Bruins

Cassidy's experience and approach are big reasons for Bruins' Cup run

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Cassidy's experience and approach are big reasons for Bruins' Cup run

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy would be the first to tell anybody that he’s learned plenty of lessons since he was the youngest head coach in the NHL at 37 years old way back in 2002-03 with the Washington Capitals.

He was way too fixated on hockey 24/7 back then, way too hard on his players without letting up and understandably was a little intimidated as an inexperienced head coach in charge of a legendary Hall of Famer like Jaromir Jagr. A steady diet of AHL buses for 13 years in between NHL gigs gave Cassidy plenty of time to think about how he’d do things differently if he ever got the chance again, and maturity and a family of his own made him realize that there’s a balance to achieve between hockey and life away from the hockey rink.

“Mine was a long time, so the one thing I’ve learned is that I’m a lot more comfortable in my own skin now than I was then,” said Cassidy, when asked about his early days with the Capitals. “I was young and I really had no NHL experience. I was just up in Chicago for bits and pieces [as a player], so you walk into an NHL locker room and there was still a little bit of that awe when you see [Jaromir] Jagr and [Sergei] Gonchar and guys that have been around. So it took me a little while to be comfortable going in there and saying this is what we’re doing today, and still have that confidence to be a good communicator while you’re doing it.

“So I think over the years I’ve learned to sort of have that mentality a little more, and when you’re around the game for 15 more years you’re going to learn stuff. There are different ways to communicate, different ways to see the game, how to delegate, how to use your staff and how to use your top-end players to keep them healthy and going for that common goal. I think that’s the big difference. A lot of newness back then and now there’s a lot more experience at this level.”

Cassidy went on to credit the current Bruins leadership group as “second-to-none” and that’s also a big difference from his dark days with Washington almost 20 years ago.  

Cassidy’s humble attitude and self-awareness are what he’s proven to be all about while putting together a 117-52-22 record in his three seasons behind the Bruins bench after replacing Claude Julien, and his ability to make adjustments, manage personalities and get the most out of what he’s got have been hallmarks of three playoff-worthy hockey teams in that time. Cassidy is prepared, he’s candid about his hockey team and he has consistently over-delivered with the amount of blended talent on the Bruins roster.

That’s why the idiotic, clearly personal attack on him last week by Bates Battaglia on a Spittin’ Chiclets podcast was particularly annoying. Battaglia, a former Carolina Hurricanes player still employed by the Canes as a consultant, decided to go on the hockey podcast while the Bruins/Hurricanes series was still going on, and badmouth the Bruins coach while disingenuously pretending like he didn’t know that Cassidy was the head coach for the team that the Hurricanes were playing in the Eastern Conference Final.

“Oh yeah, piece of [expletive]," said Battaglia, who played for Cassidy during his brief stint with the Capitals. "Tip to tail. Never liked that guy. I don’t know how he is still a coach. It boggles my mind. I honestly didn’t even know he was still coaching. I randomly saw a highlight… as you can I tell I don’t follow a whole lot, I watch some but I’m not a diehard... but I saw him on the screen and I couldn’t believe it.

“It just shows how good Boston is, that they’re playing despite him. [He was] unprepared. Never knew what we were doing. [He was] just unorganized. Maybe things have changed. I hope they have. But that was not my bread and butter there with him."

All the while insisting that Cassidy wasn’t ever prepared as an NHL head coach, Battaglia essentially said he wasn’t prepared for the podcast because he doesn’t watch that much hockey, while his LinkedIn profile clearly states he works for the Hurricanes. Certainly the Barstool Sports hockey podcast is free to use whomever they want on the air, but the only reason the eminently forgettable Battaglia was noteworthy on a podcast in any way, shape or form was for ripping a highly respected NHL head coach in Cassidy.

So what did we learn from all of this?

As per usual, it’s about judging what’s said about somebody from the source that it’s coming from. In this instance, Battaglia showed he was actually more worthy of the vitriolic words he was using to paint the Bruins bench boss. And Cassidy once again took the high road, answered things honestly when asked and has proven over the last three seasons that he learned well from his first head coaching experience much like a football guy named Bill Belichick did when he was first in charge of the Cleveland Browns.

The bottom line is that Cassidy is a major reason why the Bruins turned things around after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for two straight seasons with the same veteran core that’s now back in the Stanley Cup Final. No amount of crap-talking NHL has-beens looking to settle scores is going to change that for people who are actually paying attention to the special thing that Cassidy has helped to build in Boston with his Black and Golden second chance. 

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Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

Could the Bruins have been players in the Lucic trade talks?

The Edmonton Oilers were finally able to move a difficult contract this weekend when they shipped Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames for James Neal in a rare trade between Battle of Alberta rivals.

Calgary also received a conditional third-round pick in 2020 along with the Oilers retaining 12.5 percent of the remainder of Lucic’s contract, which will see him at a $5.25 million cap hit with the Flames for the next four seasons. The Oilers are rid of the Lucic contract, but they’re still on the hook for four years of Neal, 31, at $5.75 million after he, too, showed serious signs of decline last season with the Flames.

These are the kinds of “no real winner” trades that the Bruins would have to engage in if they wanted to move 35-year-old David Backes in the final years of his contract. Sure, the Backes contract has never been good value and it became something else last season when the power forward’s production dropped to just seven goals and 20 points in 70 games amid concussion issues on top of decreased production.

Lucic, 31, had similar numbers last season with six goals and 20 points in 79 games with the Oilers, and it’s been clear for a couple of seasons that his best days are behind him as one of the NHL’s premier power forwards. The argument could be made, though, that those heavy skating legs might have been energized a bit by a return to Boston and certainly his fighting, snarling game is a little more in line with what the B’s need to protect some of their younger players these days.

