Bruins Struggling Through Sophomore Slump

 

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By: Jamie Gatlin     | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Last season the Bruins were successful in large part because of how their rookies performed. So far this year things have not gone as smoothly. Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Anders Bjork have combined for only four goals through the Bruins first 13 games. Ryan Donato who burst onto the scene late last season was sent down to Providence after recording one goal in eleven games. This has put pressure on Bruins management to a make move. Regardless of any changes, this team makes getting their young players back on track is key to this teams success.

Of these three DeBrusk had the highest expectations coming into the season. As a rookie, he had 16 goals but shined in the playoffs. His two goals in the Game seven against Toronto propelled the Bruins to the second round. His gritty style of play made him a fan favorite as did his scoring ability. So far this season he has yet to find his scoring touch as he only has 3 goals in 13 games. He is a key piece to the Bruins second line and showed last year he could be an impactful top six forward.

While DeBrusk has struggled Heinen, has virtually been non- existent. The Bruins forward was impressive in his rookie season finishing fifth on the team in points. In 12 games this season he has only three assists and has yet to record a goal. His 14 shots on goal are far behind his total at this point last season. He is not a thirty point scorer however he does create opportunities for his teammates. So far this season Heinen has been unable to do that on a consistent basis. He made the Bruins third line a strength last season and will to do the same going forward.

Unlike his fellow teammates, Bjork has yet to see anytime in the Bruins top six this season. He has only two points in 12 games but has been more effective of late. Against Dallas Bjork appeared to have his second goal of the season before a quick whistle caused it to be overturned. Although he is known for his speed Bjork, showed grit by battling for the rebound. Each game Bjork has improved after shoulder surgery ended his season last year.

If the Bruins are to be successful this season, they will need all three to step up. They currently are third in the Eastern Conference and are coming off one of their best games this season against Dallas. It has, however, been five games since someone not on their top line has scored. The Bruins cannot be carried by their top line all year and expect to repeat last seasons success. For these three it’s only a matter of time as their slumps will not last all season.

In order to solve their scoring woes, the Bruins will need to make changes. One name they have been linked to is Artemi Panarin. He would not come cheap as the Bruins would most likely need to part with one or two of these players. While the move would certainly be an upgrade, the Bruins would rather see these players succeed. How these players perform will dictate just how far this team goes.

Grzelcyk Enjoying Solid Start To 2018-2019 For Bruins

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By: Jamie Gatlin   | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Throughout the course of a season, every team faces adversity in a variety of ways. For the Bruins, their depth has already been tested. Both Charlie McAvoy and veteran defenseman Kevin Miller are currently on the injured reserve. Torey Krug missed the first eleven games of the season before returning last night. As a result, Matt Grzelcyk has had to step up in his second NHL season. He does not have the offensive upside of McAvoy or Krug, however, he has performed well in their place.

The Boston University product is coming off a solid rookie campaign in which he appeared in 61 games and recorded 15 points. He had 12 assists and saw significant time on the man advantage. Along with Kevan Miller, he solidified the Bruins third defensive pairing. Due to injuries, he has taken on a different role so far this season.

Without Krug, the Bruins had been without their most dangerous power play weapon. To replace him Grzelcyk was placed on the Bruins first powerplay line. He performed well as the Bruins man advantage has been one of the most productive in the league. Through twelve games the Bruins have the fourth-best power play in the NHL. It will only improve with the return of Krug who has 123 points on the man advantage in his career. With Krug healthy, Grzelcyk will look to continue improving on the Bruins second power-play unit.

In order to get playing time, Grzelcyk must continue to show improvement. The Bruins have one of the deepest defensive groups in the NHL with many talented prospects in Providence. He is not a dynamic goal scorer as his six shots on net this season is the lowest total of anyone on the team. His five assists, however, are the second most of any Bruins defenseman trailing only Charlie McAvoy. He is making smart decisions with the puck which has been evident in his growing confidence on the ice.

