The question isn’t whether or not Bruce Cassidy deserves the gig full-time.
It’s why the Bruins haven’t given it to him yet.
What’s left to know about a guy who was able to turn the Boston Bruins back into a playoff team? What more does the man have to prove after righting a ship that had gone awry under predecessor Claude Julien, leading the franchise to its first postseason in three years?
What else can Cassidy do at this point to shed the “interim” tag that hovers over him on the Bruins’ bench?
Even considering the way the campaign ended, falling to the Ottawa Senators in six games of a series that the undermanned Bruins should have won if at full-strength, Cassidy did what was asked of him. He was Joe Morgan, not Joe Kerrigan, in reviving hope surrounding a team that seemed destined to follow a similar path of the collapses of the past two seasons.
Cassidy wasn’t going to win a Stanley Cup with this crew, particularly not with the group of defensemen — Torey Krug, Colin Miller, Brandon Carlo, Adam McQuaid — he found sidelined by injuries in the opening round, in addition to losing forward David Krejci. But he did prove that the Bruins’ roster is made up of more parts than Julien had bothered to put together.
After he was given the keys, Boston went 18-8-1 under Cassidy to make the playoffs. He helped generate an offense that generated nearly a goal more game on average (3.37 under Cassidy, 2.56 under Julien). He refused to run Tuukka Rask into the ice with constant duty in net, a matter that paid dividends during the goalie’s strong finish during the postseason.
It wasn’t only the dressing room that responded positively to the change, but the fandom that had become complacent in the inevitability of where the road would have led with Julien still in charge. The Bruins were faster, more aggressive, and, ultimately, more fun to watch under Cassidy.
The Bruins have their guy.
They know that. Right?
Maybe president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney are just waiting for the next Patriots Super Bowl parade to make things official since it worked so well the last time.
“Absolutely,” Cassidy said following Sunday’s Game 6 loss to the Senators, when asked if he was, indeed, interested in remaining the Bruins’ head coach. “One hundred percent.”
It should be a slam-dunk decision for Neely and Sweeney, who nonetheless have yet to relieve the suspense. This is nothing new. The duo allowed Julien to twist in the wind the last two springs while determining his status with the team, ultimately hanging on to the status quo because of the transition the franchise was undergoing under a new management regime.
The fact that Cassidy coached so many of the young skaters emerging in Boston during his head-coaching stint in Providence (Krug, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Noel Acciari, Ryan Spooner, and Frank Vatrano among them) brought a familiarity that paid immediate dividends even in his short time at the helm. He shifted lines as needed, including before Friday’s dramatic, double overtime win in Ottawa, benching Spooner and playing a hunch with Sean Kuraly, who only managed to score his first NHL goal in addition to the game-winner a couple hours later.
Julien received too much grief for his unwillingness to dedicate more ice time to the kids, but Cassidy embraced tinkering with what didn’t work with more frequency than the old guard had managed over his last three seasons in Boston.
“I thought he was great,” forward Patrice Bergeron said. “I think it showed with the way we responded and the way we’ve played.
“I have nothing bad to say about him. I thought he was great. He definitely deserves to be back.”
It seems a certainty, even if Sweeney has yet to make it official. He pledged to have a list of candidates for the job during his February press conference to announce Julien’s firing, but it makes little sense to consider anybody but Cassidy. It’s a position that he’s seemingly been groomed for with five seasons in charge of the Providence Bruins before getting the assistant coaching position with the parent team last May. If Julien hadn’t been let go of mid-season, Cassidy would have been at the front of the line for the job this month for the position.
”We were climbing up hill, certainly, when he took over,” forward David Backes said. “But in the end we were able to pull together as a group. I don’t know how you make an argument against (giving him the job).”
Bruce Cassidy is the Bruins’ coach. Full-time.
Is there really any doubt?