By: Theo Lander | Follow me on Twitter @lander_theo
As a result of their abrupt first-round playoff exit, the Bruins brass felt the need to address the team’s coaching situation. In an unpopular move among fans, the team fired head coach Bruce Cassidy after five full seasons as head coach.
Outrage ensued across the fanbase, as fans generally felt that Cassidy was not to blame for the team’s shortcomings. After all, the product that the Bruins put out on the ice was an incomplete roster that lacked the proper depth of talent. Despite this, Cassidy led this team to their sixth straight playoff appearance, picking up over 50 wins. The Bruins then took the winningest team in the 2022 regular season to game seven in the first round and only lost by one goal in enemy territory.
What I think often gets lost among the fan base is the actual impact a coach has on the team. Everything I stated in the paragraph above is true, but if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot simply attribute that success solely to Cassidy. In reality, the brunt of an NHL head coach’s work is done behind closed doors. The media does not see what happens in the locker room or team meetings.
They have a limited perspective on what happens at practices and receive a polished synopsis of the team’s inner workings at media scrums. A large amount of reporting does stem from sources close to the team, but even those cannot always be taken at face value. Since this is the case, I typically push back on those who are so quick to judge how well or how poorly a coach has done their job with any given team. The reality is that most people have no clue what the truth of the situation is.
It is worth mentioning the rumors that Bruce Cassidy “lost the locker room.” I want to reiterate that these are rumors and have not been confirmed, but when it comes from multiple sources that players on the team “really hated him,” I think we have to admit at least there is a possibility that he did lose the room to a degree.
Regardless, Bruce Cassidy is no longer the head coach of the Boston Bruins, whether we like it or not. The team has shifted its focus to filling the void left by this firing by immediately searching for a new head coach. On July 1st, GM Don Sweeney announced that Jim Montgomery had been hired to be the new head coach of the Boston Bruins. Montgomery previously served as the head coach for the Dallas Stars from 2018-2020 before his most recent stint as a St. Louis Blues assistant coach from 2020-2022.
It would appear that fans of the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues had a lot of good things to say about Montgomery and his tenure with both teams. Just look at the responses and quote tweets to the initial report from Barstool Sports’ Matt Murley:
You’ll also find that Montgomery was relieved of his duties as the Star’s head coach in 2019 due to reasons unrelated to hockey. Pierre Lebrun has an excellent piece about his recovery and hardships through that time which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about Montgomery. He very clearly has grown since then from an outsider’s perspective.
Now that the dust has settled and the emotions surrounding Cassidy’s firing and Don Sweeney’s extension are no longer raw, let’s look at how Montgomery may impact this team.
Montgomery was responsible for overseeing the special teams units in his most recent role as a St. Louis Blues assistant coach. During those two seasons, the Blues were statistically the second-best powerplay team (25.5%) and the 10th-best penalty-killing team (81.3%). This theoretically addresses a need for the Bruins as they had the 15th best powerplay unit in the league last year (21.2%). It is also worth noting that their penalty-killing unit ranked ninth last year at 81.3%, which is not exactly an Achille’s heel for this team but can be improved upon.
Montgomery also has a specific process that he holds close to his overall coaching philosophies, according to his article on ‘The Coaches Site.’ He believes his teams should focus on seven main objectives throughout a game. They are as follows:
1. 50 hits in a game
2. Win 60 percent of our face-offs
3. Give up three or less odd-man rushes
4. Commit to blocking shots
5. Win the special teams battle
6. Win the net-front battle
7. Take zero undisciplined penalties
Montgomery also stated that the focus on these objectives is what he believes allows for players to remain present in big moments:
“It helps with the mental component, too—when moments get big, we talk about staying in the moment and focusing on our process.”
For those who may be wondering how he connects with the players since that seemed to be a point of contention for Cassidy, it would appear that he does well in that department. An anonymous source identified as a former Bruin and current NHL player told The Providence Journal, “Jim Montgomery is a great coach and even better person. The guys will love playing for him, and he will make this team a contender.” In Don Sweeney’s official announcement of Montgomery’s hiring, he mentioned, “throughout the interview process, he conveyed his ability to connect with all players while also demanding that his teams play with structure.”
Above all else, Montgomery has been a certified winner at many stages throughout his career. He is a former NCAA coach of the year NCAA champion, a two-time USHL champion, and has never missed the playoffs during his NHL coaching career.
In conclusion, it would appear that Jim Montgomery is a solid choice as the new head coach for the Boston Bruins. He has a strong history of success at multiple levels, a reputation for connecting with his players, and a working philosophy regarding special teams and overall success. Despite what you may think about Cassidy’s exit, Jim Montgomery seems to be an appropriate replacement for this team.
Bruins fans also must have some patience at the start of this season, as key players Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Mike Reilly will be missing from the lineup at the beginning of the season due to their off-season surgeries.