John Gruden’s playing days with the Bruins as a budding defenseman some 30 years ago were brief. An eighth-round pick in 1990, he logged but 59 games with the varsity over three seasons.
“No regrets with my playing career,” Gruden said Thursday, a day after he became new coach Jim Montgomery’s first bench hire. “You can’t change that. Of course every kid who plays 10 years wants to spend it all in the NHL, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I think it’s how you handle it and how you can learn from it.”
Hired to help curate the club’s blue-line prospects, Gruden, 52, comes aboard at a time when the front office is looking for more offensive punch from a backline challenged in recent years to create consistent, bona fide scoring chances. Some of that pluck was lost when Torey Krug departed as a free agent two seasons ago for St. Louis.
“I think there’s always times to get puck to the net,” said Gruden, “when [opposing] teams are out of structure and someone’s at the net front … get some movement with three [forwards] up top, get the D moving a little bit more laterally, and create some confusion for the other team’s D.”
Gruden finished with 92 NHL games, the last with Bruce Cassidy’s 2003-04 Capitals, and spent the most recent four seasons with the Islanders, coaching up the defense for Barry Trotz.
Gruden was hired by the Bruins ostensibly to replace Kevin Dean, who was informed at the end of the season he would not be retained — at a time when Cassidy was still the coach. Dean, once the head coach at AHL Providence, subsequently was added to the Blackhawks’ staff.
It was a Gruden text to general manager Don Sweeney, in the hours after Montgomery was hired, that started his return to the Hub of Hockey. Aware of the opening on the staff, Gruden asked Sweeney for Montgomery’s cellphone number, which ended up triggering a lengthy interview process that led to Gruden’s return 26 years after his last game in Boston.
“A lengthy process … and they came to the conclusion that I would be the best guy for the job,” Gruden said during a late-morning Zoom chat, talking from his home in Rochester Hills, Mich., some 25 miles north of Detroit. “I’m very excited to work with Jim and the rest of the staff, and be back with the tradition and the great Bruins organization.”
Whatever the method of attack, Gruden will face an initial challenge to pack more punch into the offense. Franchise defenseman Charlie McAvoy, the club’s No. 1 offensive threat from the blue line, is expected to miss the better part of the first two months while recovering from shoulder surgery. In terms of general defense, the Bruins for years have practiced the conventional zone method, eschewing man-to-man coverage. Gruden said he was not sure what structure Montgomery will choose.
“We’ve talked about it a little bit,” said Gruden. “Jim’s a great hockey mind and I think he’s talked to all the staff about maybe tweaking some things. I can’t talk too much further about that, but I think he is going to try to tweak a couple of things from the D zone and probably all parts of the game.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.