Bruins

Bruce Cassidy on lack of Bruins response: 'I'm comfortable with the guys sticking up for one another'

Bruce Cassidy on lack of Bruins response: 'I'm comfortable with the guys sticking up for one another'

BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy addressed the elephant in the room earlier today after the Bruins were roundly criticized for failing to step up and protect goaltender Tuukka Rask when he was concussed by a punch to the head Tuesday night in Columbus.

It was a tepid response form the B's with Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Joakim Nordstrom challenging the skill forward (Emil Bremstrom) that knocked Rask out of the game, and nobody playing with much fire or anger in a limp 3-0 loss to the Blue Jackets.

For a couple of days, Bruins fans and media alike bashed the Bruins for failing to stand up for their goaltender and playing a softer brand of hockey than people are used to around the Hub where they were once known as the Big Bad Bruins.

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Certainly it’s a different NHL than it was in the 1970’s or even nine years ago when the Bruins last won the Cup with an extremely tough crew, but Cassidy said he still believes that his players stick up for each other when the moment calls for it.

“I do believe that this team plays together, sticks together [and] has been accountable for years. We’re not the same makeup as maybe we were in the 1970’s or 2011 for that matter," said Cassidy. 

"We’ve tried to change our roster – that’s Donny and I both – we’ve had discussions on who we’ve drafted. You draft skill guys like [Anders] Bjork, [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk and you can put [Pastrnak] in that mix too because he’s that type of a skill player and that’s the direction we’ve tried to go while keeping – obviously [Zdeno] Chara is more than tough – the Kevan Millers of the world. [He] happens to be injured and that’s a tough one. Connor Clifton is a guy that gives us some bite sometimes [but] he’s injured.

“We’ve tried to keep certain guys in the lineup. Chris Wagner is a physical player, [David] Backes had some of that in him, but he gets concussions a little bit and now we’re talking about what level is he going to be able to go for his personal health? I think we’ve tried to balance it.

“But if it’s out there [that there was a lack of response], people have a right to say it. I believe that if anything happens the guys in this room will be together. I think the incident the other night [in Columbus] to be perfectly honest nobody knew what the hell happened in the first. Then we addressed it between periods and a couple of guys tried to engage [Emil] Bremstrom.

"If we want to go back and talk about other teams, and how they’re built, we can have that conversation. I think there are teams that are less physical than us and I think there are a few that are more [physical]. We’re trying to be the best of both worlds with our roster and we’ll see where it leads us.”

Cassidy pointed to the current situation with the Black and Gold where arguably their toughest, meanest warrior in Miller has been almost an entire calendar year with kneecap problems, and 35-year-old Backes understandably isn’t the willing pugilist he once was due to a slew of concussions he’s suffered since coming to Boston.

But does that speak to a need for that kind of player on a Bruins roster that suddenly seems to have tipped the scales way toward speed and skill rather than brawn, strength and a little bit of snarl?

“We will deal with internally. I’m comfortable with the guys sticking up for one another. Do we need a little more of it some nights? We need maybe somebody to pull it out of us on some nights,” said Cassidy. “That’s where I think it’s out of the coaches to pull it out a little bit or it’s up to a player that’s a pest to stir it up a little bit. We’ll address that internally as well.”

Cassidy referenced the impending return of Anton Blidh from shoulder surgery as a possible player that could stir the pot for the Black and Gold and get their dander up in some of the nights when it’s lacking across the 82-game regular season.

But with all due respect to Cassidy, they are missing some serious snarl and tough guy attitude in their lineup with guys like Miller, Brett Ritchie, Connor Clifton and David Backes either injured or unable to bring even a little smidge of the old Big Bad Bruins to the table when it’s called for.

It’s clear as day when they run up against bigger, tougher and heavier teams like the Capitals and Blues that the Bruins are lacking in those areas, and it’s to a point where even teams like the Blue Jackets know they can rattle cages when they’re playing the Black and Gold.

