I’m not going to lie; I was irate when the Boston Bruins decided to fire Bruce Cassidy after failing to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. It was obvious at the time that the organization was using the head coach as a scapegoat for poor asset management and its inability to develop the roster.
On top of moving on from a head coach who seemed to do everything right, the Bruins decided to give Jim Montgomery the job. I couldn’t understand the point of taking a risk bringing on Montgomery after his time in Dallas ended with him in rehab.
And as much as I would like to say that Don Sweeney has continued to show his incompetence in constructing a roster (see Mitchell Miller experiment), the Bruins’ general manager has nailed every move he’s made since acquiring Hampus Lindholm at last year’s trade deadline.
My expectations coming into this season were low, considering just how far away the team looked from winning a Cup. Boston really had no depth at forward or defense was going to rely on veterans in the twilight of their career, and would be looking to a group of underachievers to turn things around.
I could not have been more wrong.
Even the biggest optimist had to have doubts heading into the start of the regular season. Well, 16 games into the year, the Bruins lead the NHL with 14 wins and 28 points. Boston is poised to go on a long postseason run, but is Montgomery the reason why?
The massive elephant in the room is out in Las Vegas. After missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history, Sin City quickly jumped on the opportunity to hire Cassidy as the team’s new head coach.
To no one’s surprise, Cassidy has also gotten his team off to a great start. The Golden Knights lead the Western Conference with 13 wins and 26 points and trail only the Bruins for the top spot in the entire league.
So what’s the common denominator? Why are these head coaches having so much success in the first year with their new teams? The answer to both questions is the same in Boston and Vegas, and the rosters are really good.
The Bruins and Golden Knights ended the 2021-22 season disappointingly, but neither team was in jeopardy of falling to the bottom of the league. All it took was a different voice leading the same group of players.
Having not spent much time watching the Golden Knights this season, I can’t be confident in saying that Cassidy has changed much about their style of play. The same could not be said for Jim Montgomery and the Bruins.
Clearly, this team would play differently from the drop of the puck against the Washington Capitals. The emphasis on quick transition and activating the defensemen in the offensive zone has inspired every player in the Bruins’ dressing room.
Even without two top players to start the season, Boston exploded on the scene showcasing the scoring depth it sorely lacked last year. Take Nick Foligno as a prime example. Foligno played 64 regular season games in one year with Cassidy and tallied two goals and 13 points.
Under Montgomery, Foligno looks rejuvenated. He has already surpassed his goal total from a year ago and is halfway to achieving his total points despite only playing 16 games. But the spark that Foligno, Charlie Coyle, Pavel Zacha, AJ Greer, and Trent Frederic have provided is helping lift the Bruins to more dominant wins.
And that aggressive defensive style has Hampus Lindholm poised to set a career-high in goals and assists as he makes the early case for being a Norris Trophy candidate. Still, the Bruins have depended on spectacular play out of Linus Ullmark between the pipes.
Ullmark’s play has given the Bruins the freedom to take more chances without worrying about a soft goal being given up. Anybody that has watched a period of the Bruins this season can tell they have something cooking. I’m just not convinced that Montgomery is the reason why.
In my opinion, this is Boston’s last dance. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand remain from the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2011. With Bergeron and Krejci only on one-year deals and David Pastrnak set to become an unrestricted free agent, the Bruins are putting it all on the line this season.
Monty has done a great job in not changing the team’s culture. He is not stepping on the toes of the veteran players and not getting in the way of what they have built over the past 15 years. He’s letting the leaders lead on and off the ice.
Still, the new Bruins head coach has gotten this team off to a historic start, and I fully expect him to be a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy in the spring. But hockey fans should also expect the Golden Knights’ bench boss in contention for the award.