His improved play is partly due to the work he put in over the offseason. As a rookie, he struggled when battling for pucks due to his size. After adding more muscle this offseason that has not been the case. He has shown more patience by letting his teammate’s cause pressure and not force anything in the offensive zone. Unfortunately for the Bruins defenseman, a lower-body injury forced him to miss Tuesday’s matchup against Carolina. His injury does not seem serious as there is a chance he could return to the lineup on Saturday against Nashville.

If Grzelcyk is able to return, he will most likely be on the Bruins third defensive pairing and second powerplay unit. It is same the role he excelled in last season. His experience on the Bruins first powerplay unit should only improve his play on their second unit. He will, however, be without his linemate, Kevan Miller.

Nonetheless, he has performed well regardless of who he has been paired with this year. His return will be a sigh of relief for a team that has yet to be at full strength all season. If Grzelcyk can continue his solid play then it could be a memorable season for the young defenseman who is just starting to prove himself.

Bruins Heinen Is Excelling On Second Line After Rough Start

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By: Jamie Gatlin    | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

The expectations were high for Danton Heinen coming into the season. In his rookie campaign, he appeared in 77 regular season games, scoring 16 goals while recording 31 assists. In the postseason he struggled, however, the Bruins wanted to give him a shot at a top-six role this year. Through the first four games of the season, the experiment looked like a failure as Heinen failed to register a point. In the Bruins past four games, he had three assists and improved his play. It is a welcoming sign for a Bruins team that has struggled to get secondary scoring.

Alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, the left wing on the Bruins second line has been a revolving door this season. When Heinen struggled early on the Bruins gave Joakim Nordstrom his spot. Nordstrom performed well however his skill set is better suited for the third or fourth line. Last Thursday he was moved to the fourth line giving Heinen another shot at a top-six role. So far he has responded well to his second chance.

Against Philadelphia Thursday night Heinen continued his impressive stretch. On the Bruins first goal, he forced a turnover behind the net and found Chara at the point for his first of two goals in the game. Heinen was winning battles along the board’s something he failed to do before being a healthy scratch. He is also making a name for himself on the forecheck.

In the Bruins, last four games Heinen’s assists have been a result of his instincts and anticipation. He is winning more puck battles and has looked like the player who surpassed expectations last year. Since his two-game benching Heinen has been more responsible with the puck and focused on reading plays. He has responded well to adversity something that he has dealt with throughout his career.

After an unimpressive training camp last year he was sent down to Providence. Heinen was able to work himself back to the NHL and became a key piece on the Bruins third line. He was however prone to stretches when he would disappear. Limiting those slumps will determine if he can keep his spot on the second line.

While Heinen’s skill level does not jump out, he does a lot of things well. Over the past four games that have been on display. He is not an elite scorer, but he does create opportunities for his linemates. His play along the board’s forces turnovers for his teammates to capitalize on. The final decision, however, is up to Cassidy and it will be dictated by Heinen’s play.

It is unlikely Bruce Cassidy is done mixing his lines. Due to their youth, this team will undergo many changes as the season continues. The Bruins will need their young players to step up which is what Heinen has done. If he can continue his recent play than the Bruins second line will become a strength and their scoring more balanced.

Nordstrom Excelling Early For Bruins

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By: Jamie Gatlin  | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

When the Bruins signed Joakim Nordstrom this past offseason, it was not a move met with much fanfare. Nordstrom was coming off a season in which he scored only two goals in 75 games. The Bruins needed help offensively, and that is not his strength. He was signed because of his skating ability and work on the penalty kill. Through the first seven games this season he has made a good first impression and been quietly impressive.

Against Edmonton, last Thursday Nordstrom made his debut on the second line alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins were hoping he could provide a spark. The move proved to be effective as in three games with Nordstrom, the Bruins second line had three goals. Despite his impressive play, Nordstrom was moved to the fourth-line before last nights game. Although he is not a gifted scorer Nordstrom is still valuable in many ways.

Furthermore, Nordstrom has created plenty of chances of late. Although he only has one goal this season, over the last four games he has had twelve shots on net. Nordstrom has found open space in the offensive zone and been aggressive on the puck. By being on the second line, he took the spot that was expected to go to Danton Heinen or Ryan Donato. Nordstrom showed the Bruins young wingers what they will need to do in order to be successful in that role. Heinen responded well in his first opportunity last night recording an assist on Krejci’s first goal of the season.

