Bruce Cassidy, abruptly dismissed as the Bruins coach in June, will be back at TD Garden Monday night, with his Vegas Golden Knights nipping at the back tips of the Devils’ and Bruins’ blades for the No. 1 spot in the NHL overall standings.
In his span of six seasons behind the Black-and-Gold bench, Cassidy directed the club to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, rolled up a franchise-best .672 points percentage, then was kicked curbside by Don Sweeney some three weeks after the general manager told him he would be back in Boston for 2022-23.
Sweeney’s public explanation for the move: messaging. Cassidy was outta here because the players, in the GM’s opinion, weren’t picking up what he was putting down — be it due to tone, timing, content, or frailty of ego.
Cassidy, whose Knights carried a .700 winning percentage (17-7-1) into Saturday night’s matchup in Detroit, said in a phone interview this past week that he has kept Sweeney’s farewell words in mind.
“I do,” said the earnest Cassidy. “That was Donny’s conversation with me . . . what he was discussing with me was, ‘The message is fine, and usually is. You’re a good coach, you see the game well, and you understand what a player needs to do . . . It’s how you message certain players who didn’t receive it as well as they should.’ "
In end-of-season exit interviews, we must presume, enough players made clear to Sweeney that they didn’t like what Cassidy told them, or how the message was conveyed, and that led to the change. Presume is the key word. Sweeney never was that specific with the media, and no player under Cassidy’s watch has subsequently stepped up to own it.
The message came through loud and clear to Sweeney. Cassidy then was handed his ticket out of town — one he immediately cashed in for a lucrative, long-term deal as Peter DeBoer’s successor in the desert. We can only presume that winger Jake DeBrusk was among those rubbed wrong. Shortly after Cassidy was gone, so too was DeBrusk’s trade request.
“That was some of the feedback,” said Cassidy, noting the words Sweeney literally delivered to his doorstep. “So going forward, I said, ‘OK, I’ll have to make sure I’m very mindful of the new players I am dealing with and make sure.’ . . . You know some players just want it honest and direct to the point so they can fix and get on with the game. Other guys, you’ve gotta sit them down, walk through it.”
The Knights have embraced Cassidy’s message and methods.
Ex-Sabres captain Jack Eichel, healthy after controversial neck surgery, has produced the best numbers of his career (on target for 92 points). The Vegas back line, paced by Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore, has rung up more offense (9-52–61 through 25 games) than any of the top contenders to date. The goaltending, led by the all-but-unknown Logan Thompson, has been superb. Thompson, 8-2-0 in November, on Thursday was named the league’s Rookie of the Month.
“Jack has been good,” said Cassidy, “He’s taken it to heart that he needs to be a 200-foot player. That was our conversation [prior to the season]. He really has been very, very good defensively. That’s helped a lot.”
Cassidy made clear to Eichel going into the season that the ex-Sabres captain would be slightly choked back in terms of playing minutes — similar to the conversation Cassidy said he had in Boston when Taylor Hall arrived in trade in April. Both players, top-two overall draft picks, were accustomed to being the first rolled over the boards in most every key offensive situation.
“Like overtime, or a four on four,” said Cassidy, noting how he sold Eichel on where his minutes could be trimmed. “What’s good for the team in the long run hopefully will be good enough for you.”
Entering weekend play, Eichel led the Knights in scoring (12-16–28) and plus-minus (plus-16), yet his average ice time (18:59) ranked seventh among skaters, fourth among forwards. Less has been more for the ex-Boston University standout and more for the Knights, who last year missed the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s brief history.
Every move has its wrinkles, on professional and personal levels. Cassidy said daughter Shannon and son Cole, both middle-schoolers, struggled initially with the transition. Both have done better of late, Shannon building out her social circle after departing a school she loved in the Boston area, and Cole immersing more into the year-round baseball culture in Las Vegas.
“Just the normal stuff that maybe people don’t realize,” mused Cassidy. “I say this with players . . . like part of last year, I think with [Linus] Ullmark and [Nick] Foligno, both with young kids, a move affects your family. Sometimes that can get into how you play or perform, so I’ve lived that this year.”
Golf, Cassidy’s preferred recreational pastime, has been put on hold.
