Saturday, April 13

Why did the Bruins fire Bruce Cassidy? Front office finds perfect scapegoat for Boston’s playoff failures

The Boston Bruins wasted little time finding a fall guy for their recent playoff failures.

After being eliminated in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs by the Hurricanes, GM Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely felt a change was needed. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was seemingly the odd man out.

And on June 6, Cassidy was served his walking papers, ending his nearly six-year association with the team.

“Today I informed Bruce Cassidy that I was making a head coaching change,” said Sweeney. “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.”

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Looking at record and playoff appearances alone, Cassidy’s departure would come as a shock to many. The 57-year old helmed Boston to great regular season success — the Bruins racked up a .671 point percentage during Cassidy’s tenure, the second-best rate in the NHL, only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, Stanley Cup glory eluded Cassidy and the Bruins; they reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019 but fell to the Blues in seven games. 

Despite that success, his termination does not come as a surprise to others. Why?

Here’s the breakdown on why Cassidy was relieved of his coaching duties for the Bruins, as well as his potential coaching prospects going forward.

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Why did the Bruins fire Bruce Cassidy?

At first glance, Cassidy’s sacking seems a little bizarre. The Bruins earned 100 points or more in four of Cassidy’s six seasons — the only two years when Boston didn’t reach the mark were 2016-17 (Cassidy coached 27 games) and 2020-21 (the pandemic-shortened 56 game season).

The lack of Stanley Cup success undoubtedly played a role in Cassidy’s dismissal and the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals loss certainly played a part in the team’s long-term disappointment(s) under his watch. In 73 playoff games with Cassidy, the Bruins went 36-37. Cassidy’s .493 playoff win percentage is certainly a departure from his regular season success.

So, when a storied franchise isn’t finding success in the playoffs, heads will roll. Someone’s getting fired.

And Cassidy was the lone wolf.

Neely and Sweeney were Bruins teammates throughout the 1980s and 1990s. They’ve worked alongside each other in Boston’s organization for 15 years. That’s a lot of time to foster a relationship. And it seems the two have done just that.

The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa reported that Neely and Sweeney were dissatisfied with Cassidy’s coaching approach, feeling he wasn’t getting the best out of Boston’s young talent. It was something Neely drilled home during Boston’s end-of-season press conference.

“There is some of that. There’s no question, players being afraid to make mistakes,” said Neely on May 19. “Especially younger players. Because you hear about it. I was one of those players. I had to learn and grow. I heard about it too when I made mistakes as a younger player. You can’t worry about not getting back out there. I think that’s one of the things we have to change. When younger players make mistakes, they’re worried they’re not going to play the next game. Well, that game is still going on.”

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It seems Cassidy’s management style rubbed longtime buddies Neely and Sweeney the wrong way, despite the what some would consider questionable personnel decisions made by the Bruins front office.

Boston spent nearly $75 million on seven free agents last offseason, which hasn’t yielded intended results. Additionally, the Bruins weren’t structured to handle injuries and ailments to its core players while also missing on draft picks in recent years. So, with postseason results falling off in the second half of his coaching tenure, one could argue Cassidy’s failure to advance the Bruins through the Stanley Cup playoffs could be attributed to personnel failures and not coaching or approach.

However, it all comes down to who is making the decision(s)… and that Sweeney and Neely.

And after another playoff failure, with a change needed, Cassidy was the odd man out.

What’s next for Bruce Cassidy?

Cassidy shouldn’t be out of a job for too long, one would think. He won the Jack Adams Trophy for best coach in 2019-20 and took the Bruins to the playoffs in all six of his seasons on the bench.

That’s the type of long-term success that gets people talking. And with coaching vacancies in Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Winnipeg, it seems very possible that Cassidy will land somewhere on his feet rather quickly.

It will be interesting to see if Neely and Sweeney’s label of Cassidy as a deterrent to young player’s development will stick as he makes the rounds on the coaching carousel. The Blackhawks, Red Wings and Flyers finished near the bottom of the league in 2022 and seem destined to spend the next few years stacking up young players in the hopes of making a run down the line.

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The Golden Knights and Jets are in slightly different positions, though. Both franchises came into 2022 with aspirations for to compete for a Stanley Cup and both sides failed spectacularly. Cassidy has a penchant of getting good teams to the playoffs. Perhaps that will make him an appealing option for two teams who seriously underperformed in 2021-22.

Who will replace Bruce Cassidy as Bruins head coach?

Cassidy’s replacement remains unknown. Don Sweeney plans to address the media Tuesday about the team’s direction. 

“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,” Cam Neely said.

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