If former Boston Bruins and current Vegas Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy was seemingly the main problem for the 2021-22 Bruins, then what was problem for basically the same team that became the winningest regular season team ever this season?
That’s the million dollar question surrounding a still dumbfounded and stinging Boston Bruins team and their fan base after being bounced from the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a second-straight seven-game first round series loss. If the 2023-24 Bruins are to do what the team that knocked them out in the first round this season, the Florida Panthers, are currently doing after falling victim to the Presidents Trophy jinx themselves last spring, the answer to that million dollar question may very well lie in the roster.
With Bruce Cassidy coaching the Knights into the Western Conference one has to imagine the elephant in the Bruins’ hockey operations department right now is, was the coach, who in 2019, brought them the closest they’ve been to drinking from the Stanley Cup since 2011, the main reason the Bruins won’t be in that position again next month after statistically, the best regular season ever?
Note: While this puck scribe criticized the Cassidy firing at first, I was handed a regular dose of crow all season, and fully acknowledge that was the right move for this team.
By all accounts, Cassidy’s successor, current Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery will not be the fall guy, and is safe. As general manager Don Sweeney already acknowledged in his final media availability though, the same can’t be said for Montgomery’s coaching staff.
“We’re going back through that stuff right now. We don’t have anything impending, but I reserve the right that we’re going to have to continue to unpack what what’s best for our organization and what Jim feels would help continue to move this group going forward and we’ll make better decisions,” the Boston Bruins GM said last week in the team’s end of the season press conference.
What about the players though?
The same players who we would find out later, had been the driving force behind Sweeney seemingly pulling a 180′ and firing Cassidy just weeks after essentially indicating he was safe?
Sweeney acknowledged that thanks to the salary cap hell he’s about to face, the roster won’t be the same. He has eight unrestricted free agents to sign – including captain Patrice Bergeron, and veteran center David Krejci – and three restricted free agents in goalie Jeremy Swayman, and forwards Trent Frederic and Jakub Lauko, who impressed down the stretch when needed due to nagging injuries to Bergeron and Krejci.
“You know, we’re not going to be the same team, but our mandate internally, collectively as a group, is we have a really strong core of guys that hopefully as [Montgomery] was talking about, will continue to grow, will take leadership responsibility moving forward regardless of whether or not Patrice and David walk back through the door because they need to,” Don Sweeney said on May 9. “Charlie referenced the 100 years. Well, these guys are part of the next hundred and they should understand that the expectations don’t change in that regard.”
Should all of Sweeney’s moves this offseason be cap-related though? Should that growing leadership group be allowed to become the lead voices in the dressing room or, whether Bergeron or Krejci return, is a new voice from the outside needed.
Five days after his team suffered a seven-game first round series loss to the Carolina Hurricanes last May, team president Cam Neely had this to say:
“I thought we left a lot on the table and could’ve been better,” Cam Neely said a year ago this Friday, and just over two weeks before he and general manager Don Sweeney fired Cassidy on June 7 last year.
Neely repeated those sentiments after Cassidy’s dismissal.
In the Boston Bruins’ end of the season media availability this season, yours truly asked Neely if he felt that way a year ago, how does he feel now? After watching his team break the NHL’s record season wins (65), and points (135) records, only to once again exit the playoffs after the first round another seven-game series loss, his answer full of disappointment and Déjà vu.
“Well, based on the regular season, a lot more this year. I can’t sit here and BS anybody, this stung,” Neely admitted. “This stung, this left an empty feeling, not just for us up here, the players, the fans especially. They [the fans] certainly brought it every night in the four games that we played in the first round. So, there was a lot left on the table this year, for sure.”
While a record-breaking regular season indicated otherwise, its become clear that maybe the Boston Bruins are lacking another dominant voice in the dressing room who can also be an elite game-changer on the ice when it matters most. The Panthers are a perfect example of this as after an on and off ice altering trade netted them 2023 Hart Trophy finalist Matthew Tkachuk. Even if Bergeron and Krejci leave and core leadership looks drastically different than it has in the last decade, do Neely and Sweeney want the next wave of the team’s core is currently on the roster or does it need to be acquired on the NHL trade market?