The dressing room, Bruce Cassidy regularly noted, belonged to the players. Cassidy left Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask, the five ring-winners from 2011, alone to do what they did best: chase championships.
It could very well be that in 2022-23, Marchand will be the only one left in uniform – belatedly, at that, following surgery on both hips. As for the coach who gave Marchand and the core group free reign, he is gone, soon to be snatched up by any rival seeking instant improvement.
Cassidy’s dismissal and the diminishing roster he once oversaw leave the Bruins in no position to make another Stanley Cup run in 2022-23. The two go hand in hand.
The Bruins’ championship window is closed. Two scenarios in a possible nightmare offseason have already come true.
“They’re going to fall off a cliff soon,” one NHL executive said prior to Cassidy’s firing.
‘Players being afraid to make mistakes’: Management believed Bruce Cassidy’s demanding approach with young players demanded his dismissal. https://t.co/M487dgOdR6
– Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) June 7, 2022
Cassidy’s list of strengths is long. The Bruins made the playoffs in all six seasons he served as head coach since replacing Claude Julien on Feb. 7, 2017. Cassidy came one win short of the Cup in 2019.
Opponents struggled to score against his airtight defense. Cassidy was proactive about making lineup changes. He initiated Bergeron’s late-career metamorphosis from defensive specialist to offensive catalyst. He expressed a similar degree of greater offense from Marchand.
All of these players, save for Marchand, are gone. Bergeron has not made his exit official. But Cassidy’s firing is yet another reason the captain’s return would be in vain.
The Bruins could start 2022-23 down their first-line combination and a Charlie McAvoy-Matt Grzelcyk pairing that, at times, has served as their No. 1 duo. A coaching change, surgeries to critical contributors and a pending rebuild will not encourage David Pastrnak to sign an extension with one year left on his deal. In fact, the right wing may be general manager Don Sweeney’s best trade piece to trigger a teardown.
This leaves players like Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen and Jakub Zboril due for more responsibility in 2022-23. All of them have things in common. They are young players who heard Cassidy’s bracing words. DeBrusk, in particular, got to the point where the crumbling player-coach relationship made him eager to leave.
They are also young players whose NHL futures, from permanence to impact, are anything but sure things.
Sweeney, with president Cam Neely’s endorsement, fired Cassidy partly because of the belief that another coach will work better with the next generation of players. That may be so.
Jay Leach, David Quinn, Ryan Mougenel, Nate Leaman and Spencer Carbery have long histories of issuing attaboys to their youngsters. Some of them are already on the roster. Leach identified promise in Frederic, Studnicka, Steen and Zboril. McAvoy is a Bruin partly because of Quinn’s recommendation.
The issue, though, is whether the next core will be rotten.
In previous years, Cassidy was equally firm with Anders Bjork (fifth round, 2014), Peter Cehlarik (third round, 2013), Ryan Donato (second round, 2014), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (second round, 2015), Danton Heinen (fourth round, 2014), Zach Senyshyn (first round, 2015), Ryan Spooner (second round, 2010), Urho Vaakanainen (first round, 2017) and Frank Vatrano (undrafted). They are all ex-Bruins. It is a long list of swings and misses.
That none of them has developed into an impactful NHL player reflects more poorly on Sweeney and his staff than on Cassidy. A coach cannot turn blemished prospects into polished NHLers.
It will be up to Leach, Quinn or whoever fills Cassidy’s role to determine whether Frederic, Studnicka and the rest of the up-and-coming cohort are legitimate or misshapen NHL players.
As for the wave after that, it is both far away and low on volume. Fabian Lysell, the 2021 first-rounder, has yet to play an NHL game. Mason Lohrei, selected second in 2020, is still a collegian. There are no other possible impact players on the horizon.
It is the price Sweeney must pay for ceding three first-rounders in five years. Only Hampus Lindholm is left to show for such precious capital. Not only will the Bruins be idle in the 2022 first round, they will also have nothing to do in Round 2 in 2023 and 2024 – all fallout from the Lindholm trade. As a reminder, Sweeney did nothing with the cap space he cleared from Anaheim’s retention of half of Lindholm’s salary and the acceptance of John Moore’s contract.
McAvoy is a foundational player. Jeremy Swayman could become a second. Taylor Hall (30) and Hampus Lindholm (28) could help bridge the Bruins to what is to come.
But that will not be for a long time. Immediate help is not coming. Neither are Cups.
(Photo: John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe via Getty Images)