What a welcome. Before Bruce Cassidy works a single game in Vegas, they’re building a statue of him.
Thousands of them, actually.
The Golden Knights will pass out miniature busts of their new head coach to fans attending their Sept. 26 preseason game against the Kings.
“I thought that was interesting,” Cassidy said this past week over the telephone. “Anyway, what are you gonna do? Hopefully it comes out looking good.”
It has been a whirlwind summer for the former Bruins coach, who was fired after general manager Don Sweeney told him his job was safe, and scooped up six days later by Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon.
Cassidy has hired a staff, connected with all his new players in person or via phone, and had a long sitdown with Jack Eichel. Cassidy has uncertainty in net and a hungry group that missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.
“Injuries were tough on them,” Cassidy said. “They want to get their mojo back.”
Meanwhile, Cassidy’s old club got the band back together. He wasn’t surprised to see Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci return.
“[Bergeron] didn’t let on to me. I didn’t bother him about it,” Cassidy said. “I told him he’s got a lot of good hockey left in him. How much he wants to play is up to him. He’s still got a lot to give.
“With Krech, he was very up front with what he was doing, with me and the organization. He’s got young children. He wanted them around his children after COVID.”
Krejci was asked recently if Cassidy’s firing was a factor in his comeback, and he said no. Cassidy said he never detected unhappiness in Krejci, whom he gave a rotating cast of wingers.
“I talked to him a lot,” Cassidy said. “One of the things Krech often said to me was, ‘I’ll drive whatever line I’m on.’ He felt he was good enough to do that, and that was his responsibility. Did he want to play with [David] Pastrnak? Of course. He did … I had lots of conversations with Krech, power play, what spots. So in that regard, I thought we were always on the same page. Just couldn’t play Pastrnak with both of them.
“I think he left with a purpose, and he’s coming back with a purpose.”
As for his connection with young players — one of the reasons Bruins management gave for his dismissal — Cassidy pointed to Jake DeBrusk’s turnaround as evidence he did his job.
“We got him back up to speed,” Cassidy said. “He got himself back up to speed. The organization held on to him and it benefited our team. We all got him to the place he wants to be — and he got himself there.
“Jake’s a good kid. I think the guys like Jake in general. Like everybody, they want to get the best out of him.”
Cassidy isn’t looking back. His family arrived in Las Vegas Aug. 12. They’ve been renting a furnished house in Summerlin, Nev., where seemingly every Golden Knight settles (the team practices there). Son Cole (11) and daughter Shannon (13) play hockey at the Knights’ complex, and at that of the Henderson Silver Knights, the AHL affiliate 20 minutes away. Baseball is a year-round endeavor there, and Cole is auditioning for club teams.
Sunday night, Cassidy will throw out the first pitch for the Triple A Las Vegas Aviators.
“Hopefully they’ll let Cole throw one, too,” Cassidy said, “because he’s probably got a better arm than me.”
Vegas president of hockey operations George McPhee fired Cassidy two decades ago in Washington. After Sweeney turfed Cassidy, and his agent François Giguère sent an e-mail to teams looking for coaches, McPhee didn’t need to check Cassidy’s résumé. McCrimmon might have. The two didn’t know each other.
It was different in Boston. Cassidy in 2017 was promoted to replace Claude Julien after a year as Julien’s assistant, and eight years with Providence. Cassidy had rapport all over the organization. It was a seamless transition.
In Las Vegas, there are a few familiar faces. The broadcast team is old friends Dave Goucher and Shane Hnidy. Beverly’s own Eric Tosi, a former media relations official for the Bruins, is now chief marketing officer with the Golden Knights. Cassidy knows ex-Bruin Reilly Smith — one of the other faces honored with a preseason statuette, along with Mark Stone and Eichel — but has never coached him, or any current Golden Knight.
The player Cassidy knows best is Eichel, whom he met when the latter would show up for summer skates at the Bruins’ training facility. He also coached Eichel, then a Sabre, in the 2020 All-Star Game. They recently met for “a good hour and a half,” Cassidy said, in Massachusetts.
