The Boston Bruins surprised the hockey world on earlier this month when they relieved the highly-respected Bruce Cassidy of his coaching duties.
Cassidy had served as coach of the Bruins since February 2017, leading them to the playoffs in each of his six seasons in charge, including the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 - where they were beaten in seven games by the St. Louis Blues.
The Bruins finished fourth in the Atlantic Division last season with a 51-26-5 record. In the playoffs they were eliminated at the first-round stage by Metropolitan Division winners Carolina Hurricanes in seven games.
In the series, the home team won every single game, with Boston’s main downfall being their slow starts. The Bruins fell behind in six of the seven games, including all four in Carolina and weren't able to recover.
In 399 regular season games under Cassidy's guidance, the Bruins put up a 245-108-46 record and a .672 winning percentage.
Individually, Cassidy won the Jack Adams Trophy in 2019/20 and was previously a finalist for the award in 2017/18.
After being fired by the Bruins, the much-admired Cassidy was quickly snapped up by the Vegas Golden Knights, who missed the playoffs for the first time in their short history last season.
General Manager Don Sweeney signed a new multi-year extension to his contract with the Bruins on recently and will go about finding Cassidy’s replacement as top of his priority list.
Confidence from CEO Charlie Jacobs remains high in 55-year-old Sweeney who was given the job ahead of the 2015/16 season.
His backing is no surprise considering the 313 wins which Boston have acquired under Sweeney’s leadership since 2015/16 are just second to Brian MacLellan of the Washington Capitals and his .584 winning percentage is tied with Kelly McCrimmon of the Golden Knights for seventh in the NHL.
Under his tenure, the Bruins are just one of four Eastern Conference teams (Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Capitals) to reach the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, something seemingly more credited to Sweeney than Cassidy.
Cassidy was named General Manager of the Year following the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018/19 season.
On announcing Sweeney’s extension, Jacobs admitted there was work for the Bruins to do to challenge for the Stanley Cup, something he believes they should be in a position to do every season.
Boston were last crowned champions in 2010/11, suffering two Final defeats in the aforementioned 2018/19 season and also 2012/13.
Although not officially confirmed by the Bruins yet, it is widely reported that Captain Patrice Bergeron has committed to a one-year contract extension which will be welcome news to Sweeney.
The 36-year-old was left pondering his future following Boston’s disappointment in the playoffs, but his own performance wasn’t one questioned by anyone.
In the seven-game series, Bergeron registered seven points (three goals, four assists) and helped line-mates Brad Marchand (eleven points; four goals, seven assists) and Jake DeBrusk (four points; two goals, two assists) avoid any criticism for their efforts.
Scoring depth is going to be a key concern for Sweeney and the Bruins in the off-season with the likes of Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek and Craig Smith brought in to solve that problem all failing to produce at the most important time.
The foursome contributed just one goal and the Bruins' problems weren't helped either by expensive big-name signing Taylor Hall managing to score just once at even strength and once on the powerplay.
Interviews have begun for Boston’s new head coach, but there has been little indication so far of who the chosen person will be.
Names in the mix include Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern, former New York Rangers head coach David Quinn and Jay Leach who was head coach of Boston’s farm-team the Providence Bruins up until July 2021 when he joined the Seattle Kraken as an assistant coach.
Halpern, 46-years-old, has just reached his third Stanley Cup Final as part of the Lightning’s coaching staff winning the championship back-to-back in 2020 and 2021. They lost their crown this season to the Colorado Avalanche in six games.
Quinn coached the Rangers for three seasons from 2018-21, posting a 98-87-25 record in 208 regular season games. In that time, New York failed to reach the playoffs twice and lost at the first-round qualifying stage in 2020.
Leach, 42, knows the Bruins organisation well and particularly their prospect pool which they are likely to need to draw upon after serving as Providence’s head coach for four years and assistant coach for one.
Working in Leach’s favour is Sweeney’s recent admission that prior NHL head coaching experience is not a prerequisite for the next Bruins coach.
But what decision Sweeney will make to try to get the Bruins back to where they expect to be, only time will tell.