Bruce Cassidy

David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – David Backes enters into Bruins training camp this season with the highest level of uncertainty since he signed on with the Black and Gold more than three years ago.

The 35-year-old produced career lows with his seven goals and 20 points in 70 games and then was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his old St. Louis Blues team after some good moments in Boston’s postseason run. There was speculation he could be bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer and certainly, the Bruins would have traded Backes and his contract if they could have made it work.

There were also questions about Backes’ health after the Bruins made mention of a nagging issue this summer that was never fully explained, and led to questions as to whether he’d even be healthy for camp.

Still, Backes was never asked to waive his limited no-trade protection and No. 42 is here at camp and on the ice banging bodies and working his way through drills. It’s exactly what the B’s power forward intends to do while facing some stiff competition at right wing with Brett Ritchie brought in to basically fill the same NHL job description.

“[The offseason workout program] was as intense as it’s ever been. I’m looking forward to going out there and playing hockey this year,” said Backes, who has skated on the right wing with Sean Kuraly and Anton Blidh in the first two days of camp. “I channeled some of [last season’s frustration], I festered some of it away and let it motivate me and I can focus some on what I can do as an athlete having a great summer so I can do what I do best, which is to play the game.

“I don’t worry about other decisions that I don’t get to make and that are out of my control. What’s in my control is each shift, each play and each moment. That’s what I’m going to focus on all year. That moment and that drill will be my focus, and decisions out of my control will be made. It’s balls to the wall starting with the first drill of practice and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got until they tell that I’m done playing. That’s the way I’ve always been.”

So, what might happen to Backes?

He certainly could wind up in the AHL with Providence if he’s caught in a numbers game in Boston and shows that he simply can’t keep up with the pace of the NHL game anymore. There were moments where that seemed to be the case last season, but Backes will get a chance to show he can still play and further fill his role late last season when he dropped the gloves a little more often to protect his teammates.

That’s essentially what Bruce Cassidy wants to see out of Backes in camp, and it may be enough to keep him up with Boston given his leadership, toughness and the wide respect he garners in the dressing room.

“We had a conversation over the summer, a little bit [about] how the year ended. I don’t think we wanted to do it two days after Game 7. I think we were all a little bit raw for obvious reasons. We talked a little bit about my decision,” said Cassidy. “I thought [Karson Kuhlman] added a little more pep to our game and a different element than David, right or wrong. We revisited a little bit of what he could do to stay in the lineup this year and what’s ahead.

“It’s hard to predict what’s ahead. [Par] Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, they’re going to compete. Ritchie happens to play the same position as Backes. We’ll see what kind of advances Kuhlman has made. So, the message to David was ‘there’s competition on that side of the ice, but if he gets back to the level we feel he can get to, then he’ll have a spot.’ How much ice he gets from there? That’s going to depend on the growth of some players and the chemistry involved.”

There’s a great deal of unknown with Backes at this point based on the new faces he’s competing with and based on exactly what he can show at 35 at this stage of his career. It’s certainly not his fault that he’s taking up a $6 million salary-cap hit on a team that’s scraping for space to sign Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

What is up to Backes is his willingness to do whatever it takes to hold on to his NHL gig with a 6-foot-3, 215-pound body that’s starting to show signs of age and wear after nearly 1,000 games in an excellent career in St. Louis and Boston.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Bruce Cassidy earned his job security, and now it's just about winning

Bruce Cassidy earned his job security, and now it's just about winning

Bruce Cassidy was quick to credit the players for the multi-year contract extension he was awarded on Wednesday morning, and in doing so showed the modesty, interpersonal skills and intelligence that have helped make him a successful hockey coach at the NHL level. And of course Bruins players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Torey Krug among others deserve a share of the credit that the B’s have enjoyed over the last three seasons.

“I think it’s a good marriage, I think it’s worked well for both sides, so for me, it’s where I wanted to be. So [getting a new deal done] was easy in that regard,” said Cassidy. “I want to thank the staff as well. I think we have great chemistry together, and they provide a lot of support for me and do a great job with the players.

“Most importantly, I want to thank the players. They’ve responded well, we’ve earned each other’s respect, and it allows us to go forward here and reach our ultimate goal.”

