It was more than a decade ago that Bruce Cassidy had his one and only NHL head coaching shot with Washington Capitals, so the enthusiasm was predictable and genuine when the longtime AHL coach was named to Claude Julien’s staff this week.
Cassidy paid his dues in Providence with the Bruins the past eight seasons and posted winning records in all five seasons as coach with playoff berths in each of the past four years. He also did all of that while developing the young talent that’s come through Boston’s organizational pipeline and showed a particular penchant for working with young defensemen.
The hope is that the Black and Gold can break the puck out of their end with a little more speed, precision and confidence with Cassidy in charge of pumping some energy into the transition game. The one caveat: a hockey team also needs the personnel to be able to transition the puck no matter how good the coaching might be.
“Obviously there’s going to be some roles that those two new coaches are going to have. Bruce Cassidy will definitely be behind the bench taking care of the defense part that Doug Houda had. Bruce Cassidy being a former defenseman and one that was very successful, I think, in the transitioning of the puck and has done a great job also with the group that he had in Providence,” said Julien. “I think that’s going to be a good place for him and certainly a good area for him to help improve our transition game back there.”
The list is long of B’s players that also counted Cassidy as their head coach: Noel Acciari, Tommy Cross, Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith, Alexander Khokhlachev, Torey Krug, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Tyler Randell, Ryan Spooner, Malcolm Subban, Zach Trotman and Frank Vatrano. Cassidy and P-Bruins assistant coach Kevin Dean’s work with Krug, Johnny Boychuk, Miller and McQuaid among others in AHL has earned them plenty of plaudits in the Bruins organization.
Cassidy finished with a 207-128-45 as the bench boss for the P-Bruins and has said in the past that a return as an NHL head coach is the goal for him. There is a strong belief that Cassidy would be the choice for an interim head coach if an in-season change was ever made with Julien and that missing the playoffs the past two seasons has dialed up the warmth levels on his coaching hot seat.
Cassidy was clearly avoiding that subject on Wednesday, and instead will dutifully work with the defensemen as fired assistant coach Doug Houda had done for the last 10 years in Boston.
“I’m excited about it. Obviously, to be able to learn from a coach with Claude [Julien]’s pedigree, a Stanley Cup champion, I know it’s a big honor for me. It’s been great down in Providence with me for eight years. To be that much closer to him is only going to make me a better coach, so for me it’s a very exciting time,” said Cassidy, who guided the Capitals from 2002-2004 with a 39-29-8-6 record. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because the stamp of approval is always Claude’s first. Just meeting with him and having discussions, even previous years, I think what we’d like to grow in our game is the ability to move the puck out of the zone quicker and cleaner.
“That may involve a few more one-man breakouts. Players have the ability to beat the first fore-checker with their feet, make a good outlet pass, then you don’t have to always use your partner, so we’re not quite as predictable. So that’s how I’d like us to look on the transition part, where we’re a little more fluid coming out of our zone. That generally is a mindset that the defensemen have to buy into, that they have the ability to do that. Everyone’s is a little bit different. Every player on the back end has the ability to move the puck. They might not all be labeled necessarily puck-movers throughout hockey, but they’re NHL players, they all have the ability to move the puck and we want to sort of grow their game there and at least reach their ceiling.”
Cassidy will have his transition game work cut out for him with stay-at-home defensemen like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller clogging up the Bruins roster, but there clearly could be later dividends for him in Boston if can work wonders with a defense that finished 19th in the NHL last season.