Throughout the duration of the 2016-17 season, Cassidy saw great success in Boston. He coached the team to a record of 18-8-1 and a total of 95 points, earning the Bruins a spot in the playoffs directly behind the Ottawa Senators at third in the Atlantic Division.
Boston’s Stanley Cup dreams ended quickly, when the team was eliminated by the Senators in six games. However, hopes were high as many fans knew that the Bruins were sitting on a wealth of prospects who were itching to break into the National Hockey League.
There was much controversy surrounding the team in the months leading up to the eventual replacement of Claude Julien. When the decision finally came, the team saw immediate success in the games that followed. They won their first four in a row under Cassidy and seven in their first eight.
The team has continued to compete come the first half of the 2017-18 season, and a lot of this success has been attributed to Cassidy’s ability to get the most out of his players. He has shown patience with rookies without being afraid to sit a guy out for a night if he thinks a little retooling is in order. Things are looking good for the B’s heading into the remaining 42 games of the season.
Certainly in this season, the additions of young talent such as Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen, to name a few, have helped lead the Bruins to where they sit now. But what about last year? Certain players began last season at a slow pace before eventually picking up their play later on. It is unclear as to how many of these struggles can be attributed to the head coach at the time, but the numbers may tell part of the story.
It was announced in April, after the Bruins’ elimination from the postseason, that Patrice Bergeron played through the majority of the 2016-17 season with a sports hernia. This may account for why the Bruins’ star had only 29 points over 52 games under Julien and a plus/minus rating of two, which is unusually low for Bergeron, who has only ended a season with a plus/minus below ten once since 2010. In the following 27 games, Bergeron recorded 24 points, sending his points per game (PPG) from .56 to .89, a massive improvement.
In 49 games under Julien in the 2016-17 season, Zdeno Chara was a plus two, averaging 23:07 time on ice. In the next 26 games under Cassidy, Chara put forward a plus/minus of 16, and his average time on ice also increased slightly to 23:43. The Bruins captain, who has generally seen his ice time decrease over the years as he hits the back-end of his career, was playing more, and keeping opponents off the board.
It is no secret that Torey Krug has been a coveted offensive weapon for Boston on the blueline since he earned a regular slot on the team after an impressive performance in the 2013 playoffs. However, Krug still struggles defensively at times. In 55 games under Julien in 2016-17, Krug had a plus/minus of -13. He turned that number around a bit in 26 games the same season with Cassidy, posting a plus/minus of three while also increasing his PPG (.60 to .69).
Much was expected of former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes when he signed a 30 million dollar contract with the Bruins as a free agent in 2016. After posting an uncharacteristically low 45-points in 79 games to finish his time in Missouri, Backes went on to record only 38 points in 74 games during his first year in Boston. However when taking a closer look, Backes managed 22 of those points in 47 games under Julien, while putting up the remaining 16 in 27 games with Cassidy (a rise in PPG from .47 to .59).
During the 2017-18 season Backes has continued to see his points per game rise to .74 (17 points in 23 games), despite a grueling battle with diverticulitis that resulted in the removal of a large portion of his colon and forced the winger to miss 17 games.
In one of the least glamorous jobs in the NHL is where you can find the 6’2”, LA native Kevan Miller making his money. Miller is a stay-at-home defenseman that is known for tough defensive play, throwing a fist or two, and occasionally scoring a goal that makes you wonder why he averages less than five a year.
Under Claude Julien, Miller’s start to the 2016-17 season was not spectacular. He fought an injury that forced him to miss 24 of his team’s games during that time. When he was healthy, Miller was on the ice for more of the other team’s goals than his own, putting up a -6 plus/minus. When Cassidy took over, Miller seemed to be playing a much more energized brand of hockey, and it showed when he registered a plus/minus of 10 in 38 games.
To say that a veteran like Backes, who spent 10 seasons in St. Louis before heading north, was so dramatically affected by a coaching change, might be naive. But he was not the only veteran that seemed to get his act together once Bruce Cassidy took over, as Chara evidently was rediscovering some youthful play in his own right; this play has carried over into the 2017-18 season with a plus/minus of 20.
Bergeron was dealing with injury throughout the entire 2016-17 season, so it is difficult to write off his poor play in the final days of Claude Julien’s tenure as simply a cause of a sports hernia. He did play remarkably better under Cassidy, and it showed both on the ice and on the scoresheet. Even if he was injured, it does seem that the coaching change came at a good time for Bergeron. Regardless of what his personal relationship to Julien might have been, sometimes a new system is a chance to step up your game.
It would have been nice for the Bruins’ first matchup against Claude Julien to have come at TD Garden, where the organization will likely pay tribute to him in some way. After all, the man did bring Boston its first Stanley Cup since the days of Bobby Orr.
Despite the fact that many were happy to see him go when the time finally came, Julien’s 419-246-94 record as the winningest coach in Bruins history will not soon be forgotten, and the memories he helped create for this club should be remembered for the magic they brought to this city.
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