Bruins general manager Don Sweeney entered the 2021-22 campaign on the final year of his contract. A first-round exit coupled with years of poor drafting and developing, as well as mixed results on the trade and free-agent markets, suggested the team should move on from their GM of eight years.
Sweeney expected a resolution to his future in “short order” during his season-ending press conference on Wednesday. A day later, team president Cam Neely confirmed that the Bruins want to sign Sweeney to a contract extension.
Cam Neely leaves open the possibility that Bruce Cassidy may not return as Bruins coach
“I started talking with Charlie and Mr. [Jeremy] Jacobs after the deadline about extending Don, so my plan is to do that,” Neely told reporters Thursday. “I have to sit down with Don in the next day or two, and hopefully, we’ll hammer something out.”
With Sweeney staying, the Bruins appear set with the status quo, right? Well, given Neely and Sweeney’s statements on the coaching in 2021-22, a potential change behind the bench isn’t out of the question.
Keeping Sweeney is one thing. But parting ways with Bruce Cassidy isn’t the answer, either.
With a roster full of question marks on the bottom-six and the back end, Cassidy made the most of a makeshift roster in the first year without David Krejci anchoring the second line. Breaking up the potent top trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, as well as Jake DeBrusk’s re-emergence into a 20-goal scorer, helped balance out Boston’s scoring depth during the regular season.
Sweeney got some defensive help after acquiring Hampus Lindholm at the trade deadline. The Bruins appear set with a solid top pairing of Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy for the next several years. Yet, even the short-term boost on the back end didn’t get the team past the first round.
The Bruins ran into an unfavorable matchup against the defensively sound Carolina Hurricanes. After two ugly defeats to start the series, Cassidy returned to the drawing board and reunited the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line. After another uninspiring setback in Game 5, he returned to his regular-season lineup, moving DeBrusk back with Bergeron and Marchand and Pastrnak with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula on the second line, while benching an injured Matt Grzelcyk in favor of Mike Reilly on the backend.
Boston got another win out of that lineup before falling again on the road in Game 7.
“I think Bruce’s staff, you know, they work hard. They try to identify the deficiencies both at their level and also in terms of what we’re trying to communicate,” Sweeney said on Wednesday. “We all want to add the absolute right pieces. And at times we were doing it well and at other times we’re falling short.”
Indeed, the Bruins encountered a few issues generating prime scoring chances in the gritty areas, especially at PNC Arena. They became more of a line rush team instead of generating secondary looks on tips, rebounds and cycling around the net.
The differences in coaching philosophies apparently led to some disconnect between Sweeney, Neely and Cassidy.
“I think we have to look at making some changes as far as how we play,” Neely said. “I think Bruce is a fantastic coach. He’s brought a lot of success to this organization. I like him as a coach. So we’ll see where it goes. I do think we need to make some changes.”
No question Cassidy developed quite the successful tenure after taking over for Claude Julien in Feb. 2017. But each yearly stinging postseason elimination promptly shut their championship window following their bitter Game 7 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins aren’t in a prime position to make an off-season splash as they await word on Bergeron’s status. Clearly, they need to upgrade their center depth regardless if Bergeron returns or not. Otherwise, they might enter training camp with Charlie Coyle, Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek and perhaps Jack Studnicka as their top four centermen.
Sweeney has a little over $4 million of projected salary cap space entering the off-season. The Bruins have some decent pieces in place for future success with McAvoy, Lindholm, Jeremy Swayman and David Pastrnak, who will enter the final year of his contract in 2022-23. Yet, they’ll have significant holes on their roster again next season after an aggressive summer a year ago.
The Bruins appear set to let Sweeney try to undo some of his roster mistakes. But it shouldn’t come at the cost of removing Cassidy. He’s gotten the most out of Sweeney’s roster more often than not and he should at least get one more chance behind the bench.
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