But by signing him to a deal that’s reportedly going to pay him around $3 million per season for another three years after his current deal runs out after this season, the Bruins were also showing that Cassidy himself is one of the Black and Gold’s most coveted assets. Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak score the goals, Rask makes the saves and Chara shuts them down on defense, but it’s Cassidy that pumped the wins and playoff appearances back into the picture after replacing Claude Julien midway through the 2016-17 season.

Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have become perennial 30-goal scorers under Cassidy, and the Bruins now have point-per-game players when that was pretty much an impossibility under the offensively conservative Julien. All of that scoring and offense has married well with today’s NHL that’s all about speed, special teams and skill, at least during the regular season anyway.

Cassidy is 117-52-22 (.670 winning percentage) in 191 games behind the B’s bench and has now won four playoff series in his three postseason runs with the Black and Gold. Obviously Cassidy and the Bruins still have some unfinished business after falling short in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final just a couple of months ago versus the St. Louis Blues.

All Game 7 bitterness aside, Cassidy has been able to develop young players, adjust brilliantly within the game, alter strategies when different lineups call for and, perhaps most importantly, keep the attention of the players inside the Bruins dressing room. In other words, Cassidy has been the perfect fit with the Bruins bringing out the best offensively while keeping up the good defensive habits developed by Julien over the previous 10 years.

As Sweeney said during the Cassidy presser, his head coach “earned” the new contract and then some.

“It’s not about people deserving things — he’s earned the right to lead this club and this doesn’t start from two years ago, it starts from a number of years ago, where I got to know Bruce really well, working with him [in Providence]. And to me, those translate into a lot of the ideals he has as a coach, in an everyday approach. During the game, [he’s a] really good bench coach to know who’s playing and who’s not. He continues to evolve, continues to be quick on the trigger and move guys around versus have guys to have patience.

“He’s got a good pulse of room, to allow veterans to do what they do, but also govern what he needs to. [He] sets up the ideals of the hockey club each and every night, knows what the expectations are, starts on time and has success and hold them to a standard each day. Can be very critical at home, we’ve had this discussion in terms of how that’s going to be received by players. But then the next day that turns right into a teaching opportunity and moving forward to the next day. I think that’s what players can identify with, realizing their opportunity is still going to be there.”

Certainly Cassidy has already made his imprint as an excellent Bruins head coach and he ranks up there with the other big three coaches (Bill Belichick, Brad Stevens and Alex Cora) in terms of accomplishments, innovation and success since taking over in Boston. Sweeney is totally correct that Cassidy has earned the money, earned the term and earned the job security to keep things going with the Bruins after a lot of winning over the last three seasons.

But now the job also becomes tougher. With a bigger contract and a run to the Stanley Cup Final, the expectations are higher for Cassidy and the B’s moving forward this season. The head coach still needs to show he can do whatever it takes to get his team over the hump after they fell flat in Game 7 last June.

That is Cassidy’s challenge now that he’s proven to be one of the NHL’s best behind the bench and he’s been rewarded accordingly. Now it’s about creating a legacy with the Black and Gold, and that’s where Cassidy and his players find themselves with the shockwaves from the Cup Final still fresh in everybody’s mind these days.

Sweeney: Carlo, McAvoy contracts still "works in progress">>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Bruins sign head coach Bruce Cassidy to multi-year contract extension

Bruins sign head coach Bruce Cassidy to multi-year contract extension

The Boston Bruins have locked up at least one important part of their future.

The Bruins have signed head coach Bruce Cassidy to a multi-year contract extension, the team announced Wednesday morning.

The length and terms of the contract weren't disclosed, but Cassidy's extension had been a long time coming, as team president Cam Neely told our Joe Haggerty in August the sides had already begun contract negotiations.

Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reports that the deal will pay Cassidy about $3 million a year.

Cassidy is entering his third full season as Bruins head coach since taking over for Claude Julien midway through the 2016-17 campaign. He's enjoyed a very successful tenure, leading Boston to 112 points in 2017-18 and taking the B's to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

The 54-year-old currently owns the fourth-best winning percentage in team history at .670 after going 117-52-22 to date.

The Bruins' open their preseason next Monday at the New Jersey Devils.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.