- The NHL Vegas Golden Knights have named Bruce Cassidy the third coach in franchise history.
- Cassidy was fired as head coach of the Boston Bruins on June 6 after six seasons at the helm.
- Cassidy replaces Pete DeBoer, who was fired on May 16 after VGK missed the playoffs for the first time.
When the Boston Bruins unexpectedly fired head coach Bruce Cassidy on June 6, there was little doubt that he’d quickly find a new job. It took him just over a week. On Tuesday, the Vegas Golden Knights named Cassidy as the third head coach in franchise history. Terms of the deal were not immediately released. The obligatory ‘introductory news conference’ is set for 10 AM Pacific on Thursday, June 16.
Few people expected that Cassidy would need a new job. He led the Bruins to a record of 245-108-46 for an impressive 67.2% winning percentage. Boston never missed the playoffs during his run and the team reached the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals against the St. Louis Blues. Boston lost in 7 games. The following season, the Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy and Cassidy won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach.
In 2021-2022, Boston finished 51-26-5 for 107 points but that was only good enough for fourth place in the brutally tough Atlantic Division. The divisional champions were the Florida Panthers who won the Presidents’ Trophy with a record of 58-18-6 and 122 points. Also finishing ahead of Boston were the Toronto Maple Leafs (115 points) and Tampa Bay Lightning (110 points). What appears to have ‘sealed Cassidy’s fate’ was a first round playoff exit but the Bruins didn’t exactly roll over. Carolina beat Boston in 7 games, taking the deciding game at home by a 3-2 margin. Carolina won the Metropolitan Division with a 54-20-8 record for 116 points.
Ed Graney of the Las Vegas Review-Journal explained why such a successful coach was fired:
He had a no-nonsense approach that rubbed some veterans the wrong way — even though he reportedly allowed them to run the room — and had younger ones fearful of making mistakes. They did things his way or found themselves out of the lineup.
Cassidy apparently isn’t one for mincing words. You would hope players desire such candidness if it means reaching the point most believe the Knights capable. Which is to win the Stanley Cup.
“You don’t go out and get 107 points, win 51 games, if the players aren’t responding to you,” Boston general manager Don Sweeney said at the time of the firing. “It just doesn’t happen … (But) you’ve got to find a way to develop that message a little differently.”
The official explanation from Boston GM Sweeney was that the team ‘needed a different voice’. Ironically, that’s the explanation that Vegas GM Kelly McCrimmon gave when the team fired previous head coach Pete DeBoer. McCrimmon had this to say about Cassidy in the statement announcing his hiring:
“The Golden Knights are very pleased to have Bruce come in to coach our team. His success in Boston over six years is extremely impressive. His teams have had a clear identity, having been among the very best in the NHL in terms of goals for, goals against, goal differential and special teams. This is the right coach for our team at this time.”
“I am excited to join an organization that shares my commitment to winning and can’t wait to get to work with the talent that has been assembled in Vegas. It’s been impressive to watch the city embrace the Golden Knights from afar, and my family and I look forward to becoming a part of that.”
Vegas becomes the first NHL head coach hired from outside the organization this season. 7 teams are still looking for permanent head coaches. Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia and Winnipeg all have vacancies with Chicago, Edmonton and Florida playing under interim head coaches. There’s plenty of teams needing coaches and plenty of good head coaches on the market as Ben Gotz of the LVRJ notes:
That recent track record meant the Ottawa, Ontario, native was unemployed for only eight days despite the coaching market being full of experienced names such as Barry Trotz, John Tortorella, Rick Tocchet and Paul Maurice.
The Vegas media and fan base weren’t happy about the departure of DeBoer. The biggest issue for VGK last year was injuries. Injuries are often used as an excuse, but for the Golden Knights it was definitely a legit issue. The team lost 500 man games which not only cost them their top players for extended periods but caused a myriad of other problems not the least of which was goaltending:
Where have you heard this before — 500 man games lost.
They seeped into all forms of the product, on and off the ice. Messed with any real level of chemistry the Knights might have formed. Took from them needed leadership in the room. Had names on the power play with no business being there.
It’s tough to run out four lines when you can’t dress four. It’s tough to maneuver as you might wish with what has been a cap-strapped product for some time.
And yet they fired a coach who had no control over any of it.
The team was under pressure to find a coach that would be considered an upgrade. In my view, they’ve done it. The fanbase is generally supportive of the Cassidy hire as is the local media. The LVRJ’s Ed Graney–quoted just above about the injury situation–explained it as well as anyone:
It should tell you something — a lot, really — how coveted Cassidy was by teams in search of a coach immediately after being fired in Boston last week. That the respect of those across the NHL hold for him is overly impressive.
Those who don’t know what they’re doing aren’t wanted by so many different folks that fast. He was. Like in a nano second.
Given that Cassidy had a new job 8 days after he lost his old one, his phone had to have started ringing immediately after his dismissal was announced. DeBoer was certainly a good coach, though it’s difficult to argue that his teams didn’t underachieve in significant areas. The power play was an unmitigated disaster not only this year (25th in the league), but last year (22nd in the league) when injuries weren’t an issue. Vegas’ penalty kill went from the best in the league in 2020-2021 (86.8%) to 21st last year (77.4%) though in all fairness the injuries clearly played a role there. A bigger issue may have been the lack of power play productivity when they needed it most.
DeBoer may have been a good coach, but Cassidy is an elite coach. During his run in Boston, he was particularly effective on defense. The Bruins were in the top five in goals against per every year beginning in 2017-2018. Even the year he was hired, they finished ninth. They also had a positive goals for/against differential every year. The wins/losses speak for themselves. Since the day DeBoer took over in Boston only one team in the league had a better W/L record. You can make a compelling case that he never had the talent in Boston that he will on the team he takes over in the 702. He even had to deal with a goaltending transition forced by Tuuka Rask’s hip injury and subsequent retirement. As good as Rask was–and in his prime he was on a short list of the best in the NHL–the Bruins made an almost seamless transition to 23 year old Alaska native Jeremy Swayman who had the fifth best goals against average in the league this year.
Cassidy is not only an elite coach, but an elite coach that probably shouldn’t have been available. Virtually every news account of his firing included modifiers like ‘surprisingly’ or ‘unexpectedly’. After Vegas failed to make the playoffs this season there was a recurring theme in the media postmortems–the team needed more accountability. As in ‘a more demanding coach’. They’ve got it now and as someone that follows Vegas hockey closely I think the team will respond. VGK has a few areas to deal with–the goaltending situation was a bit of a mess at the end of the year–but overall they’ve got the talent to bring a Stanley Cup to the desert. Now they’ve got a coach that can get them there.