Red Wings Should Pursue Bruce Cassidy for Head Coach Vacancy

The Hockey Writers

It has been over month since the Detroit Red Wings announced that they were moving on from head coach Jeff Blashill on the first day of their offseason. Since that day, speculation has run rampant about who the Red Wings could and should target as their next head coach. Everyone from household names like John Tortorella to relative unknowns such as Ryan Warsofsky have been mentioned, and when the New York Islanders announced they were moving on from renowned coach Barry Trotz, it seemed like this year’s crop of free agent coaches was the deepest group we’ve seen in quite some time.

Related: The Grind Line: Naming the Red Wings’ Next Head Coach

Then on Monday, June 6, the Boston Bruins sent a shockwave across the NHL.

The move to let go of coach Bruce Cassidy came after the Bruins fell to the Carolina Hurricanes in their opening round series that went to seven games. With an aging core and remarks from general manager (GM) Don Sweeney about how his team needed to be coached differently next season, expectations clearly were not met this season, despite the Bruins finishing with the 10th-best record in the NHL and the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Now the 2020 Jack Adams Award winner as the league’s top coach is a free agent and looking for a new place to call home.

Cassidy should be expecting to hear from the Red Wings.

Cassidy is a Demanding, Detail-Oriented Coach

In Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s remarks to the media at the end of the season, he revealed that the team’s goals-against numbers were simply too high for him to consider retaining Blashill as head coach.

“Fundamentally, with and without the puck, we had regressed,” Yzerman said. “Jeff and I…have discussed this: we have struggled defensively. We have been unable…to play, both individually and collectively, a sounder defensive game.”

To Yzerman’s point, the Red Wings finished this season with 312 goals-against, a rate of 3.8 goals-against per game. While their goalscoring totals were up, their defensive play regressed in a big way despite adding Calder Trophy nominee Moritz Seider on the back end. With defensive prospects such as Simon Edvinsson and Albert Johansson coming up the pipeline, it only makes sense that Yzerman would want to see his team start to make real progress towards becoming an elite defensive team.

To that point, Cassidy’s Bruins teams were routinely among the very best defensive teams in the league during his tenure.

Bruins 5v5 expected goals against ranking in Cassidy’s tenure:
2017-18: 2nd
2018-19: 2nd
2019-20: 1st
2020-21: 3rd
2021-22: 1st

While it is undebatable that the Bruins have had a better group of players than the Red Wings since 2017, there is something to be said for securing the kind of results you would expect from the group the Bruins have. Under Cassidy, Patrice Bergeron was a finalist for the Selke Trophy every single season (he won the award this season), Brad Marchand became a dominant two-way forward on Bergeron’s wing, and defenseman Charlie McAvoy has become a true top-pairing defenseman capable of logging big-time minutes for his team. Cassidy made sure that everybody on the Bruins’ roster bought-in defensively, and that’s a big reason why they were able to mitigate danger in their own zone and push the puck in the right direction.

Cassidy is known as a demanding coach, but that is almost always necessary to produce the best results. The Bruins’ best players over the last six years have been the ones that make an impact at both ends of the ice; under Cassidy, that was a lot more than just two or three players. And for what it’s worth, you don’t have to look too far to find a number of people that will attest to his qualities as a human being; he may have high-standards for his players on the ice, but he’s no bully, and he’s just as gracious with people outside of the sport as he is with the people he coaches.

Cassidy Brings Winning Pedigree

With all due respect to Blashill, as well as any first-time head coaches, a first-time head coach rarely commands the kind of respect that a proven winner can. To build up that kind of prestige, a coach has to win, win again, and then win a few more times before they earn the reputation of a “proven winner.” While Cassidy has never won the Stanley Cup, his NHL résumé does feature seven winning seasons (six with Boston, one with the Washington Capitals), a Jack Adams Award, and an Eastern Conference championship which sent the Bruins to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Overall, he boasts a record through eight seasons of 292-155-9-53 (the nine in his record notes the amount of ties he has as a coach – yes, he coached back when the NHL allowed games to end in a tie.)

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins
Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Red Wings have not had that kind of pedigree behind the bench since the days of Mike Babcock, and even he did not arrive in Detroit with that kind of pedigree. For any team that hires Cassidy, their players will almost undoubtedly buy-in to what he’s selling as he’s got a track record of winning. For a team like the Red Wings that hasn’t had a winning season since 2016, a coach’s ability to produce winning seasons has to be at or near the top of their criteria for hiring a new coach.

While the Red Wings are still rebuilding, they do seem to be entering the next phase of it. They have a true top-pairing defenseman in Seider, they added a top-line winger in 2020 draftee Lucas Raymond, and with players on-hand such as Dylan Larkin, Jakub Vrana and Alex Nedeljkovic, the Red Wings are starting to put together a team that is capable of skating with any team in the NHL. There are still plenty of prospects on the way, and the team’s overall development is still far from over, though. If there’s one lesson to take from this season versus the 2019-20 season, it’s that development happens a lot faster in a winning environment. Bringing in a coach that can foster that kind of environment not just for the sake of making the playoffs, but also to further the development of the team’s key players is of paramount importance.

And if you’re not convinced that Cassidy is the right coach to develop the Red Wings’ young players, consider that McAvoy and David Pastrnak have both become top players at their respective positions under Cassidy’s watch. Furthermore, Cassidy has a history of being in developmental roles, going back to his days with the Grand Rapids Griffins from 2000 to 2002. A quick fun fact to add here is that his .642 win-percentage through 162 games with the Griffins is still the best mark in franchise history.

Cassidy Deserves a Second Chance

You don’t have to scroll around on Bruins Twitter or any other social media platform to find out what the consensus feeling is about this move for Boston:

Bruins firing Cassidy is a choice. Don’t think it’s the right one. I just hope wherever Cassidy lands, he gets more respect from management than what he’s gotten from the Bruins in recent weeks.

From their perspective, this isn’t a “don’t let the door hit you…” moment, this is a “this wouldn’t happen if it were up to me” moment. The Bruins have a talented roster, but their flaws are not/were not about how they’re coached. The general chatter seems to be that this move is a GM making the coach the scapegoat for mistakes that the GM made himself. It’s worth noting, too, that Cassidy is now the second Jack Adams-winning coach Sweeney has moved on from.

Related: Bruins’ Retaining Don Sweeney Would Have Positives & Negatives

In an offseason where teams in search of a head coach have all sorts of high-quality candidates to choose from, Cassidy may have just become the best one available. He will be unemployed for as long as he wants to be as I expect every team in need of a head coach to reach out to him. From there, it’s up to him to determine what’s the best fit for him and his family.

While the Red Wings may not be contenders like Cassidy’s former team, they are an up and coming team that also happens to be in the division as the Bruins. Considering word has it that he did not take the news of his firing well, he might relish the opportunity to have a hand in the Bruins’ eventual downfall. He’s a proven winner, and he’s already familiar with life in the state of Michigan.

If Cassidy is not at or near the top of the Red Wings’ list of targets for their head coaching spot, he should be.

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