“I’ve played only once,” he said. “You know, the move, getting settled in a new house, hopefully the routines will be back to normal this time next year. And no snow, so that’s good.”
After 14 years with the Bruins organization, the majority of that time spent coaching Providence, Cassidy initially found himself checking his old team’s fortunes on a daily basis. He has been duly impressed, particularly with the response around a healthy Hampus Lindholm, the return of David Krejci, and overall a more productive offense.
“I have a lot of good friendships in that locker room with players, trainers, medical people, so it’s not like I am sitting there, hoping the whole thing will burn down,” he said. “I’m not that person.”
Part of watching the Bruins’ success now, said Cassidy, is asking himself, “OK, what could I have been doing?”
Cassidy might not have been turfed if Lindholm, acquired by Sweeney in March in trade with Anaheim, had not been clobbered by Andrei Svechnikov in Game 2 of the Carolina series. A healthy Lindholm, still off his game upon his return in Game 6, could have tipped the series in the Bruins’ favor. Advancing might have convinced team president Cam Neely and Sweeney not to change bench bosses.
“When we got [Lindholm], I thought, ‘Wow, this is a really special player,’ ” Cassidy said. “Since Torey [Krug] left, we didn’t really have that guy to complement Charlie [McAvoy], then he got hurt in the playoffs, so we never really saw what people now are seeing, his capabilities. That’s credit to him, and for Donny for making the trade, and for Monty [Jim Montgomery] for getting it out of him. So credit where credit’s due.”
The NHL business being what it is, Cassidy said he has not spoken with Neely or Sweeney since the day he was canned. Only a week later, he was off to find the footlights in Las Vegas and the Boston front office was drilling down on the monthlong search that led to Montgomery.
Come Monday night, a 7:08 puck drop, Cassidy will be back at the Garden, only this time working behind the bench where Craig Berube stood the night his Blues snatched the Cup away from the Bruins in Game 7 of the Final.
“My guess is they got some feedback that changed their mind,” said Cassidy, asked if he knows what happened in those days leading to his dismissal. “I haven’t spoken to Cam or Donny since then. I don’t have a reason to. If I see them in the hallway, I’ll say hello, obviously. I worked for that organization for 14 years.”
There is also the truth, well known in the entertainment business, that every act has its shelf life. Even in Vegas, Liberace and Wayne Newton saw a final curtain drop. In all sports, players, coaches, and front office personnel all carry “use by” dates.
“Also, Boston’s about championships,” added Cassidy, ever the realist. “If you don’t win the playoffs, sooner or later, they’re gonna find somebody else.”
Recchi’s return to Garden worthy of celebration
Mark Recchi’s final NHL shift in a stellar 22-year career was with the Bruins, June 15, 2011, the night capped with a jubilant shake of the Cup over his head following the 4-0 blanking of the Canucks in Game 7 of the Cup Final at Vancouver.
“I enjoyed being in Boston right from the start,” Recchi recalled this past week, reached by phone at his home about an hour north of Pittsburgh. “Right from the git-go, the things we went through together as a group, and, ultimately, to get to that final pinnacle was incredible.”
Recchi, 54, will return to Causeway Street Wednesday night, to be honored by The Tradition, the annual fund-raising gala by The Sports Museum. The Hall of Fame winger will be among the headliners, along with former Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon, marathon man Bill Rodgers, and ex-Patriots great Lawyer Milloy. (For information and tickets: sportsmuseum.org).
Ever-understated off the ice, Recchi posted prolific numbers across his two-plus decades, including 577 goals (21st all time), 956 assists (15th), and 1,533 points (13th) in 1,652 games (eighth).
A reflection of the time in which he was drafted, Recchi was chosen 67th in 1988, the Penguins taking a flyer on an undersized (5 feet 10 inches, 185 pounds) kid who that season piled up 154 points for WHL Kamloops — the junior club he now owns with another ex-Bruin, Jarome Iginla, and others.
Recchi was passed over in the draft as an 18-year-old, in part because he produced only a 61-point season that first year of eligibility. Size mattered a lot more in the late-’80s NHL than it does today.
“Exactly, size was always a big thing, even when I was getting passed up in those years before — it definitely had a huge part in that,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have been drafted [if not for the 154 points in 1987-88]. It was so different. Size was everything to scouts, so not many guys were willing to take a chance on a smaller guy.”