Additionally, moving Nordstrom to the fourth line puts him in a better position to succeed. While he was effective on the second line, his playing style does not fit a top-six role. On the fourth line, his defensive game will be more of a priority which will make up for his lack offense. He is a smart player who is good at reading breakouts, especially in the neutral zone. Nordstrom has a knack at getting to the net but struggles to finish. Alongside the physical play of Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly, he could excel.

Nonetheless, this will not be the last time Nordstrom switches roles. Other than the Bruins first line this team has struggled to score. It is early, and many players are still finding their way. Cassidy is trying to find the right line combinations to make the Bruins offense click. Even though Nordstrom is being moved down, he will still play a vital role.

Last season the Bruins fourth line was one of the most productive in recent memory. Cassidy turned to them whenever the Bruins needed a spark. This year they have gotten off to a slow start, and Nordstrom will be looking to change that. His first test came last night against Edmonton. He responded well and put two shots on net. Nordstrom has shown his versatility early on and played well in whatever role the Bruins have placed him in. The season is still young, but Nordstrom is already making his mark.

Bruins Goalies Rebounding After Tough Opening Night

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By: Jamie Gatlin  | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Throughout every season teams face adversity in a variety of ways. For the Bruins, their first test came following a humiliating opening night defeat. Starter Tuukka Rask was pulled after allowing five goals on 19 shots. Jaroslav Halak did better in relief but still allowed two goals as the Capitals went on to win 7-0. This caused concern regarding the Bruins goalies; however, their last four games have been very different.

Following opening night, the Bruins played the Buffalo Sabres the next day. Back-to-backs are not easy for any team especially after getting blown out the night before. This did not faze the Bruins as they arrived in Buffalo prepared to bounce back. Halak got his first career start in a Bruins uniform and was nothing short of spectacular stopping all 32 shots he faced. The Bruins played like a completely different team. He was nearly as impressive Thursday night stopping 25 of the 26 shots on net in the Bruins victory over Edmonton. This has raised expectations on Rask only five games into the season.

Rask, however, got his shot at redemption in the Bruins home opener. He stopped 28 of the 31 shots he faced. Of those goals, one was nearly impossible to stop as Rask was being screened by six players. He controlled his rebounds and received a better effort from the Bruins defenseman in front of him. Against Detroit yesterday afternoon he built on that performance. He stopped 32 of the 34 shots on net in the Bruins 8-2 victory.  That is how the Bruins will need their franchise goalie to play this season. The last four games have shown how good this tandem can be moving forward.

Furthermore, five games are too small of a sample size to make any significant changes. Last year showed Rask will have to go through a prolonged slump before he loses his role as the Bruins’ No. 1 goalie. What the Bruins need from Halak is what he has shown early on. A steady veteran who can give the Bruins a chance to win when called upon. If he can do that, then he will most likely appear in about 25 games this season. That will only improve his play after appearing in 50-plus games for only the third time in his career last season for the Islanders.

However, it gives the Bruins comfort knowing he can handle that workload. Halak’s veteran presence was one of the reasons the Bruins signed him. His numbers last season were not the best partly due to the defense in front of him. With the Bruins that will only improve especially as the season continues. Even with those factors, the expectations are high for Halak due to his predecessor.

Last season Anton Khodobin was a more than capable backup for the Bruins, but he signed with Dallas in free agency. His performance allowed the Bruins to rest Rask, which improved his play. Early on Halak has shown that he can do that as well. He will push Rask to be his best which the Bruins backups have failed to do in recent years. Through five games it appears as if the Bruins goaltending will not be an area of concern but an area of strength.

Bruins Cehlarik Making His Mark

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Written By: Jamie Gatlin   |   Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Coming into the offseason, Peter Cehlarik had a lot to prove with a roster spot on the line. The Bruins selected him in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft, making him their second pick of the draft. He has yet to make a significant impact 6 years after being drafted, and other prospects pass him on the depth chart. Over the past two seasons, Celharik has had multiple opportunities and appeared in 17 games at the NHL level. He has shown major improvements and been a pleasant surprise for the Bruins.

