Bruins

Bruins should consider these five head coach candidates to replace Cassidy

Bruins

The Boston Bruins have enjoyed plenty of stability at head coach over the last 15 years. Since 2007, only Claude Julien and Bruce Cassidy have served in that role.

Julien won a Stanley Cup in 2011 before being fired in February of 2017 and replaced by Cassidy. Cassidy led the B's to the playoffs in all six of his seasons behind the bench, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, before being relieved of his duties Monday night.

The Bruins now need a new head coach, and it comes at a critical juncture for the franchise as it decides whether to take one more shot at the Stanley Cup or embark on a much-needed retool/rebuild.

Why Bruins firing Cassidy is a mistake and fails to address the real issue

If the Bruins are headed for a transition period -- which could be the case very soon -- they need a coach who can develop and build strong relationships with young players. The Bruins need to build the next wave of core players who can lead the post-Patrice Bergeron and post-Brad Marchand era alongside Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.

Sweeney said Tuesday that he will be "open minded" and cast a wide net in his search for the Bruins' next head coach. 

 

Here are five potential candidates the Bruins should consider for the job.

Jay Leach

Leach spent the 2021-22 season as an assistant on Dave Hakstol's staff with the Seattle Kraken. It was his first season coaching at the NHL level. Before that, he was the Providence Bruins' head coach from 2017-18 through 2020-21. While in Providence, Leach worked with several players already on the Bruins' NHL roster or could be next season, including Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, Jeremy Swayman, Oskar Steen and Jakub Lauko. By all accounts, Leach is a player-friendly coach who built good relationships with the younger guys.

Sweeney said Tuesday that previous head coaching experience is not a prerequisite in his search for a new bench boss. AHL head coach to NHL assistant to NHL head coach is a pretty common path, and it's actually the one that Cassidy took to the Bruins head coach job (although he did have one year of head coaching experience back in 2002-03 and 2003-04 with the Capitals).

When you look at Leach's familiarity with the organization and his ability to work well with young players, it wouldn't be surprising if he becomes a top candidate for this position.

Barry Trotz

If the Bruins are looking to contend next season -- which would be a mistake, but there's no clear signal yet that a rebuild is coming ASAP -- then Trotz would be a solid short-term addition behind the bench.

Trotz was the Nashville Predators' head coach for the first 15 years of their existence and led them to the playoffs seven times. He left to join the Washington Capitals in 2014-15 and won the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 2018. Trotz exited Washington after winning a championship and became New York Islanders head coach. He did a remarkable job with the Islanders, leading them to back-to-back conference final appearances, where they lost to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning each time. The Islanders fired Trotz last month after they missed the playoffs.

The Bruins play a well-structured defensive style of hockey. It's why they've ranked in the top three of expected goals against in each of the last five seasons under Cassidy. Trotz's teams play the same way -- physical and defense-first. So, in that regard, there wouldn't be a huge stylistic change on the ice if the Bruins went from Cassidy to Trotz.

However, if the Bruins are looking for a more player-friendly voice who has a softer touch with younger players, Trotz definitely isn't the guy. He's a demanding coach.

And at this stage of his career, Trotz might not even find the B's job too desirable. The Bruins' championship window is pretty much shut -- if it isn't already -- and there are other open head coach jobs with more potential. 

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Ted Donato

This one is a bit of a longshot, but if the Bruins want to go the college route, Harvard head coach Ted Donato wouldn't be a bad choice at all.

Sweeney and Neely know Donato well. They were all teammates on the Bruins from 1991-92 through 1995-96. Sweeney and Donato also played at Harvard during the 1987-88 campaign.

 

Donato has coached plenty of players at Harvard who went on to become NHLers, including 2021 Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman John Marino, Toronto Maple Leafs center Alexander Kerfoot, Seattle Kraken forward Ryan Donato (his son) and Tampa Bay Lightning center Alex Killorn, among others.

The Harvard program as a whole has enjoyed plenty of success since Donato took over as head coach in 2004. He has compiled a 272-232-64 record with five NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Frozen Four run in 2017. Harvard also has won the ECAC tournament four times under Donato. 

Donato's ability to develop good players, his familiarity with the Bruins and the city, and his relationships with Sweeney and Neely make him a candidate the franchise should at least consider. 

David Quinn

Quinn replaced legendary Boston University head coach Jack Parker in 2013 and led the Terriers to four NCAA Tournament appearances from 2014-15 through 2017-18, including a loss in the 2015 national championship game against Providence when BU had future NHL superstar Jack Eichel.

Quinn left the Terriers after the 2017-18 campaign to become head coach of the New York Rangers. He was in that job for three seasons and amassed a 96-87-25 record with one playoff appearance before being fired in 2021. The Rangers were rebuilding and ended up getting the No. 2 pick in 2019 and No. 1 pick in 2020, so his tenure wasn't a complete failure. He also deserves some credit for helping develop a Rangers team that is currently two wins away from eliminating the Lightning and reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

Another positive for Quinn is his relationship with two important Bruins defensemen -- Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk. Quinn was the BU head coach for both of McAvoy's collegiate seasons in 2015-16 and 2016-17. He also was behind the bench for the last three years of Grzelcyk's tenure with the Terriers. 

Quinn is going to get another shot at being an NHL head coach at some point. It wouldn't be shocking if that happened in Boston.

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Nate Leaman

Leaman is the second college head coach on this list, and he's probably a more likely candidate than Donato.

He is among the most respected coaches in college hockey. In 11 seasons as Providence Friars head coach, Leaman has compiled a 220-133-51 record with six NCAA Tournament appearances and two Frozen Four trips, including a 2015 national championship.

Leaman doesn't have any NHL coaching experience, but he has consistently produced strong results at Providence (10 winning seasons in 11 years) and enjoyed international success by leading Team USA to the gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships. 

There's no doubt Leaman is ready to take the next step and become an NHL head coach. The Bruins would be smart to give him his first chance.