“I thought it went really well,” Cassidy said. “Of course, it’s the offseason, so there’s no adversity, right? The feedback I got about how he played post neck surgery was all positive. [The previous staff and management] thought he was playing hard, doing things to help the team win. The ask from me will be, how to grow his game as a 200-foot center, the details, the leadership … not doing too much some nights, coming from Buffalo where that was the ask. There won’t be the same demands here.”
Cassidy noted that Eichel has yet to play in the playoffs: “I know for a fact he’s very driven to be the guy.”
Regarding the playoffs, Cassidy and ex-Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo had a “quick chuckle” about the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Cassidy is Pietrangelo’s third coach in the last four years.
As for his staff, Cassidy said he retained two assistants, original Knights Ryan Craig and Misha Donskov, after players lobbied for them and they were sharp during informal interviews. McCrimmon and Cassidy hired veteran John Stevens, late of Dallas, whose long résumé includes head coaching stops in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Goaltending coach Sean Burke, who left Montreal for Vegas, arrived shortly before Cassidy.
In training camp, Cassidy will install the same layered zone defense that worked in Boston (the Bruins ranked no lower than fourth in goals against per game the last five years). That means Vegas defensemen will try to “slide and squash” to deny entries at the blue line, rather than handle the rush by staying inside the dots.
On the power play, the offense will run through the forwards. Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore will happily set up Eichel, Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and Stone.
Eichel is healthy after two rough seasons, but the group loses key scorer Max Pacioretty for salary-cap reasons, and Stone is coming off back surgery. Then there’s the goaltending.
Starter Robin Lehner, who had shoulder trouble last season, also played through hip issues. Lehner and team doctors decided it was best for the veteran to have hip surgery that will force him to miss 2022-23. Cassidy is waiting to see if McCrimmon will swing a deal for a proven hand. If not, 25-year-old Logan Thompson, he of 20 career appearances, will be Cassidy’s new Jeremy Swayman.
“We’ve got to check well. You’ve got to play well for him,” Cassidy said. “Got to give those young guys some confidence. That’s how it works.”
As Cassidy sells his home in Winchester, Jim Montgomery is closing on one there. The new Bruins coach reached out to his predecessor “a few times” this summer.
“He’s got to put his stamp on the team,” Cassidy said. “I’m biased, but I think he’s taking over a team that’s had good success. He’s taking over a real good group of guys that will play hard for one another.”
Cassidy went on, praising the tradition of Boston sports and the fans, and concluded that there’s “really no negative about coaching the Bruins.” He was certain the city would appreciate Montgomery.
“I didn’t get into it much with him. Just wished him luck,” said Cassidy. “Like a lot of markets, you know — stay consistent. You’re going to have your ups and downs. But he knows that. He’s been a head coach before.”
Locmelis helps put Latvia on the map
Dans Locmelis returned to Latvia a hero.
The 2022 Bruins fourth-round pick was part of a World Junior Championship team that produced the country’s best finish. Promoted to the main group in Edmonton when Russia and Belarus were expelled, Latvia won its first-ever preliminary-round game, an upset of Czechia, and made its first trip to the quarterfinals.
Latvia lost, 2-1, to Fabian Lysell and Sweden in the quarters. Locmelis, who had a slick assist on the tying goal and was on the ice for key draws, was selected as Latvia’s player of the game.
“It means a lot. It shows that we’re going the right way with our young players. It inspires the young kids and shows them we can play against the best,” Locmelis said from home in Jelgava, Latvia, about a 45-minute drive southwest of capital city Riga.
Locmelis, who put up a goal and an assist in five WJC games, was Latvia’s No. 2 center. The left-shot forward (6 feet, 170 pounds) was drafted 119th overall by the Bruins after going 18-16–34 in 44 games for the Lulea HF juniors in Sweden.
He started skating at 2 and played at 4, looking up to his father, an amateur player. Before long, Locmelis said, he was “dominating.”
“Latvia’s not that big,” he said. “It’s only like 2 million people in our country.”
In 2019, on counsel of his advisers, a 15-year-old Locmelis (pronounced Lotch-mellis; his teammates call him Danny) took a flight to northeast Sweden to join Lulea HF. After working his way up the club’s junior ranks, he made two appearances with the men’s team last season. He will return there this season, eschewing an option to play for Youngstown in the USHL.
“The rink is beautiful and there’s always free ice,” he said of Lulea. “You can really develop your skills.”