If Cehlarik does make the Bruins team, he will most likely be placed on the third or fourth line. His competition includes Ryan Donato, Trent Frederic, and Anders Bjork. Of those three, Donato is the only lock to make the team after a brief but impressive 2018 NHL debut. Cehlarik has shined in his own right this offseason as he faces a crucial point in his NHL career.

In the preseason, the former third-round pick has one goal and three assists showing his offensive skill. During the Bruins’ 4-3 victory over the Flyers on the Sept. 24, his play along the boards impressed Bruins coaches including a play where he forced a giveaway that led to a Lee Stempniak goal. This showed his growth, but for Cehlarik the key for this upcoming season will be his health.

Cehlarik made his NHL debut during the 2016-17 season, appearing in 11 games. He was impressive in that short stint but had his season in Providence cut short due to his health. Last year injuries slowed him again, and he only appeared in 35 games for Providence after appearing in 45 the season before. He did appear in five games for the Bruins, but he did not make much of an impact as the Bruins rose to the top of the Eastern Conference. He is finally healthy and making the most of his opportunity.

Additionally, Cehalrik is versatile, which allows him to play on either the left or right wing. He has shown his offensive potential and improved his play along the boards. The former third-round pick has created turnovers of his forecheck this preseason but struggled between the blue lines. He has to pick up the pace especially in the neutral zone and be more careful with the puck. That will be his main focus this season. If Cehlarik can do that, he could make it hard for the Bruins to deny him a chance

Nonetheless, The Bruins open their season in less than a week against the Washington Capitals. They will watch the Capitals raise their championship banner, which will only motivate this young team. It is still a long shot that Cehlarik will be there; however, he has been nothing short of impressive. Even if he does not make the team, he will be a more than capable fill-in during the season or possible trade chip. He has put himself in a position to be successful and opened eyes before the start of the 2018-19 season.

Bruins’ Acciari Looking To Build On Strong 2017-18 Campaign

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Written By: Jamie Gatlin   |    Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Last season Noel Acciari established himself as a solid fourth-line contributor. He appeared in a career-high 60 games and helped solidified the Bruins’ fourth line. He had a career-high 11 points including 10 goals, more than doubling his previous career high of 2. Acciari was a key contributor to the team’s fourth line, which was unexpectedly one of the team’s strengths. This coming season he will look to build on last year and again make the Bruins fourth line key to this team’s success. Last season he showed his scoring ability, but Acciari is valuable to the Bruins in many other ways.

The scoring output last season was surprising for Acciari, but his other contributions were not. Injuries have always been an issue for him and on opening night last season, he broke his left index finger blocking a shot. Although injuries are not uncommon for someone who plays with his style, he played with a sports hernia all season. Despite his injuries, Acciari still fulfilled his role perfectly during the 2017-18 campaign. He was fearless as he blocked shots and sacrificed his body with little hesitation. His tenacity and physical style of play allowed him to earn a role on the fourth line. Next season he will be looking to build on last season’s success.

What made Acciari successful was his physical style of play as he finished second on the team in even-strength hits with 152. He only had nine penalty minutes which is impressive for someone with his style of play. He was dependable and reliable as he has always been. His goal this season will be to avoid the injuries that have plagued him so far in his career. In his first three seasons, he has missed at least 20 games a year due to injuries. He is still recovering from sports hernia surgery but is not expected to miss significant time. The Bruins focused on improving their depth this offseason. As a result, Acciari will have competition in the form of Chis Wagner and Bruins prospects looking to prove themselves.

He will not only be motivated by competition but by the fact that he will be a free agent after this season. Acciari will most likely not command a monster deal. Another solid season could see him get a deal similar to what Tim Schaller got from the Vancouver Canucks. His main concern will be this upcoming season and helping the Bruins win a championship. He is a player any team would love to have and after last season’s disappointing ending he will only be more motivated. Along with his linemate from last season, Sean Kuraly, the Bruins’ fourth line should again be a force on a team with high expectations.

