The Boston Bruins made their first big change of a surely busy offseason Monday with the decision to fire Bruce Cassidy after over five years on the job.
The decision to move on from Cassidy after the Black and Gold’s first first-round exit since 2017 was certainly something, and replacing the 2020 Jack Adams Award winner will be no easy feat for the B’s one-two front office braintrust of general manager Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely.
“Today I informed Bruce Cassidy that I was making a head coaching change,” Sweeney said in a team-released statement confirming the decision. “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.”
“I want to thank Bruce for his time and service to the Boston Bruins organization over the last 14 years,” Neely said. “Bruce has been a fantastic coach and has helped this team win many games and achieve success over his tenure behind the bench. I also want to extend my gratitude to Bruce and his family for everything they’ve done over the years to support the New England community and Bruins organization.
“We wish them continued success in the future.”
The Bruins did make one thing clear in their statement: Sweeney, whose contract extension is a mere inevitability at this point, will be the one conducting the search for Cassidy’s replacement.
So, just who could be getting a call from Sweeney this summer?
If the Bruins want to step into the wayback machine for their next coach, the 67-year-old Rick Bowness is available after stepping down from his post with the Stars following their first-round exit.
Bowness, who has been coaching in the NHL since 1984, went 89-62-25 during his three-year run with Dallas, and helped guide the team to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final inside the bubble. The Neely-Sweeney braintrust is certainly familiar with Bowness, as he served as Boston’s head coach in 1991-92, back when Neely and Sweeney were both players on the Bruins. Before his move to Dallas, Bowness spent five years in the Atlantic Division as an associate coach with Tampa Bay.
Overall, Bowness has 639 games of NHL head coaching experience.
(This a hire that would scream that The Old Boys’ Club is in effect and thriving in Boston, which is one of many reasons why I’d almost have to think that they don’t go this route, but then again, I didn’t see them scapegoating Cassidy so quickly.)
One of the market’s younger options, the 40-year-old Spencer Carbery is coming off a 2021-22 season spent as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In Toronto, Carbery helped run a power play that finished the year as the league’s most potent unit, at 27.3 percent. That was a 15-spot jump from the year before, with Toronto’s man advantage finishing in 16th by way of a 20 percent success rate in 2021, and Carbery was credited for revitalizing what many felt was a stagnant attack.
Prior to his NHL jump, Carbery served as the head coach of the AHL Hershey Bears, and went 104-50-17 during that run.
Carbery does have some experience with the Bruins, too, as he served as one of former P-Bruins head coach Jay Leach’s assistants in Leach’s first season as Providence’s bench boss back in 2017-18.
If I were a betting man, I’d say that Jay Leach is entering this search as the favorite.
The Bruins knew that they had something good with Leach running the show in Providence, and the word around town was that they really didn’t want to lose him when he left for an assistant coaching gig with the Kraken last year. I really think they just thought that they had a bit more time with Leach being one of the better kept secrets in the coaching landscape.
And while that timeline didn’t work out in their favor, Cassidy’s firing does provide the Bruins with an opportunity to bring Leach, who ran Seattle’s defense and penalty kill last season, back into the fold and in an elevated role.
The 42-year-old Leach spent five seasons with the P-Bruins, including four as the team’s head coach, from 2016 through 2021, and compiled a 136-77-26 record on the farm.
One of the best college coaches in the game, Nate Leaman has built one hell of a program with Providence.
Providence’s head coach since 2011, the 49-year-old Leaman’s Friars won a National Championship in 2015, and went to the Frozen Four in 2019. This past season was another strong one for the Friars, too, with a 22-14-2 record (fourth-best record among all Hockey East programs).
Consistency has been a theme throughout his Providence run, too, with the Friars posting an over-.500 point percentage in all but one of Leaman’s seasons on the job, good for a 220-133-51 record in all.
Leaman, involved in the coaching game since 1998, has been a head coach in the college ranks since 2003, serving as Union’s head coach before moving to Providence and compiling a 358–260–86 at the NCAA level.
The Ohio-born Leaman also has international experience as an assistant coach for Team USA at the World Championships and as the head coach of the Team USA squad that won gold at the 2021 World Junior Championships.
