The suddenly uncertain future that Boston Bruins team president Cam Neely left hanging over Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy Wednesday, took plenty of NHL folks by surprise, but should it?
“Interesting. Really interesting,” one NHL source told Boston Hockey Now minutes after Neely held his end of the season presser at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, MA, on Wednesday. “Butch has done an amazing job and I just can’t see Donny [Sweeney] stay and not keep him around, but this isn’t the first time Cam’s dropped bombs like this.”
Just as he did with Claude Julien in December of the 2010-11 season when the team was mired in a skid during what proved to be a Stanley Cup-winning season, Neely put Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and his staff on notice.
“I think we have to look at making some changes as far as how we play,” Neely said when asked about the status of Cassidy for the 2022-23 season. “I think Bruce is a fantastic coach. He’s brought a lot of success to this organization. I like him as a coach. So we’ll see where it goes, but I do think we need to make some changes.”
Cam Neely noted that the decision on whether to make coaching change would be up to Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney once he and Neely ironed out a new contract for Sweeney, hopefully by the weekend. However, it was abundantly clear that Neely was absolutely not giving even an ounce of a vote of confidence, later in the press conference. Instead painted a picture of what might not have been the best reviews of Cassidy from some players in their recent exit meetings.
“There’s no question players are afraid to make mistakes, especially younger players, because, you know, you hear about it,” when asked if the youth on the Boston Bruins lineup is afraid to make mistakes under Cassidy? “And I was one of those players that, you know, I had to learn and grow. And I heard about it, too. And I made mistakes as a younger player. But you can’t worry about not getting back out there. I think that’s one of the things we have to kind of change. I think when younger players make mistakes, they’re worried they’re not going to play the next game while that game is still going on.”
Neely went on to criticize the powerplay for the Boston Bruins that struggled mightily in the month of April and couldn’t convert in a timely fashion during the team’s seven-game series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Like I said, I think there’s times when players need to be more reactive out there instead of thinking about, this is how we have to play,” Neely pointed out. “Sometimes on the power play, I found it frustrating where we would continue to try to gain the zone the same way with the same results that weren’t as good as they could have been. And again, turning pucks over at the blue line because you’re trying to beat guys one-on-one or one-on-two. It’s tough to do in this league. I think a little different philosophy of when to dump pucks in and chase and go after it and try to grind it out down below the dots and get inside the dots and try to create chances that way.”
So back to 2010, midway through the only season to produce a Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins since 1972. Neely, speaking on 98.5 The Sports Hub, the team flagship station, took a shot at Julien’s coaching style.
“Goals against isn’t an issue; goals for is an issue. The power play is an issue. I think the name of the game is you still have to score one more goal than (the other team). It’s not about trying to win zero-zero.”
Julien had scratched a healthy Tyler Seguin out of the lineup in favor of Daniel Paille in the team’s most recent loss.
Neely, when asked about Julien’s coaching decision bluntly replied:
“Coach’s decision. You’ll have to ask him about that…”
That’s as far as it went then though. In that instance of the Boston Bruins now longtime team President calling out the coach, the shot across the bow was shot directly at Julien. There was no pressure on Chiarelli like there seemingly could be on Neely’s longtime friend, Sweeney. That was also mid-season, on a team that many in the organization, including Neely, felt could get over the hump and redeem themselves for the 3-0 series lead they blew to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
These are different times now. The Boston Bruins deep down now know they lost to a better team in the Hurricanes and that the roster as currently constituted is not one knocking on the door like that 2010-11 team was. Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron may very well be retiring. Neely, admitting it will be next to impossible to replace the future hall of famer in the lineup also admitted to pondering at least a retool this offseason and maybe next.
“I’ve been looking at that for a while now,” when asked about the need for a rebuild. “As your core players and your better players start to age out, you do have to look at that. There’s no question. But we do have some good young players in this lineup that hopefully continue to grow and hopefully we continue to add to that. But it is something you think about.
In 2019, we lose in seven in the finals. In 2020, we’re leading the league and then the world falls apart. We’ve got to be better. We needed to be better last playoffs. I thought this year, I honestly felt really good that we were going to get by Carolina in Game 7. I really did. I knew it was going to be tough five-on-five. But like I said, we didn’t draw any penalties to give us a chance for our better players to produce on the power play. Those are things we have to look at to improve upon.”
So now we’re left to wonder, was this Neely, who for better or worse wears his emotions on his sleeve, still feeling the burn of the loss the Hurricanes and the pressure from ownership, or was this Neely sending a direct signal to Sweeney, that it’s time do things his way and if Cassidy can’t do that, then it’s time for a change?
For what it’s worth, this veteran puck scribe thinks it would be a mistake to fire Bruce Cassidy based on what he’s done with some lineups that have been lucky to make it out of the first round, let alone the second. If the team is thinking retool though, would it be better for Cassidy and the Bruins to just part now?
As of now, Cassidy appears safe but could we see wagers on an NHL betting site soon on who will be the next head coach of the Boston Bruins?