What the Bruins should do about coach Bruce Cassidy’s next contract

Matt Kalman
July 11, 2019 - 1:49 pm

The market has been set for them, so the Bruins may have no choice but to sign coach Bruce Cassidy to an extension that pays him beyond the first half of the upcoming decade.

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But they won’t be wrong if they’re hesitant to go beyond signing Cassidy to a contract similar to the three-year one St. Louis Blue Stanley Cup-winning coach Craig Berube received last month.

Cassidy’s reign as bench boss since he took over Feb. 7, 2019 from Claude Julien has been phenomenal. He’s gone 117-52-22, a .670 point percentage, in that time, with four series wins in the past two Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the Bruins, like most successful teams, are in the process of transitioning from one core to the next while trying to continue to compete for the Cup.

They have the right to take their time determining whether Cassidy is the man to oversee the entirety of that transition.

The Athletic recently reported that Cassidy is entering the last year of his contract and that the Bruins will be approaching him about an extension at some point this offseason.

“He’s under contract, so we have decisions that we’re going to progress with, and he’ll be part of that,” general manager Don Sweeney told Joe McDonald of The Athletic last month. “He’s under contract, so it’s not a concern right now, but we will address it.”

Coaching contract information is so difficult to come by that even CapFriendly.com only has details for fewer than half the coaches in the league. But we know from the Blues’ announcement they’ve committed to Berube, who went 38-19-8 (.651) before the Cup run, for three years. Prior to his Blues experience, Berube had a stint as Philadelphia’s coach that was similar to Cassidy’s time with Washington in its brevity and its success level. Cassidy had a .500 point percentage in 110 games with the Capitals; Berube’s term with the Flyers lasted 161 games and produced a point percentage of .553.

This month we saw Colorado coach Jared Bednar, 103-116-27 in three seasons with the Avalanche, sign a two-year extension. His record looks a lot better when you take out his first season, as he has compiled point percentages of .549 last season and .579 the season before. He had no NHL head coaching experience before he took over the Avs during the tumult caused by Patrick Roy’s surprise hectic departure.

Based on his regular season and postseason results, Cassidy definitely deserves more term than Bednar, and maybe even Berube (that Game 7 Blues victory aside). Then you factor in the real NHL head coaching novices: Dallas’s Jim Montgomery as given a four-year contract, and the New York Rangers’ David Quinn was given a five-year deal after moving from college hockey to the NHL. Salary numbers are spotty, but CapFriendly pegs those two coaches as making $1.6 and $2.4 million respectively.

Mike Babcock of Toronto is the highest-paid coach in the league at $6.25 million and then there are three veteran coaches making at least $5 million. One would have to believe Cassidy is worth of at least that much money in his next deal.

But the sticking point to me would be the term despite the above comparable deals. There may be no reason in our non-millionaire minds for the Bruins to put a cap on how much they’re willing to pay a coach or how many coaches they’re willing to pay at once (if they decide to make a change), but we know there’s always a budget beyond what the NHL salary cap says the Bruins can spend on players and they have to be as close to 100 percent certain Cassidy is their guy before they extend him to the lengths they did with Julien.

Cassidy’s style of play has adjusted with the changes in the overall game featured in the NHL. The Bruins have picked up the pace over the past couple years, and as the skill level of the personnel has improved, he has made the required adjustments to maximize the Bruins’ talent level. His in-game line juggling probably has a success rate in the 90 percentile, and he’s clearly been able to juggle egos to the point where players must’ve used the word family more than any other during almost every media avail during the Cup Final.

But Cassidy was often reactive instead of proactive with his lineup changes (witness the David Backes-Karson Kuhlman juggling during a couple key points) and his strategy (witness the Blues’ ability to deflate the Bruins on home ice three times, and the Maple Leafs’ ability to take three leads in the first round) during the postseason. We’ve seen the Bruins’ young defensemen (Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk) develop under Cassidy, but aside from Jake DeBrusk the skill forwards in the system haven’t followed suit (although Cassidy’s Bruins have had better luck with forwards of Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari’s ilk).

Cassidy has also leaned heavily on his veteran core of Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Backes to police the room. That core won’t be around much longer, and Cassidy may have to play a more prominent role while the next wave – McAvoy, DeBrusk, maybe Charlie Coyle and Torey Krug if they’re still here – take the baton. The Bruins are also going to have to deal with higher expectations, which the past couple years haven’t been that high because of their rebooting process and the presence of Tampa Bay as a team many wouldn’t have blamed the Bruins for not beating had they met the Lightning in the postseason. Cassidy’s going to have to help his players fight off the Cup Final hangover and complacency as they regroup for next season and beyond.

Bruce Cassidy has come a long way and emerged as one of the top five or six coaches in the NHL, but he still has a lot to prove. Just because he coached the Bruins to their first Cup Final in six years doesn’t mean he has to be guaranteed security for half a decade, and a two-year extension beyond the 2019-20 campaign might be the best route for the Bruins to go to give Cassidy a full evaluation.

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