Flames continue to make headlines
The demise of the Flames was short-lived.
Calgary GM Brad Treliving continued his memorable summer by signing the top unsigned free agent, Nazem Kadri, to a seven-year, $49 million deal. Treliving also traded one of his worst contracts — Sean Monahan, $6.375 million — to Montreal with a 2025 first-round pick for future considerations.
The Flames might not be worse after swapping Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Monahan for Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mackenzie Weegar. Treliving also re-upped 35-goal scorer Andrew Mangiapane for three years at $5.8 million per, and 31-point defenseman Oliver Kylington for two years at a reasonable $2.5 million per.
It’s a risk to pay Kadri, who turns 32 in October, into his late 30s. But that just means the Battle of Alberta will stay spicy. The burrs under Kadri’s saddle are similar in heft to Tkachuk’s.
The Oilers, meanwhile, were rumored to be in the hunt for Patrick Kane, who is displeased with Chicago’s revved-up race to the bottom of the tank. Would a first-round pick, a prospect, a winger like Kailer Yamomoto, and overpaid defenseman Tyson Barrie get that done? If not, unsigned free agent Phil Kessel seems like an option. Maybe they can sign P.K. Subban, too, to replace Duncan Keith.
The Canadiens-Flames trade also seems like a good bet for Montreal, which picks up a reclamation project in Monahan (reportedly healthy after two lost seasons) and a first-round pick, at minimum. Conditions put on the deal, potentially involving the first-rounder acquired by Calgary in the Huberdeau-Tkachuk deal, could give the Canadiens a first and a fourth. Where Calgary and Florida finish this season will determine whether Montreal gets a first-rounder in 2025, in 2026, or if the Canadiens also pick up that fourth-rounder.
Clearly, Montreal GM Kent Hughes and Treliving spent more than a few hours on the phone hammering it out. No one believes their counterpart on Long Island, Lou Lamoriello, is taking the summer off, but it was a surprise to see the Islanders lose out on Kadri, who had long been linked there.
Lamoriello, who had an estimated $11 million in cap space entering the weekend, apparently opted to keep space open for restricted free agents Kieffer Bellows, Noah Dobson, and Alexander Romanov. Additionally, franchise centerpiece Mathew Barzal, making $7 million this season, is up next summer.
Barzal needs help if the Islanders are to get back in the postseason. It isn’t coming yet.
Fabian Lysell, Boston’s first-rounder from 2021 (21st overall), made an impression on Latvia’s Dans Locmelis at the World Junior Championship. “He’s good,” Locmelis said. “The goal he scored against Austria was crazy.” Lysell, who could challenge for a Black and Gold varsity spot, whistled a puck past a netminder’s ear from near the goal line. Both he and Locmelis played the left-circle spot on their teams’ power plays … Meanwhile, Riley Duran and the Americans couldn’t sustain their hot start. As the No. 4 right wing, the Woburn product put up two goals and three assists in his first three games against Germany, Switzerland, and Austria (combined score of those wins: 19-2) but was blanked in a win over Sweden and in a surprising quarterfinal loss to Czechia. He will return to Providence College, looking to build off a 10-9–19 (38 games) freshman season … Lysell (assist vs. Latvia) also forechecked his way into an icing that created Emil Andrae’s go-ahead goal. Andrae, the 5-9 defenseman picked by the Flyers (second round) in 2020, was perhaps Sweden’s best player at the tournament … Resounding cheers from traveling hockey writers sounded when the NHL announced that Nashville will host the next draft and awards show. The awards are June 26 and the draft is June 28-29 … The PWHPA announced another go-round of its Dream Gap tour, with a region-agnostic format. The teams will be chosen by a ranking system. No word from the organization on the formation of a new league … The PHF’s Montreal expansion franchise is rumored to be called the Force … From analyst Byron Bader: Only 18 forwards drafted outside the first round from 2000-16 have turned into stars in the NHL, meaning 200-plus games played averaging at least 0.7 points. That’s 18 players, of roughly 1,800 drafted. The Bruins were the only team with three: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand. “Drafting a star outside the first round is akin to winning a small lottery,” Bader wrote. “If your team has done so recently, cherish it. It might not happen again for decades.”