Can The Bruins Fourth Line Repeat Last Year’s Success?

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Written By: Jamie Gatlin   |   Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

Last season the Bruins’ fourth line was one of the most productive in recent memory. They drew comparisons to the Bruins’ fourth line in 2011, which was key in their Stanley Cup run. This offseason, the Bruins lost Tim Schaller in free agency as he signed with Vancouver. He was one of the key contributors on the team’s last line. Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly are projected to return to the fourth line, leaving an open spot on the wing. How that spot is filled has yet to be determined, but the Bruins do have a couple of options.

Since that magical 2011 season, the Bruins had failed to find a fourth line pairing that was as successful as the “Merlot Line.” Last season proved to be an exception as the trio of Kuraly, Schaller, and Acciari became fan favorites. They endeared themselves to Boston with their gritty and energetic style of play. Whenever the Bruins needed a jolt or change of pace, the fourth line often was whom Cassidy called on. They were unexpectedly productive offensively as of the trio only Sean Kuraly scored less than 10 goals. They will look to make the same kind of impact even with the loss of Schaller in free agency. Whoever replaces him will be filling a key role.

Fortunately, the Bruins have multiple players who could fill the vacant spot on their last line. Those options include Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom. They both bring their own unique characteristics to the Bruins and would be good fits in Schaller’s spot. The Bruins signed Wagner, a Massachusetts native, to a 2-year deal earlier this offseason. He is not known for his offense, but he was able to record 16 points last season. Wagner made his impact with his physical style of play and finished third in the NHL with 235 hits last season. He can play both the center and wing, which gives the Bruins flexibility. He brings a similar blend of offense and physicality like Schaller. The fact that the Bruins gave Wagner a multi-year deal shows how much the Bruins believe in him. However, he will have competition in the form of another Bruins free agent signing in Nordstrom.

Comparatively, Joakim Nordstrom is not a physical player like Wagner. He is a smart player who is good at reading plays and disrupting breakouts. He can be frustrating offensively, which limits his upside. He has been a good enough penalty killer to stick around in the league. Nordstrom had a knack for getting to the net but struggled to finish last season which is partly why he will end up in a bottom-six role. Where he ends up will be interesting as it could be on the third line. After a solid 2017-18 campaign, Kuraly could be bumped up to the third line. This would mean that Nordstrom could center the fourth line with Wagner on the wing. Wherever Nordstrom ends up will have a significant impact on the Bruins’ bottom lines.

Last season the trio of Kuraly, Schaller, and Acciari showed how important the fourth line could be. Even with the loss of Schaller, the Bruins have good replacements. They will need to step and be counted on in big moments. Whoever ends up on the Bruins fourth line will have the responsibility of continuing last season’s success. It will be a key storyline to watch as these players will look to replicate the same grit and energetic play that made the Bruins fourth line so successful last season.

What To Do With The Bruins Second Line

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By: Jamie Gatlin | Follow Me On Twitter: @JamieGatlin1217

In a little over a month, the Boston Bruins 2018-19 season will begin. The team will be looking for revenge after a disappointing exit in the playoffs last season. One of the reasons they were eliminated was their bottom lines’ inability to score. Other than the Bruins top line — which is arguably the best in hockey — the Bruins did little offensively. This has lead to speculation that the Bruins may be better served to break up their top line to spread out the scoring. One possible solution could be moving David Pastrnak to the second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. This is a move that could work for multiple reasons.

Krejci and Pastrnak have experience playing together which could make this an easy transition. The Bruins began last season with Pastrnak on the second line. He would make the Bruins’ second line very dangerous because of his skill set. His creativity and scoring touch would play well alongside Krejci and DeBrusk. Each trio has their own unique characteristics that make them dangerous in the offensive zone. Breaking up the Bruins top line is not an easy idea to consider given how good the trio was last season. It may, however, be the best thing for this Bruins team.