Over the last 10 years, the model has shifted considerably. A big player with big numbers remains a valued commodity, but so too is a downsized player with abundant skill and robust numbers. The 154-point Recchi model would be a sureshot first-rounder today.
“Absolutely, which is great, to see how that’s evolved,” he said.
Recchi will attend The Tradition soiree with his wife, mom, and dad. Melvin Recchi once owned the Kamloops Daily News, the hometown paper, and his son delivered it, making his way on foot to deliver to the rows of townhouses in the center of town.
“Loved it,” he said. “Used the money to buy candy. For 25 cents, you got a handful of it.”
Recchi, a year after Boston’s Cup win, hooked on with the Penguins in a player development role. He left a job he loved in 2017-18 when the Penguins asked if he’d fill an open coaching vacancy when Rick Tocchet left for Arizona. He coached three years there, followed by the last two years in New Jersey. Now he’s actively looking for his next gig, ideally in a front office.
“That’s where my passion is,” he said. “I loved the coaching, too, but I want to be in a front office, whether it’s player development or whatever, helping to build a team.”
Is Lysell worthy of junior achievement?
Swedish right winger Fabian Lysell, perhaps the Bruins’ top prospect in Providence is young enough, at age 19, to suit up again for Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship.
The speedster, chosen No. 21 in the 2021 draft, clicked for 2-4–6 when the last tourney, delayed because of COVID, was finally staged in the summer in Edmonton. The Three Crowns would welcome him back later this month for the 2023 tourney, but that’s up to the Bruins, who’ll have to determine if a double dip of WJC would be best for his pro development.
“I think generally guys like to go to World Juniors if they can,” said his Edmonton-based agent, Gerry Johannson, reached late in the week by phone. “But I think [the players] also know it’s a business and they do whatever they’re told.
“I think if he stays, great, but if he goes, that’s great, too. He’s very happy in Providence, and I know whatever Boston decides, he’ll be happy to stay or go.”
The WJC will be played in rinks in Halifax and Moncton, Dec. 26-Jan. 5. Providence will play four games, all on the road, during that stretch.
The final score Tuesday night in Los Angeles: Kraken 9, Kings 8. Andre Burakovsky knocked home the winner with 2:08 gone in OT. Kraken goalie Martin Jones became only the 15th goalie in NHL history to go the distance, yield eight goals (or more), and post the W. The most recent had been Calgary’s Mike Vernon, who surrendered eight on 22 shots in his win over Quebec Feb. 23, 1991. Ex-UMass standout Jonathan Quick started in the Los Angeles net, got burned for five goals on 14 shots, and was relieved in the second by Cal Petersen (four goals on 16 shots). The Kings waived Petersen the next day. Bill Ranford, the Kings’ goalie coach, has to sort out the mess before the team slips again into DNQ territory . . . The Islanders and Flyers teed off Tuesday for two fights in the opening eight seconds: New York’s Matt Martin and Zack MacEwen at 0:07, followed by Philadelphia’s Nicolas Deslauriers and Ross Johnston a second later, off the ensuing faceoff. The struggling Flyers mashed their way to a 3-1 win. The fight game, as rare as it is in 2022, is still loved in Philly, but the rulebook won’t allow for the Broad Street Bullies to ride again. Meanwhile, Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher made it official later in the week, noting that valued back liner Ryan Ellis, who suited up for only four games last season, won’t play at all this season. His “pelvic” injury actually involves hip, back, and abdominal issues. Ellis was acquired from Nashville to partner with Ivan Provorov, but he’s spent nearly his whole time on the DL . . . According to Mark Recchi, the Bruins’ Cup-winning 2010-11 team finally will meet for an in-person reunion next summer, convening in Las Vegas in late July or early August. He expects 100 percent attendance. “No excuses now,” he said. “There’s only a few guys still playing.” Still gainfully employed: Milan Lucic (Calgary), Tyler Seguin (Dallas), and hometowners Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Patrice Bergeron. Your faithful puck chronicler scoffed when Recchi said “we’re all getting too old” to cause any mischief in Vegas. Sure. “Yeah, OK,” he conceded, “I guess you’ve been around too long to fall for that one.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.