Within minutes after the Boston Bruins announcing the firing of head coach Bruce Cassidy last Monday night, bewilderment, curiosity and of course rumors, spread like wildfire around the NHL.
“What the hell just happened?” one NHL executive source wrote in a text to Boston Hockey Now just minutes after the Boston Bruins released a press release and statements from Bruins general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely.
Everyone was aware of Neely’s critical comments on Cassidy in his end of the season media session.
“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.”
That being said, many took his critique of Cassidy as just the typical blunt and emotional Neely. However, his next comments regarding Cassidy and his coaching style proved to be the most telling and seemingly were foreshadowing the dismissal of Cassidy.
“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 are 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.”
Cassidy, after being assured he was coming back was then fired last Monday.
Since then, there have been multiple reports and rumors of younger players on the team letting it be known to team management that they didn’t appreciate the way Cassidy handled struggling young players. As is the case when stuff like this comes to light, some of this stems from sour grapes and some has some validity to it. What’s been more interesting though is what more than one source has indicated to BHN regarding how players, young and old, communicated this to Neely more than Sweeney.
It should be noted that an Athletic report does cite philosophical differences between Sweeney and Cassidy developing mid-season.
“Look it’s no secret how tight Bruce and Don Sweeney were,” a trusted NHL source told BHN recently. “From what I hear, the players’ issues with Bruce fell on deaf ears with Sweeney so they took it to Neely. I’ve heard Neely and Cassidy didn’t always see eye to eye and maybe that’s all he needed to justify firing him? Who knows? But that’s what it sounds like.”
Another source who heard similar information had this to say:
“If that’s true, that’s not good because now are inmates running the asylum and the GM is getting undermined too.”
When speaking to the media after Cassidy was fired, Sweeney vehemently denied such a theory.
“They’re not driving the bus in terms of making my decisions,” Sweeney said of the players.
He also presented it as if the firing was his decision and didn’t come from above.
“The timing after taking a few weeks to unpack, a lot of things happened over the course of the year and where I thought the direction of our team was currently and equally with some of the surgeries and some of the things coming out where our team was going to be going forward and impacting our club, I just felt that the messaging and voice that was going to be required, I felt we needed a new direction,” Sweeney said.
However, what he said next was rather interesting to say the least:
“I had met with the coaching staff like I normally do to go over not only the year and their feeling of where our team was and what we were capable of achieving. And then I met with Bruce afterwards as well talking about his staff. At that point in time, he had made a decision that Kevin Dean wasn’t going to be extended. We had talks during the course of the year about he and Kevin and their relationship, everybody was aware that there was a little friction there at some point in time. They got past that and went back to work as both of them as professionals and I think have a long history.
Then I just went back to work and talking with our group, scouts, management, certainly ownership, and just made a clear decision that it needed to change and that’s where I arrived yesterday afternoon.”
The fact that Sweeney allowed Cassidy to fire an assistant and begin to shape his coaching staff for the 2022-23 season but then fired him two weeks later left one NHL Executive baffled.
“That’s just strange,” he told BHN. “Something is not right there.”
When Bruce Cassidy broke his silence on Thursday and addressed the media in a Zoom call, he indicated Sweeney told him he was safe and that he was completely caught off guard when Sweeney came to his house to deliver the bad news.
“I was under the assumption [I’d be back] and preparing for [next season]. But you’re always on the clock as a coach,” Cassidy said. “It did catch me by surprise and [Sweeney] explained his process. I respect what he does as a GM. Donny was very respectful. I don’t agree with it; I want to be coach of the Boston Bruins. But I’m on to the next challenge and hopefully I can be successful.”
From the outside, to some it appears Cassidy got railroaded by some disgruntled players and by Neely. The truth on that may never be confirmed, but right now, that idea doesn’t seem to be sitting well within the NHL community. That makes one wonder if the NHL odds on who will be the next Bruins head coach change if potential coaches are aware of this potential explanation of Cassidy’s firing?