If the Bruins want to invest in a coach they believe can bring the best out of their younger players as the franchise inches closer and closer towards a retool, P-Bruins head coach Ryan Mougenel could check an awful lot of boxes.
“I’m a player-first coach,” Mougenel said during his introductory press conference with the P-Bruins last summer. “I want to give the player the why [and] the how. And I think for me, I’m a good teacher at it. I think I speak their language. But there is an adjustment period. I’m a ‘feel’ coach, too. I think that’s important for the players. Especially in today’s game. The commitment to the player, and not just on the ice, has to be evident and they have to feel it. It has to be genuine.
“I read a quote the other day, I think it was Rod Brind’Amour that said it’s not so much about the X’s and O’s anymore [but] it’s about your relationship with players and I was like, ‘Right.’ Like, that’s the obvious. I think definitely it’s changed over the years for sure. I think the biggest difference, to be honest, is players want to know the why. And you hear the word entitlement a lot with young players, and I’m not a coach that believes that young players, young athletes are entitled. They just want to know the why. There’s a lot of different avenues to get the answers and they want to know why we’re doing this and how we’re doing. So for me, it’s really important to provide those answers for the players.”
That sounds like what the Bruins are looking for when it comes to a potential Cassidy replacement.
Mougenel, who went 36-25-11 in his first season as Providence’s head coach, has been with the P-Bruins for three years, and has 16 years of coaching experience between the ECHL and AHL, but has never been on an NHL staff.
If the Bruins want someone with NHL experience as well as experience working with younger players, ex-Rangers and Boston University head coach David Quinn would be a name of interest. A Rhode Island native, the 55-year-old Quinn most recently served as New York’s bench boss from 2018 through 2021, and went 96-87-25 with the Blueshirts.
It was a much better run with the Terriers for Quinn, with a 100-59-20 record on Comm Ave., as well as a National Championship appearance in 2015. At BU, Quinn’s blue line featured current B’s d-men Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy.
Since being fired by the Rangers, Quinn has served as the head coach of the U.S men’s national team at the 2022 Olympics and 2022 World Championships, with the Americans finishing fifth at the Olympics in fourth at the Worlds.
If the Bruins want to go for an ex-Bruins player, it’s worth noting that 2011 Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi is officially available following his departure from the Devils.
For the 55-year-old Recchi, who finished his career as the right winger on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron and as a champion in Boston’s Game 7 win over the Canucks, a return to Boston as a head coach could be spun as a PR win for a B’s squad that will certainly need one after canning a fan favorite head coach.
But that’s probably where the good vibes would end, as Recchi is only available because the Devils fired him after what was a downright disastrous two-year run as an assistant coach running the New Jersey man advantage. Under Recchi’s guidance, the Devils posted a 15 percent success rate on the power play, which is the third-worst in the league over that two-season span.
Before his N.J. run, Recchi was an assistant coach on Mike Sullivan’s Pittsburgh staff from 2017 through 2020.
If the Bruins want to repeat history here, they could replace the axed head coach with his assistant with prior NHL head coaching experience by promoting Joe Sacco.
On Boston’s staff since 2014, Sacco’s main responsibilities in 2021-22 included running the Boston power play. He also got a brief, second taste of NHL head coaching life when he stepped up as the Black and Gold’s temporary head coach during Bruce Cassidy’s COVID absence last year, with the Bruins going 3-1-2 during that run with Sacco running the bench.
Sacco, a Medford, Mass native whose coaching career began in 2005 as an assistant with the Lowell Lock Monsters, last served as a head coach back in 2013, and has a 130-134-30 career record as a non-temporary head coach.
In what nothing but absolutely and unbelievably cruel, concussion woes ended ex-Bruins center Marc Savard’s playing career well over a decade ago now. But it appears that the 44-year-old has since found his post-playing calling as a coach.
Currently the head coach of the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires, Savard’s first year behind the bench has come with a 44-17-7 record, along with the OHL’s second-best penalty kill and third-best power play. Savard also has the Spitfires primed for a Memorial Cup run, with Windsor currently up 2-1 in their Ontario Hockey League championship series.
