A transition period is a good time to solicit opinions, as evidenced by the nearly 2,500 subscribers who completed The Athletic‘s offseason Bruins survey.
What did you have to say about what has already been a busy offseason? Some of the results were more one-sided than others.
Should Cassidy have been fired?
A clear-cut majority does not believe Bruce Cassidy deserved to be fired. Cassidy’s results speak for themselves: six playoff appearances in the six seasons he served as head coach.
Cassidy himself did not believe a dismissal was in his future following end-of-season exit meetings with management. But after returning from the NHL Combine, general manager Don Sweeney broke the news on June 6 during a visit to Cassidy’s house.
Did Cassidy do his job well?
An overwhelming majority endorsed Cassidy’s performance. Beyond qualifying for the playoffs six straight times, Cassidy oversaw a team that became known for having one of the league’s stoutest defenses. He helped David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy develop into foundational players. Under Cassidy’s watch, Brad Marchand became the NHL’s best all-around left wing and Patrice Bergeron became a more dangerous offensive weapon—while winning a fifth Selke Trophy, no less.
“I feel I did my job,” said Cassidy.
Of the following potential candidates, who would you prefer to see as the next Bruins coach?
Nearly half of respondents believe Leach should be Cassidy’s replacement. Leach, the first-year Kraken assistant, was Providence’s head coach for the three previous seasons. He played for the Bruins in 2006. McAvoy, Connor Clifton, Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Matt Grzelcyk, Oskar Steen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and Jakub Zboril played for Leach. The 42-year-old is a positive, energetic and studious coach.
Barry Trotz finished second in the voting. Trotz is like Cassidy: a defense-first coach who preaches structure and accountability. He is a two-time winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach.
Mike Babcock did not win much support.
Are Neely and Sweeney the right executives to lead the Bruins?
Sweeney and Cam Neely did not fare well. Sweeney has been GM since 2015 when he replaced Peter Chiarelli.
The Bruins did not make the playoffs in 2015-16, Sweeney’s first full season as GM. He fired Claude Julien on Feb. 7, 2017, and replaced him with Cassidy.
Sweeney has been aggressive at trade deadlines and the opening of free agency. Hampus Lindholm, Taylor Hall, Mike Reilly and Curtis Lazar are among his recent deadline acquisitions. He signed Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort, Erik Haula, Tomas Nosek and Linus Ullmark as unrestricted free agents last offseason.
Neely became president in 2010. The position did not exist prior to then. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in his first season as president. He fired Chiarelli in 2015 and replaced him with Sweeney, his former teammate.
Is the organization headed in the right direction?
Most respondents are not optimistic about the future. The coach is gone. The Bruins are awaiting Patrice Bergeron’s decision. Grzelcyk, Marchand and McAvoy will not be ready for the start of 2022-23. David Pastrnak has a year remaining on his contract. Fabian Lysell and Mason Lohrei do not have much high-end company in the prospect pool.
Could the Bruins have won the Stanley Cup in 2021-22?
A healthy majority did not consider the 2021-22 Bruins worthy of the Cup. Tampa Bay is aiming for its third straight title. The Lightning may be facing their toughest task yet in the high-powered Avalanche.
Will the Bruins win the Cup in 2022-23?
This was the most clear-cut decision: that the Bruins will not be lifting the Cup in 2022-23. At this time, center is their biggest deficiency. Neither Haula nor Charlie Coyle, currently 1-2 on the depth chart, qualifies as an elite pivot.
The early absences of Grzelcyk, Marchand and McAvoy will not help matters either.
Will the Bruins make the playoffs in 2022-23?
That said, whether the Bruins will make the playoffs in 2022-23 is seen as a coin flip. They should be good to go in net with Swayman and Ullmark. All of their defensemen are under contract. Perhaps they can tread water early by locking down on defense while Grzelcyk, Marchand and McAvoy recover.
Should the Bruins rebuild immediately?
