From the cold shoulder in the Hub of the Universe to a chilled T-Mobile Arena alongside the sunny Strip in Las Vegas … just … like … that.
Eight days after Bruce Cassidy was abruptly sent packing from behind the Bruins bench, he was named Tuesday as the coach of the Vegas Golden Knights, the third bench boss in the team’s history.
The Golden Knights confirmed the hire on their Twitter account at approximately 6 p.m., approximately two hours after rumors of the move broke on the social media platform.
🚨 COACHING UPDATE 🚨— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) June 14, 2022
Bruce Cassidy has been hired as the Head Coach of the Vegas Golden Knights! #VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/MyOUQLzMoj
“I am excited to join an organization that shares my commitment to winning and can’t wait to get to work with the talent that has been assembled in Vegas,” Cassidy said in a statement released by the club. “It’s been impressive to watch the city embrace the Golden Knights from afar, and my family and I look forward to becoming a part of that.”
A text sent to Cassidy’s mobile phone by the Globe, seeking comment, was not immediately returned.
Cassidy, 57, takes over for Peter DeBoer, who was dismissed May 16 after Vegas went 43-31-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since entering the league as its 31st member club for the start of the 2017-18 season.
Cassidy, who delivered a dazzling .672 points percentage in his five-plus seasons in Boston, is an ideal fit in Las Vegas on a number of levels. Foremost, he is an experienced coach with an outstanding track record — the Bruins qualified for the postseason each of his six seasons behind the bench. He is also a huge fan and consummate salesman for the sport.
Vegas has proven to be a fanatical, hockey-mad desert outpost, unlike the struggling Phoenix market, and now Vegas fans and local media no doubt will be further engaged in the product with Cassidy on the job. Patient, insightful, and often humorous with his day-to-day coaching commentary, he will help sell the sport in a non-traditional market where the only ice to be found in town must be manufactured.
Cassidy is arriving in Vegas at a time when the luster of the franchise’s early days, which included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in its inaugural season, is in need of some burnishing.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon, brother of onetime Bruins defenseman Brad McCrimmon, made a bold trade this past season to acquire franchise center Jack Eichel from Buffalo. Eichel, recovering from unorthodox neck surgery, finally made it into the lineup late in the season, but he was not enough to prevent Vegas from avoiding the postseason DNQ. The Golden Knights finished two wins (4 points) shy of edging out Nashville for the final wild-card spot in the West.
Upon Cassidy’s promotion to the top job here in February 2017 to replace Claude Julien, the Bruins were on the cusp of missing the postseason for a third consecutive year. He inherited a team barely over .500 that season (26-23-1) and drove it to a stellar 18-8-1 mark (.685) over the final 27 games, lifting the Bruins into a first-round playoff matchup against the Senators.
The Knights, who entered the league with Gerard Gallant (now with the Rangers) as their coach, should benefit from Cassidy’s up-tempo approach, though the shift in pace should not be as acute or obvious from DeBoer to Cassidy as it was from Julien to Cassidy.
The initial challenge for Cassidy will be to search for different chemistry among his forwards — Job No. 1 there to find the right wingers for Eichel — and also establish who will be the No. 1 goalie.
At this hour, the lead netminding job belongs to Robin Lehner, the 30-year-old veteran who has spoken openly, emotionally and often eloquently, about his mental health challenges.
Lehner, not a franchise No. 1, is on the books for three more years at a $5 million cap hit and he will be out at least until November recovering from shoulder surgery. If McCrimmon can find a bona fide No. 1, it will mean adding significant dollars to a payroll already challenged to come in under next season’s cap of $82.5 million.
Cassidy, though talented, would not be the first coach to struggle under the strain of average or less-than-mediocre goaltending. He had the distinct advantage during most of his Boston run to have Tuukka Rask in net, and the Jeremy Swayman-Linus Ullmark tandem of this past season proved promising.
Finding the right fit and flow among the forward corps will be paramount, and perhaps a bigger ask, will be the goaltending. Overall, McCrimmon has some creative math ahead of him, be it via trades, buyouts, or demotions to have a cap-compliant payroll.
DeBoer, Cassidy, and Barry Trotz (fired by the Islanders last month) have been the three biggest coaching names on the market this spring, with Cassidy, initially assured he would be returning to the Bruins this September, the last of three to be dismissed.
All three were named last summer as assistant coaches on Team Canada’s Olympic squad, but the trio remained with their then respective teams when the NHL opted not to send participate in the 2022 Games in Beijing.
Meanwhile, the Bruins have yet to name Cassidy’s successor. Jay Leach, the club’s ex-head coach at AHL Providence, is believed to be the early favorite.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.