Like Pastrnak, Krejci relies on his creativity and vision on the ice. DeBrusk is the opposite as he relies on grit. Last season DeBrusk showed that he would sacrifice his body for the puck. That plays well with Krejci and Pastrnsk who will use their creativity to put pucks on the net. Krejci has also shown he could play well with DeBrusk and Pastrnak, which is big considering how the Bruins have struggled to find the NHL veteran linemates he plays well with. DeBrusk showed last year he can be a 20-goal scorer, and Pastrnak has had 30 goals each of the last two seasons. With Krejci feeding both of them, those numbers would only be better. It will also allow the Bruins to groom one of their younger talented players.

By taking Pastrnak out of the first line, the Bruins could place Anders Bjork in his spot. Bjork can play both ends and relies on his speed and creativity. Both are similar qualities to the guy he would be replacing. It would allow Bjork to improve his game while learning from Bergeron and Marchand. Bjork may not become the next Pastrnak, but it is an exciting comparison. Learning from arguably two of the best players in the NHL would only make him better. The Bruins have many players they could use in this spot such as Danton Heinen. Bjork may be the best option because his playing style is so similar to Pastrnak.

The Bruins will experiment with their lines early on. Where everybody ends up will be determined by performance. They already have one of the best lines in hockey but last year that was not enough. This combination could give them two very formidable lines and improve their depth. This will be one storyline to watch in a season with high expectations.

Bruce Cassidy’s Effect On The Bruins

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By: Jamie Gatlin  |  Follow Me on Twitter @JamieGatlin1217

Two years ago, the Bruins organization was at a crossroads. During the 2016 season, longtime head coach Claude Julien was let go mid-season. At the time, the Bruins had a record of 26-23-6. They were not adapting to a changing league and not making much traction in the standings. They were a defensive, hard- checking team in a league that was getting faster. Bruce Cassidy took over for Julien, and the Bruins have looked like a different team under him. They are playing with a new edge, and unlike under Julien, the younger Bruins are excelling. The Bruins are once again one of the best teams in the league and next year should be no different.

Before being named the head coach of the Bruins, Cassidy was the head coach for the Providence Bruins from the 2010-11 American Hockey League season. He also had one head coaching stint for the Washington Capitals in the early 2000s that included a playoff appearance. In Boston, he has not looked like an inexperienced coach. Under Julien, younger players struggled as the veterans were favored. This was reflected in the departure of many young talented players including Phil Kessel, Dougie Hamilton, and Tyler Seguin.

These players didn’t necessarily perform poorly under Julien, but they also were not interested in staying in Boston long-term. Kessel and Seguin were both traded, but they didn’t leave on good terms. Under Julien, the Bruins struggled on the power play — a place where they have excelled in the past 2 years.

Julien’s tenure in Boston was far from a failure. He brought them to two Stanley Cup finals and won it all in 2011. He made the Bruins fun and competitive again after years of mediocrity. In Cassidy’s short tenure it is already looking he could have the same type of success. In Cassidy’s first full season the Bruins finished with 112 regular season points — a surprise to many. In a season in which the Bruins were still supposed to be rebuilding, they were one of the top teams in the league. There were many reasons for their success, but it all starts with Cassidy.

Under Cassidy, the Bruins have not been a defense-first team, but they have still been good defensively while adapting to the change of pace. Defensemen such as Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are aggressive with the puck and not just waiting back in the defensive end. They took on the personality of an underdog as they could never be counted out of a game last season. They played more aggressive than they ever had in years past. While this new style of play was a success, it also had its negatives.

As a result of being more aggressive, there were more lapses in the defensive zone. This was partly due to the Bruins defensemen being young and still learning how to play at the NHL level. That will only improve this season as they get more experience. Over the next few seasons, many more Bruins prospects will make their debuts and go through similar growing pains. Having Cassidy as the head coach will be key to their development. If Cassidy can build off last season, then he will be around to see their debuts and help them develop at the NHL level. In year one he was very successful in that regard.

In Cassidy’s first full season he finished second in the Jack Adams voting — the award given to the best NHL coach. Cassidy did not finish in second by luck. Cassidy has gotten off to a good start in Boston and changed the culture in a positive way. That should only continue next season, and he may not be finishing second this time around.