It’s been enough to put Savard on the Stars’ radar, and should be enough to draw interest from the Bruins.
Savard does have prior NHL coaching experience, as he served as an assistant coach for the Blues in 2019-20. In St. Louis, Savard was responsible for a Blues power play that finished the season with the NHL’s third-best man advantage.
And Savard, who played with the Bruins from 2006 through 2011, has even talked openly about hoping to get a call for a potential head coaching gig with the Bruins as recently as April.
Another former Bruins player, Marco Sturm just wrapped up his fourth season as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings. Sturm’s run in Hollywood has been a bit of mixed bag, with Sturm coming under fire from some of the more vocal L.A. fans this past season for the Kings’ power-play struggles (they finished the year ranked 27th in the NHL).
But if you’re looking for head coaching success, the 43-year-old Sturm put together some fantastic work as Team Germany’s head coach during the 2018 Olympics on the way to a silver medal finish, and served in a head coaching role for Germany at various levels from 2015 through 2018.
Another experienced name on the market: Rick Tocchet.
A veteran of over 1,100 NHL games between six franchises (including the Bruins), Tocchet was involved in coaching at the NHL level at various points from 2003 through 2021 before joining TNT’s studio team.
As a head coach, Tocchet was tasked with building up a rebuilding Lightning squad, and later had four seasons behind the bench with Arizona. It hasn’t led to the best career record — Tocchet boasts a career record of 178-200-60, good for a .475 point percentage — but Tocchet has been known as a coach whose style and approach squeezes the most out of its players.
Tocchet’s most notable achievements as a coach came in 2016 and 2017 as an assistant coach for the Cup-winning Penguins.
Let’s not get it twisted, John Tortorella would be the complete opposite of Bruce Cassidy on the surface. I mean, he’d probably go full Tommy Lee Jones on Jim Carrey on me and make it known that he “cannot sanction my buffoonery.” That’d probably come in the introductory press conference, to be honest. Tortorella is that no nonsense, straight-shooting coach that expects his players to do everything (and then some) in the name of winning. Even if it hurts. But talking to players who have actually played for Tortorella, the feeling I get is that players will go to war for him if the buy-in is there.
Part of me thinks that the Bruins are just a little too old for Tortorella to get the full buy-in, however, which would make a Torts-in-Boston run look more like Vancouver Tortorella than say Columbus or New York Tortorella. That’d be a problem.
A co-headliner of the summer’s free agent coaching market alongside Bruce Cassidy, the 59-year-old Barry Trotz is available after four years on Long Island as the Isles’ head coach, and after his first did-not-qualify season since 2013-14.
Known for getting the most out of his teams defensively, Trotz won a Stanley Cup with the Capitals in 2018, and his 914 career wins trails only Joel Quenneville (969) and Scotty Bowman (1,244) for the most in NHL history.
Given his resume, Trotz is perhaps the only available coach you’d view as a possible upgrade over Cassidy, but it’s not as if he’s a magical cure to the Black and Gold’s postseason struggles, as the Winnipeg native’s Islander run included a second-round exit and a pair of third-round defeats before a did-not-qualify this past season.
If the Bruins want to go outside the box, Ryan Warsofsky may be their guy.
The youngest coach in the AHL (which would make him the youngest coach in the NHL if hired), the 34-year-old led the Chicago Wolves to a 50-16-10 record in 2021-22, and has Chicago two wins away from the Calder Cup Final in a postseason that’s come with an 8-1 record to date. Warsofsky’s success extends beyond this season, as the Wolves went a spectacular 21-9-3 in his second year as Chicago’s head coach, and the then-Checkers won the 2019 Calder Cup with Warsofsky as an assistant on the staff.
Success has followed the Marshfield, Mass. native throughout his coaching career, as Warsofsky led the ECHL’s South Carolina Sting Rays to the Kelly Cup Finals in his first year as a head coach after three seasons as an assistant.
(If the name sounds familiar, by the way, it’s because he is the brother of ex-Bruins defenseman David Warsofsky.)