley Cup, they were worth nearly $350 million.
According to Team Marketing Report, a Chicago-based firm, Bruins fans pay the sixth-highest prices in the league. The average cost of four non-premium tickets, two beers, two sodas, four hot dogs, two souvenir hats, and parking at TD Garden was $569.96 this season, behind only Toronto, Seattle, Vegas, the Rangers, and Chicago. It is more than $100 over the league average.
Should fans pay those prices while watching a potential rebuild? Should Sweeney, who has now fired two Jack Adams Award winners, be trusted to oversee said rebuild? Why would anyone answer either in the affirmative?
Sweeney’s boss, Cam Neely, waited until the March trade deadline to decide whether to keep his lame-duck GM. As the weekend approached, he still hadn’t announced a contract extension for Sweeney, though both sides insisted it would get done. Neely, whose own contract status is unclear, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Cassidy, meanwhile, goes on the coaching market with some well-known names. The list includes Barry Trotz and Peter DeBoer, the other two would-be members of Jon Cooper’s Team Canada staff, had the NHL participated at the Beijing Olympics. No one gets into this business to be comfortable.
“I’m a free agent now,” Cassidy said. “Haven’t been in this position for a long time. Didn’t ask to be in this position, to be perfectly honest with you.”
WHO’S THE BOSS?
Not a good year
to be an NHL coach
While it seems as if we’re having a lot of coaching turnover this year, it’s not even close to the league record for ins and outs. That would be 2009-10, when nearly half the league — 14 teams — started the year with a different coach than they had the previous season.
Phoenix: Wayne Gretzky out, Dave Tippett in.
Edmonton: Craig MacTavish out, Pat Quinn in.
Montreal: Guy Carbonneau out, Jacques Martin in.
New Jersey: Brent Sutter out, Jacques Lemaire in.
Dallas: Tippett out, Marc Crawford in.
Tampa Bay: Barry Melrose out, Rick Tocchet in.
Pittsburgh: Michel Therrien out, Dan Bylsma in.
Rangers: Tom Renney out, John Tortorella in.
Colorado: Tony Granato out, Joe Sacco in.
Calgary: Mike Keenan out, Sutter in.
Chicago: Denis Savard out, Joel Quenneville in.
Carolina: Peter Laviolette out, Paul Maurice in.
Minnesota: Lemaire out, Todd Richards in.
Ottawa: Craig Hartsburg out, Cory Clouston in.
Laviolette (Washington) is the only one of those 26 who still has an NHL head coaching job. Richards is a Nashville assistant. Sacco remains under contract with Boston as an assistant after Bruce Cassidy’s exit. Everyone else is either out of the NHL, looking for his next gig, or playing for the TV cameras (Gretzky, Tocchet, Tortorella, and Melrose).
In that year of turmoil, current Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was skipper for Green Bay of the USHL. Hired by the Lightning in 2013, he is now the league’s longest-tenured coach.
NOT LIKE OLD TIMES
the Original Six
Tough break for the Rangers, who had their chance to KO the defending champs.
They led the Lightning, 2-0, in the Eastern Conference finals. They couldn’t put one home in the third period of a 1-1 Game 5. Tampa Bay took a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 Saturday night.
The Rangers have won one Stanley Cup in the last 82 years. The Bruins, one in 50. Couple that with Toronto (NHL-record 54 years without a Cup) and Montreal (zero Cups in 29 years), plus the shameful situation uncovered in Chicago and Detroit’s ongoing rebuild, and times are not great for the Original Six.
Detroit looks to have the brightest immediate future, with Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond as their young core. If Boston teeters from its playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, the Red Wings will be next up.
Suites are sweet —
but not for media
ESPN’s Sean McDonough, back calling hockey games after 17 years away, was preaching to the choir when he lamented the old days of intimate arenas.
At the old Boston Garden, broadcasters and scribes used to sit in a box overhanging the ice, able to pick up conversations on the bench and ice (younger members of the press corps can only imagine). McDonough recalled talking to a Bruins executive circa 1995, when the FleetCenter (now TD Garden) opened, mourning the loss of the “best broadcast position in the world.”
“He pointed at the suites that are on the fourth and fifth and sixth floors,” McDonough said. “ ’Well, those suite-holders pay a lot of money for those suites.’ I said, ‘Well, your rights-holders pay a lot of money for the TV rights, and we actually have to see the game.’
“Those people in those suites are eating shrimp and having a drink and talking to each other.”
Sanderson & Co.
followed the money
Though not playing the same fairways when it comes to global politics or amounts of cash, long-in-the-tooth hockey fans might have been thinking of the WHA when the LIV Golf Series teed off this past week.
