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Gordo on the NHL: Bruins boot Cassidy into coaching marketplace

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Bruins Cassidy Fired Hockey

FILE -Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, center, gestures during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, April 16, 2022, in Boston. The Bruins have fired Cassidy several weeks after losing in the first round of the playoffs.

The NHL coaching marketplace became more dynamic when the Boston Bruins fired highly successful Bruce Cassidy.

He is a coveted coaching commodity. And, of course, the Bruins remain one of the league’s destination franchises.

So teams shopping for a new coach got another top candidate to ponder and the top coaching candidates already in the market got another opening to consider.

The timing of Cassidy's dismissal made some sense, given what the Bruins will be up against next season. As we noted elsewhere on the site:

  • Winger Brad Marchand will miss a big chunk of the season after undergoing surgical repairs on both hips.
  • Top defenseman Charlie McAvoy will also be sidelined for months after requiring shoulder surgery.
  • No. 1 center Patrice Bergeron pondering retirement at 36. He is recovering from elbow surgery, but would be ready for the season’s start if he plays.
  • Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is expected to miss the start of the season after shoulder surgery.
  • Defenseman Mike Reilly is recovering from ankle surgery, but there’s a good chance he will be ready for the start of the season.
  • Also, forward Jake DeBrusk made a trade request last season that the franchise did not honor. So his situation bears watching as well.

Given all of that, the Bruins could be hard-pressed to reach the postseason next season. If Bergeron retires, a full-on rebuild could be in order.

Many Boston fans will remember Cassidy as the coach who failed to close out the Blues in 2019 when the Stanley Cup was sitting there to be had. That’s a shame, because he did a fabulous job keeping the Bruins in the chase year after year.

What more could have done with the battered Bruins last season? Team president Cam Neely found some shortcomings in Cassidy’s work.

“I think we have to look at making some changes as far as how we play and the way we do some of the things,” Neely told reporters last month. “I think Bruce is a fantastic coach. I mean, he’s brought a lot of success to this organization. I like him as a coach. So, we’ll see where it goes. But I do think we need to make some changes.”

Neely favors a more offensive-minded system and the coaching style conducive to developing young players as the Bruins begin transitioning to a younger nucleus.

“There’s no question players are afraid to make mistakes, especially younger players, because, you know, you hear about it,” Neely said. “And I was one of those players that, you know, I had to learn and grow. And I heard about it, too. And I made mistakes as a younger player. But you can’t worry about not getting back out there. I think that’s one of the things we have to kind of change. I think when younger players make mistakes, they’re worried they’re not going to play the next game while that game is still going on.”

Former Blues assistant coach and Bruins forward Marc Savard could be a fit if Neely and GM Don Sweeney stress player development. Savard, a playmaking center in his NHL playing days, currently coaches the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League.

MEN OF OIL COME UP DRY

The Edmonton Oilers finally enjoyed some postseason success by outlasting the Los Angeles Kings in the first round and winning the Battle of Alberta against the Calgary Flames in the second.

But with Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse playing hurt, the Oilers became outmanned against the Colorado Avalanche after reaching the NHL’s Final Four.

So now what? Their division should be tougher next season with the Vegas Golden Knights likely to get back on track after their injury-marred season.

Edmonton GM Ken Holland has the following concerns:

  • Aging, accident-prone Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen were insufficient in goal. Now Koskinen is an unrestricted free agent, so Holland will be able to invest in an upgrade – although he doesn’t have much salary cap space to work with.
  • Clearly the Oilers need better depth at forward and on defense, too. But again, there is not much cap space to play with.
  • Evander Kane can become a free agent after rebuilding his stock with a strong performance for the Oilers. Fitting him in under the salary cap could be a challenge.
  • Young wingers Jesse “The Body” Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto are both due nice raises as restricted free agents.
  • Aging defenseman Duncan Keith still counts $5.5 million toward the salary cap.
  • Earlier buyouts for James Neal and Andrej Sekera will count $3.4 million toward the cap.
  • The team also retained $750,000 of Milan Lucic’s money for next season.

AROUND THE RINKS

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell will seek big dollars in free agency, but is there a team willing to meet that demand? He did fine for the Leafs this season, but Toronto can only go so far to keep him due to the giant dollars invested in their top four forwards.

Given the pandemic’s impact on NHL revenues and the salary cap, it will be interesting to see how big teams are willing to go to secure cornerstone players. The Calgary Flames want to keep explosive winger Johnny Gaudreau for the long haul, but he seems likely to eat least test the marketplace because the Flames can’t offer crazy money.

Power forward Matthew Tkachuk is also due big money from the Flames as a restricted free agent. It would probably take megabucks to get him signed to an extension that buys into his free agency.

Former NHL star Sergei Fedorov earned KHL Coach of the Year honors in Russia this season. But given his unhappy departure from the Detroit Red Wings, he won’t likely make GM Steve Yzerman’s short list for his coaching hire in Motown.

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