Torey Krug hopes he hasn't already played last game for Boston Bruins

Torey Krug hopes he hasn't already played last game for Boston Bruins

Bruins defenseman Torey Krug mentioned several times he has “no clarity” on his future after sitting down for a Boston Bruins-organized Zoom conference call with B’s media members on Tuesday afternoon.

After all, pretty much nobody has any kind of clarity about what’s going to happen over the next few months as regions of the United States are attempting to slow down a global coronavirus outbreak with hot spots in places like Boston.

But there’s another level to the uncertainty for Krug as a looming unrestricted free agent once this 2019-20 season has been finished, one way or the other. Krug hopes that there is some manner of resumption of the regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs over the next few months, and just as passionately hopes he hasn’t played his last game as a member of the Bruins.

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“For me personally, I really hope I did not play my last game as a Boston Bruin. It’s been a special place for me and my family to grow. My love for the game and playing in front of these fans has been very special to me. But [this situation] hasn’t given me any clarity,” said Krug, who also mentioned there have been no contract discussions with the Bruins since the season went on pause in early March. “It makes you wonder about this process a little more because I was just in the moment thinking only about helping my team win games and hopefully push our team toward winning a championship.

But now the season is on pause and I’m definitely wondering what’s going to happen. But in terms of clarity, there pretty much has been none. I can’t put any assumptions on it, but I can only guess that things are going to look different from a salary cap perspective next season. Team structures as well are going to be affected by it, but I have no clarity about it. I wish I had a better answer for that, but it’s just the reality of the situation.

Krug had nine goals and 49 points in 61 games this season for the Bruins and was moving toward a big payday this summer — whether it was in Boston or somewhere else.

Based on comparable deals for other elite NHL defensemen across the NHL, a long-term teal in the range of $6-8 million per season was pretty much an automatic no matter where he was going to sign. It remains to be seen how much a lowered salary cap ceiling would impact player contracts for guys like Krug, but he’s clearly going into the situation with his eyes wide open.

There’s also very little clarity on when the NHL season will resume, or even if it can resume as the league explores options like summer Stanley Cup playoff hockey and neutral site locations for playoff hockey without any fans in the stands.

Krug has consistently said he wants to remain with the Bruins and might even take less to do exactly that when it’s all said and done, but there also hadn’t been a lot of documented progress in contract talks between the player and team to this point either.

It remains to be seen how Krug’s situation will play out, or if the player will get his wish to at the very least finish out the rest of what’s become a long, strange year with the Bruins.

Top Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka draws positive review from Bruce Cassidy

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USA TODAY Sports

Top Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka draws positive review from Bruce Cassidy

The Boston Bruins don't have a robust prospect pool filled with elite talent. This is not unusual for a franchise that's been a perennial playoff contender, and one that often looks to move draft picks and/or prospects to make roster upgrades at the NHL trade deadline.

This also doesn't mean the Bruins lack exciting talent throughout the organization, though. For example, Maine goaltender Jeremy Swayman, who Boston selected in the fourth round of the 2017 draft, was recently named as a finalist for the Hobey Baker Trophy.

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The top prospect in Boston's system is center Jack Studnicka -- a second-round pick by the Bruins in 2017. Studnicka had played the entire 2019-20 campaign with the AHL's Providence Bruins before the outbreak of the coronavirus halted the season. He's tallied 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) in 60 games for Providence.

Studnicka's performance has drawn positive reviews from Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy.

“How he scores goals is interesting,” Cassidy told Joe McDonald of The Athletic. “He gets inside and works to the good ice a lot, which is important in the NHL. It’s hard to be a perimeter player and have success. That was one thing I noticed about him. … He’s a very aggressive guy on the puck, and for a centerman that’s unique because usually you want your wingers in there on puck pursuit more than a centerman because he has a long way to go (to get back into the defensive zone).”

Studnicka's chance to make a real impact in the NHL could come as early as next season. He'd be an excellent addition to the bottom-six, a group that could use more speed and offensive skill.

The goal for Studnicka is becoming a top-six center, and his play in Providence this season should give Bruins fans plenty of optimism that he'll eventually reach that level.