In 1972, the Bruins lost Derek Sanderson, Gerry Cheevers, and Johnny McKenzie to the fledgling league, which promised big paychecks and a freewheeling style of play. Sanderson recalled two years ago how he signed a $2.6 million contract to defect to the WHA’s Philadelphia Blazers.
“I wanted 80 with the Bruins — $80,000,” he said. “They budgeted me for 75. Johnny McKenzie had already jumped. They said, ‘Under the circumstances, we’ll offer you 83. We still think you’re only worth 75.’ ”
Meanwhile, Sanderson stood to make four times that from his facial expression alone. He remembered a team rep for the Blazers offering him $2.3 million. Sanderson, stunned and speechless, had the fellow thinking he was uninterested. The rep quickly added that he was authorized to go as high as $2.6 million.
“I bought a Rolls,” said Sanderson, who eventually became one of the cautionary tales of ‘70s athletic excess. “Should have known I was in trouble when I did that.”
The new league lasted seven years before merging with the NHL in 1979. Of the four WHA franchises that survived — the Edmonton Oilers, original Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers, and Quebec Nordiques — three were in the NHL’s final eight this year.
The team with WHA bloodlines that didn’t reach the playoffs — the Jets, now DBA the Arizona Coyotes — keeps holding out hope for a new desert home. Tempe voted to continue discussing a proposal that would put a $2.1 billion sports and entertainment district on what is currently a city dump. The Coyotes will play at least three seasons at Arizona State’s new arena, which seats about 5,000. The NHL’s salary cap will increase by $1 million next season, but the Coyotes, who enter the summer with some $33 million in cap space, are likely to be well short of the $82.5 million upper limit … Don Sweeney gets dogged for 2015, but not everyone has knocked it out of the park when they’ve had three first-round draft picks. Jarmo Kekalainen (2011), in his first draft with Columbus, took Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, and Marko Dano. Jay Feaster (2013), in his last draft with Calgary, took Sean Monahan (sure, good player), Emile Poirier, and Morgan Klimchuk. Jeff Gorton (2018) drafted Vitaly Kravtsov, K’Andre Miller (promising), and Nils Lundkvist. Arguably, the best outcome for any GM drafting three times in the first round: Pittsburgh’s Eddie Johnston, who in 1984 landed Mario Lemieux first overall (along with Doug Bodger and Roger Belanger). Sometimes, the job is easy … Remarkable that Oilers star Leon Draisaitl played the last 10 games of his playoff run on a high ankle sprain, which he suffered in Game 6 of the first round. Draisaitl refused to discuss the injury, which was later revealed by GM Ken Holland. Despite that ailment, he led the playoffs in scoring (2-22—24) in that 10-game stretch, producing with his vision and hands rather than wheels … Had a chuckle when seeing several betting outlets list Sergei Fedorov as the favorite to be the Red Wings’ next coach. Fedorov, currently coaching CSKA Moskva in the KHL, has been persona non grata in Detroit since signing a front-loaded offer sheet with Carolina in 1998, and spurning the Wings for Anaheim in 2003. The Hall of Famer’s No. 91 remains unretired — though out of circulation — in Motown … Wayne Gretzky’s last Edmonton jersey, worn during Game 4 of the 1988 Cup Final, sold for $1.452 million at an auction this past week. That reportedly made it the most valuable hockey jersey of all time, besting Paul Henderson’s Team Canada 1972 Summit Series jersey ($1.3 million). Bidding began at $250,000. Gretzky was wearing the champagne-stained Nike sweater when the Oilers won their fourth Stanley Cup … ESPN rinkside reporter Emily Kaplan, formerly of the Globe, asked about the highs and lows of covering a long playoff run: “Well, the low part is my plants right now because they are all dead.” … Danvers product Meghan Duggan was promoted to the Devils’ director of player development, joining fellow women’s hockey legends Hayley Wickenheiser (Toronto) and Cammi Granato (Vancouver) in chief development roles. Granato also oversees the Canucks’ amateur and pro scouting departments … Marie-Philip Poulin signed on as a player development consultant with the Canadiens. The bad news for those in the States: She’ll still play for Team Canada. Team USA, under new coach John Wroblewski, will get another shot at the Canadians at the Worlds, which begin Aug. 25 in Denmark … There’s promise for the American women at the Under-18 Worlds, being contested in Madison, Wis. The US team capped an undefeated prelims run with a 7-0 win over Canada, earning a bye to Sunday’s semifinals. Never before had it blanked Canada at the U-18s ... Surprised to see zero Massachusetts-born players on the women’s U-18 roster. Defenders Molly Jordan (Berlin, Conn.) and Sydney Morrow (Darien, Conn.) are the only New Englanders ... Bruce Cassidy, speaking for any on-the-move coach, on Patrice Bergeron: “I would like to take him with me.”
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.