Could the Bruins have engineered a similar trade involving Backes with the Oilers to get Lucic back at $5.25 million with Edmonton retaining some salary thus saving the B's almost $1 million cap space the next couple of seasons?

Absolutely.

The question becomes whether it would have been worth it to take on a couple more years of Lucic when Backes is going to be finishing up his deal two seasons from now and becomes a prime buyout candidate at this time next year.

This is why it’s become almost impossible to move Backes. It’s going to be very difficult to find a deal for another problem contract where the B’s aren’t inheriting more years indebted to the player coming back in a trade. Or it’s going to take a first-round pick sweetener for another team to accept the Backes contract along with Boston potentially picking up some of the money.

One of the few remaining players out there the Bruins could potentially swap bad contracts for is old friend Loui Eriksson with the Vancouver. It was Backes who the B’s signed when Eriksson walked in free agency, and the 34-year-old Swedish winger hasn’t come close to repeating his final Boston season while with the Canucks.

Eriksson had 11 goals and 29 points in 81 games for Vancouver last season and has been pretty consistent while averaging 10 goals and 25 points in his three underperforming seasons with the Canucks. Again, though, the Bruins would be taking on one additional season at the $6 million cap hit in 2021-22 if they were to do an even swap of Backes-for-Eriksson if both teams signed off on the one-for-one trade.

Even that doesn’t make sound business sense for the Black and Gold if they can just squeeze one more season of productivity out of Backes as a bottom-six winger willing to stand up for his teammates and show leadership.

What does all of this mean?

It means the Bruins aren’t going to find many, if any, realistic trade scenarios with Backes that are going to help their bottom line on the salary cap. They may just need to make the best out of one more season with No. 42 and then revisit things again next summer when there could be a few more options at their disposal.

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Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

Young, promising Kyle Keyser prepares to enter Bruins goaltending picture

He might not have quite the cachet of Jack Studnicka or Jakub Lauko as an uber-prospect for the Bruins. Just by virtue of not being drafted or playing forward, young goaltender Kyle Keyser is more of a blip on the radar screen as another young B’s player headed into a key developmental year with the organization.

Keyser, like Studnicka and Lauko, didn’t take part in the on-ice portion of this summer’s development camp and only played in a single regular-season game for the Providence Bruins in the AHL at the end of this past season. That came after Keyser, 20, posted a .915 save percentage and 2.75 goals-against average in his final regular season with the Oshawa Generals and preceded a run for the young goalie as part of the Black Aces in this spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

“The playoff time in Oshawa was something truly awesome to experience,” said Keyser, who posted a sterling .925 save percentage in Oshawa’s 15-game run through the Memorial Cup playoffs. “Being with those guys in my first long playoff run and the camaraderie of being in a group playing for one another was something special. It was great to be around.”

It’s also something for Keyser to build on as he enters the first season of a three-year, entry-level contract signed with Boston back in Oct. 2017 after the 6-foot-2, 180-pound goalie from Coral Springs, Fla., took part in B’s development camp as a free-agent prospect.

Now is an exceedingly interesting time for the young puck-stopper as the Bruins boasted one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL last season in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Certainly, it was educational for Keyser to get an up-front seat to the way Rask performed while helping bring the B’s all the way to Game 7 of the Cup Final with a brilliant couple of months in the postseason.

It’s very likely that will be the same NHL tandem for Boston again this year with Rask and Halak signed for next year and Rask signed for another season at $7 million afterward.

“Being here at the end of the season and being around these guys at playoff time was incredible,” said Keyser, who has essentially been a Black Ace practice goalie with the Bruins in each of their last two postseasons. “Being at the Garden for every game and seeing the atmosphere gives you chills whether it was the first game or the last one.

“Watching Tuukka every single game, everybody saw the performance he put up in the playoffs. Just learning from every single minute with him and watching him as closely as possible, it was an incredible experience. It was probably one of the best goaltending performances that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, and maybe of all time. To witness that in person was something special. You don’t take that for granted.”

One thing not under debate: The role of “goalie of the future” in the Bruins organization is completely up for grabs headed into this season and Keyser will be in that mix.

Certainly, Keyser and Daniel Vladar, 21, will both be competing to be that guy in the AHL next season with free-agent signee Max Lagace around as the veteran mentor. The 6-5 Vladar, coming off a disappointing year where he posted an .898 save percentage in his first full AHL season, is entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Black and Gold.

There’s also Jeremy Swayman further down the organizational depth chart while still in development as the No. 1 goalie for the University of Maine, but he’s years away from potentially pushing into the NHL picture.

All three will get a chance to show they might be worthy of being Rask’s backup in 2020-21 when Halak has presumably moved on, and the B’s are getting much closer to deciding on Tuukka’s future in Boston.

It’s going to be Keyser’s time to step up and push into the Bruins' organizational picture and show that there’s a potential young option for Boston should injuries, or something else, create an NHL goaltending opening. It’s doubtful there would be any kind of scenario, other than injury, that would create a goalie need in Boston this season, but one can’t rule anything out in the long-term future given Boston’s tight salary-cap situation.

It’s the exact kind of opportunity that Keyser is hoping to run with as he enters his first full pro season with the B’s organization.

“To get with the strength and conditioning guys and with the nutrition [staff] is great any time of year, but even more now in the summer when you’re trying to get stronger,” said Keyser. “You’re trying to get stronger and put yourself in the best position to succeed next year. I want to make sure I’m doing everything to make sure I’m fresh and ready to go when next season starts.”

It will be a gigantic, first impression-type season for Keyser next year. Getting through development camp last month was one of the hurdles in getting ready to seize the moment, but there’s a long way to go for Keyser and the rest of Boston’s young goalie crew.

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