Again, another coin-flip call. Cassidy’s dismissal could be a good time to initiate a clean start. If Bergeron says goodbye, that would be another step toward a teardown.
But the Bruins, as noted above, may still have a roster good enough to make the playoffs. TD Garden is full. Selling off assets now would not be good for short-term business.
Will Bergeron return?
A slight majority believe Bergeron has played his last game. If so, Bergeron exits with his legacy and health intact. Bergeron is the best defensive forward of all time by measuring his record-setting five Selke wins. He has 400 goals, the first player to hit that mark all with the Bruins.
If Bergeron returns, he would have to adjust to a new coach. Merchant would not be at his side early on. The 37-year-old would be chasing a Cup that respondents have declared an unrealistic pursuit.
Will Krejci return?
Far more respondents believe David Krejci’s time with the Bruins is over than Bergeron’s. Krejci, the Bruins’ second-round pick in 2004, played for HC Olomouc in 2021-22. He is currently in South Carolina, wife Naomi’s home state. Whether Krejci wants to resume his NHL career in 2022-23 is unknown.
Will Pastrnak re-sign?
Almost two-thirds of respondents see Pastrnak re-upping with the Bruins. That could happen as soon as July 13, the first time the right wing would be eligible of agreeing to an extension. It would likely be an eight-year max-term deal. That could take the 26-year-old Pastrnak until the end of his NHL career.
The question, though, is whether Pastrnak wants to stay. If the organization’s future is cloudy, Pastrnak may see playing for another franchise as his best chance to win. If so, the Bruins cannot afford to let Pastrnak walk for nothing.
Should the Bruins trade DeBrusk?
Another 50-50 decision, this time regarding the Bruins’ third-leading goal scorer in 2021-22. Whether DeBrusk’s trade request remains active is unknown. He may have changed his mind following Cassidy’s firing. Either way, DeBrusk’s trade value would be higher now than it was previously.
If DeBrusk goes, the Bruins would need offensive help in return. He and Hall are currently the top two left wings while Merchant is unavailable.
If the Bruins trade a defenseman this offseason, who would you prefer they move?
Mike Reilly is signed through 2024 at $3 million annually. He can move pucks and support the attack. Reilly is not as sharp defensively as Grzelcyk. As such, he is the most likely of the five left-shot defensemen under contract to be on the move.
Will Frederic and Studnicka be top-nine NHL forwards next year?
Respondents do not have much faith in Frederic and Studnicka. Frederic was benched for part of Game 7 against Carolina after his involvement in a critical sequence: hitting iron at one end, then failing to fill a passing lane at the other. Studnicka, meanwhile, did not even make the postseason roster.
Frederic, 24, is signed for one more season at $1.05 million. Studnicka, 23, is a restricted free agent.
Do the Bruins have enough good prospects?
The prospect pool is thin. Aside from Lysell and Lohrei, perhaps the closest NHL asset is John Beecher, the No. 30 pick in 2019. Beecher, 21, appeared in nine games for Providence (three goals and five points) after concluding his junior season at the University of Michigan . He will begin his first full pro season in Providence in 2022-23.
The Bruins do not have a 2022 first-round pick. They are also without second-rounders in 2023 and 2024, which they traded to Anaheim in the Lindholm deal.
The Bruins have targeted college free agency as an alternate method of filling the prospect pool. Jack Ahcan, Marc McLaughlin and Georgii Merkulov, all undrafted, are some of the most recent signings.
Have the Bruins drafted well?
A cycle of either trading top selections or drafting late in the first round has taken its toll. They had only four picks in 2020. They drafted five players in 2018 and 2019.
The darkest cloud over the organization is the 2015 draft. Seven years later, the failure to restock remains Sweeney’s most critical shortcoming. Zboril, DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo are the three players remaining from their six picks in the first two rounds.
(Top photo of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand: Orlando Ramirez: USA Today)