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Time to Give Bruce Cassidy Some Credit

Bruce Cassidy by Sarah Connors is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Time to Give Bruce Cassidy Some Credit

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

There’s a hell of a lot going on in the world of Boston sports these days. The Red Sox are in the midst of their springtime tune-up games, the Patriots roster is in total flux, and the Celtics push towards the top seed in the conference led by off-season acquisition Kyrie Irving.

What I hope people aren’t overlooking is the tremendous season the Boston Bruins have put together. I mean, they may be the best story I Boston sports right now and for the better part of this calendar year. A team full of rookies and aging veterans, who many (like myself) pegged as a Wild Card team AT BEST, now finds themselves in the hunt for the best record in the Eastern Conference. From the middle of the pack to the alpha dogs, the Bruins transition into an NHL powerhouse this season is nothing short of remarkable.

So who gets the credit? The players, of course. GM Don Sweeney can certainly take a bow when it comes to this season as well.

But with all the credit to go around, I can’t help but feel like not enough has been going to head coach Bruce Cassidy. I mean, he has manned the helm of this ship that is currently on a trajectory for a decent playoff run. All this after taking over for the longest tenured coach in the NHL at the time of his appointment.

So I want to make sure Bruce gets some love. Consider this a friendly PSA for Boston fans. Because coaches get railroaded when things go wrong (just ask Claude Julien), therefore it’s only fair they get a healthy share of the credit when things go right.

And boy, do things look right.

Just use the eye test (when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of coaching, this is sometimes all we have). Can Bruins fans think of a game where you looked at the lineup and thought “What the hell is Bruce thinking?”. Because I can’t. Cassidy has a great feel for this team, and knows the buttons to push and the line combos to use in order to win games. I think back to when Tuukka Rask floundered in net early on, and the Bruins were on a fast track to mediocrity to begin the year. Cassidy decides to start Anton Khudobin in net over Rask in consecutive games in response to Tuukka’s poor play. The Bruins grind out a few tough wins on the road out west, and boom. The bleeding stopped, and they could right the ship. He made the proper lineup call at the opportune time, despite the pressure he faced having Tuukka lose considerable playing time to his backup.

Or just take this recent homestand. Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy go down with injuries, and David Backes gets suspended. The Bruins record in the six-game stretch? 6-0-0. The lines continued to click and the offensive production didn’t falter at all, even with the insertion of newcomers like Tommy Wingels and Brian Gionta. A lot of that falls on the players, of course, for stepping up. But players succeed when they are put in positions to do so. And that is a direct result of one Bruce Cassidy.  Boston’s consistency remains true across all kinds of in-game situations as well. The Bruins’ record when they give up the first goal? 18-14-3.   When they get outshot? 14-6-4.   When it’s a one-goal game? 11-2.   The Bruins rarely have looked unprepared in games this season. But in the ones they do, they often find a way to win.

#NHLBruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, and his team’s resiliency:

— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 9, 2018

Cassidy has accomplished all this by embracing the new style of hockey sweeping through the NHL. The days of lumbering, controlled breakouts and D to D behind-the-net passes are over (apparently Cassidy calls them “dinosaur-age”). Unlike his predecessor, Cassidy has let loose his young, puck-moving defensemen and built a system that encourages quick transitions and rapid breakouts. The current NHL game is fast, so Cassidy lets the Bruins flaunt their speed. He’s not afraid to play the kids either, and this not only has allowed the team to get faster as a team, but allowed these young players (like Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen) become regular contributors at a young age, years ahead of schedule. It’s a beautiful mix. Skilled, puck-moving defensemen slinging breakout passes to a balance of fast and strong forwards. It’s how teams in the NHL win today, and that’s why the Bruins find themselves in the upper-most echelon of the league. Cassidy injected youth and speed into the lineup, and allowed the Bruins to adapt and even flourish in their surroundings.   For this, Cassidy deserves his share of the praise for this immediate leap forward for the Bruins. I don’t think a Coach of the year nomination would be out of the question one bit. (For the record, the guy is 61-24-9 as head coach of the Bruins. Insane.)

I’ll sum it up like this. I can’t remember the last time Boston had a team that could battle like these guys do. Whether it’s a 1-1 defensive tilt or a 6-6 offensive shootout, the Bruins rarely seem to be bested by the end of 60 minutes. They fight to the very end, and seem more focused and in sync as the year has progressed. And while a talented roster is the main reason for their success, the coaching and the system Cassidy has brought to the table have been the catalyst that turned the Bruins into more than the sum of their parts.

And I just want to make sure that it’s not overlooked.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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