To conclude our three-part series reviewing the Bruins’ 2016-17 season, the Bruins Daily staff give their assessments to head coach Bruce Cassidy, GM Don Sweeney and President Cam Neely. Be sure to follow Bruins Daily all off-season long (including on Facebook and Twitter) for more developments surrounding the Black and Gold.
It was shaping up to be another year without playoff hockey in Boston. Instead, a late-season coaching change from the Bruins’ all-time winningest coach in Claude Julien to former Providence Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy proved to be one of the best moves over the last few seasons as the Black and Gold finally returned to the playoffs.
Today, in Part 3 of our year-end report cards, our esteemed Bruins Daily panel of Bob Snow, Anthony Travalgia and your’s truly highlight the year that was for Cassidy, Sweeney and Neely.
Bruce Cassidy (Anthony Travalgia)
The players didn’t change, but the play on the ice did. Some may say it was because of the wake-up call the players got when Claude Julien was fired. Some may say it was the changes installed by then interim head coach Bruce Cassidy that made the difference. The lifting of Cassidy’s “interim” tag shows that the Bruins management thinks it was the later.
So do I.
The Bruins were a much better team under Cassidy and a much more entertaining one as well. That was evident as Cassidy helped the Bruins return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. When Cassidy was hired as the team’s interim coach, he didn’t completely overhaul the system that was in place and left by Julien. Instead, he added a bit of his own flavor and tweaked that. The team bought in and overall played very well under Cassidy.
Now that we know that management has confidence in Cassidy, it’s time to see what he does with a young team in his first full season behind the Bruins’ bench. If Cassidy’s brief stint was any indication of what is to come, the road ahead for the Bruins is a bright one.
Don Sweeney (Tim Rosenthal)
To say that Sweeney had a pretty rough first season in his promotion from assistant to full-time GM is an understatement.
Though Sweeney made some pretty decent trades in sending Milan Lucic to Los Angeles for the Kings’ first round pick and acquiring a first-rounder the following year and Sean Kuraly from San Jose for Martin Jones (who was part of the Lucic trade), other moves like trading for Zac Rinaldo and Jimmy Hayes and signing Matt Beleskey left many Bruins fans scratching their heads. Couple that with the trade deadline acquisitions of Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles to round out a tough Year 1 for the former B’s defenseman and Harvard alum.
Much of the same was expected in Year 2 of the Sweeney regime. The signing of David Backes to a five-year, $30 million contract at age 32 and not being able to add some much-needed help to the blue-line once again left many Bruins fans pondering over Sweeney’s vision of the Black and Gold.
But Year 2 proved to be much better than Year 1 – and not just because of a postseason appearance. From the development of Brandon Carlo and inserting Charlie McAvoy into the playoffs – and drafting him 14th overall last summer – to inking Brad Marchand to an eight-year contract extension worth a little more than $6 million per year and acquiring Drew Stafford at the trade deadline for next to nothing, Sweeney’s roster building started to improve in his sophomore campaign.
His biggest personnel decision came the day of the Patriots’ fifth Super Bowl parade through the City of Boston. At a time of celebrating yet another sports title, the firing of Claude Julien after 10 years at the helm was indeed a public relations nightmare. This negative circumstance, however, turned into a positive with the promotion of Cassidy to interim head coach and later full-time head coach following their first round series against the Senators.
The development of the Bruins prospects in the first two years of the regime is proof that the scouting system is starting to pay off under Sweeney. Though, in order to take another step forward in 2017-18, the soon to be third-year B’s GM will have to fill a couple of needs in a top-six left winger and top-four left shot defenseman. Whether he looks for outside help or tries to promote from within is anyone’s guess, but there’s no denying that this off-season is Sweeney’s most important one to date.
Cam Neely (Bob Snow)
On July 16, 2010, owner Jeremy Jacobs named the consummate Bruin since Bobby Orr the new president of the organization.
All Neely did his first season was to win the Stanley Cup, but in the shadows of Peter Chiarelli as the figurehead.
A year ago at the last press conference of the brass, CEO Charlie Jacobs was asked who the product on the ice is a reflection of. “I say without question this is Cam [Neely].”
That hasn’t changed – and won’t for a long time. The boo birds and rumor mongers were looking for Sweeney and Neely’s hides on many occasions in 2016-17.
That’s not going to happen for a long time.
“Change for the sake of changing, as you know, is not an intelligent move,” owner Jeremy Jacobs said about decision-making in pro sports during management’s year-end press conference back on May 2.
Neely prevailed in the Peter Chiarelli power plays – getting his man in Sweeney. Then prevailed in the Julien power plays – getting his man in Cassidy. The team barely made the playoffs but making it was crucial to Neely’s personal resume as team President.
As written before about Neely: It’s a long and winding path from the Bruins bench to the management box. A long and winding learning curve in Level 9 for the quintessential power forward who probably thought a hundred times a game: Just give me three shifts and I can help these guys win this one.
Neely has come full circle from that lead player to now lead manager.
“Anytime you’re a first time GM,” Neely said about Sweeney, “there’s growing pains and learning experiences that you go through. I don’t care what job you’re taking on in any professional sports.”
That’s Neely also talking about Neely.
“The overall package for me, with Don,” he said, “I think he’s done a really good job of directing certain people in the organization to what we’re looking for. Where the team is right now and where it looks to be going, I think the future is bright.”
Neely and Sweeney have done a good job of directing each other. In the pecking order of power, Neely is now in full charge of that future.