The list of NHL “free agent” head coaches was already pretty robust this offseason. Now, it’s even deeper, as the Boston Bruins stunningly fired Bruce Cassidy on Monday.
“Today I informed Bruce Cassidy that I was making a head coaching change,” Bruins GM Don Sweeney said in the team’s release. “After 14 years working with Bruce, this was an extremely difficult decision. I want to thank and acknowledge Bruce for all his work and success with the Bruins organization. His head coaching record for the Bruins is impressive, and we are appreciative of Bruce both professionally and personally. After taking some time to fully digest everything, I felt that the direction of our team for both this season and beyond would benefit from a new voice. I want to wish Bruce, Julie, Shannon and Cole much success as a family and with their future opportunities.”
In that release regarding the Bruins firing Bruce Cassidy, team president Cam Neely closed things off by saying:
“I have the utmost confidence in Don to conduct a thorough search to identify the best candidate that is going to help our team reach its full potential.”
Bruins fire Bruce Cassidy after plenty of success, add more uncertainty
From the outside looking in, it sure felt like Bruce Cassidy squeezed a lot of value out of the Bruins teams he coached.
Cassidy took over as Bruins head coach on Feb. 7, 2017. Over six seasons, the Bruins went 245-108-46 under Cassidy (.672 points percentage), making the playoffs all six seasons. The 57-year-old won the 2020 Jack Adams Award. Back in 2018-19, Cassidy’s Bruins fell one win short of a Stanley Cup, falling to the Blues in a Game 7.
The Bruins won at least one playoff series in four of six seasons under Cassidy, only falling in the First Round in his first and last seasons.
While falling short in 2021-22 was surely a disappointment, Cassidy deserves credit for optimizing the Bruins — at least in some ways. By certain metrics, this was the best defensive team in the NHL.
Sure, it helps to have Selke-winner Patrice Bergeron. Yet, it felt like Boston gained new life as a contender under Cassidy. (Note that the Bruins missed the playoffs the previous seasons before hiring Cassidy in 2014-15 and 2015-16.)
Speaking of having Bergeron, the Bruins are now under even more uncertainty this offseason with Cassidy’s dismissal. It’s unclear if Bergeron or David Krejci could be back. Charlie McAvoy headlines a troubling list of defensive injuries likely to spill (possibly deep) into the regular season.
No shortage of choices for new Bruins head coach
The good news for the Bruins is that there’s quite a crop of head coaching choices. That’s bad news for Bruce Cassidy, though his strong work with the Bruins should impress plenty of suitors.
Barry Trotz and former Bruins head coach Claude Julien rank among some of the biggest veteran names out there. (Though, if Mike Babcock and John Tortorella are getting real consideration, there are other headline-grabbers.)
Teams like the Bruins may also want to go with an assistant, hoping for someone with upside. Then again, there’s also coaches who mix recent assistant experience with limited-but-promising NHL head coaching work, like Jim Montgomery.
Will any of those coaches actually provide an upgrade? Maybe that’s not the only question. For all we know, Boston may also ponder a rebuild, or at least a quick reboot.
Perhaps we’ll know a bit more when Don Sweeney discusses the Bruins’ decision to fire Cassidy on Tuesday?
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.