The championship drought for their top affiliate hasn't reached nearly that long, but Providence hasn't come close in the last couple seasons to adding their first Calder Cup as American Hockey League champions since 1999. So despite a strong track record of developing players who contributed to that Stanley Cup run, the Bruins this spring decided to make a coaching change in Providence.
"You try and create a positive environment down there and have a winning attitude and that's the best for development," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said of the changes after Providence failed to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last two years.
Rob Murray, who had served as Providence's head coach for the last three seasons and as an assistant there for the five years before that, was not retained. After a search, Bruce Cassidy, who had been Murray's top assistant the last three years, was promoted to the head coach's seat.
What does that mean to the continuing development of Boston's top prospects? How will Cassidy handle the team now that he is in charge?
"When I first started I was called a player's coach," Cassidy said between sessions at the club's development camp earlier this month. "I don't know what that means, to be honest. I talk to the players. They're human beings. I like to put them in a position to succeed. I like to push them, to get a little bit more out of them. But I think I'm a lot less vocal than I was when I first started. I think part of that's just being around it longer and having young children now. I think that changes the way you look at things. But at the end of the day we're there to develop, so developing means communicating, teaching. It's reinforcing and then it's motivating and then when it's time when the puck drops then you're coaching."
Cassidy has plenty of experience in running a bench. He's served as a head coach in the ECHL, IHL, AHL and OHL, as well as two-year stint in the NHL with Washington, where he was the Capitals' head coach for the 2002-03 and part of the 2003-04 seasons. Through it all, he's learned to adapt as players have changed and the responsibilities of coaching have gone beyond implementing systems and teaching tactics.
"I think communication is a big thing nowadays," Cassidy said. "You can't just bark at them like you did 15 years ago and expect them to perform. It's a lot of explaining why and the purpose and how it benefits the team, how it benefits them. So that's what I'll do. It will just be an extension of what I've done for three years."
With Cassidy taking over, not a lot will necessarily change on the development side. That will still be the top priority, and Cassidy has performed well in that capacity. He ran the defense under Murray, helping groom the likes of Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Steven Kampfer for the leap to Boston.
"I think the defensemen that have come through Providence in the last three years, for the most part, have all gotten better," Cassidy said. "They're not all playing for Boston because that's impossible, but you know Jeff Penner is a kid that played well but didn’t really make it but we were able to move him for [goalie Anton] Khudobin. So he was an asset. [Andrew] Bodnarchuk has been down there for a while and he's gotten better. It's just there's number crunch up here. You know McQuaid and Boychuk, they've made it and good for them. And hopefully, some of these other young kids we have will get up also. Because when you can develop from within, let's face it, it's a lot cheaper than having to go out and buy your players."
Cassidy will also have plenty of support from the guy he's grooming those players for. Claude Julien understands well the challenges of balancing the desire to win with the need to develop youngsters at the AHL level, as he spent parts of three seasons coaching Montreal's AHL affiliate in Hamilton before moving up to the Canadiens for his first NHL head coaching gig.
"I've been there, and I understand what you have to go through," Julien said. "His job is to develop players, but you always develop players better when you're in a winning environment. So you've got to try and do the best you can with the players that you have to win."
Julien also expects Cassidy to prepare the players in Providence to play in Julien's system to make the transition as seamless as possible when guys are called up to the big club.
"There might be some small differences but nothing that's going to prevent a player from coming here and feeling comfortable about playing our game," Julien said. "So we've had that conversation. I mean Bruce has been with us for quite a few years now as well, and to say he's the new coach, it's a new head coach, but the same guy that was there. Certainly he's got the experience of coaching in the NHL and American League, and he's had a lot of success so I don't anticipate that will change. As far as I'm concerned, he's done a good job developing players, he was in charge of the defensemen and we've seen defensemen who have come up and done pretty well."
Cassidy will be helped by a new assistant, as Kevin Dean was hired earlier this month. Dean spent four years as an assistant with Lowell (AHL) and last year served as the head coach in Trenton (ECHL). A University of New Hampshire product, Dean played 331 games in the NHL, winning a Cup with the Devils in 1995.
"It's about compatibility with the head coach. It's about willingness to teach and to coach because those are two different things, and it's important," Chiarelli said of Dean's hiring. "It's a duo, it's a tandem group down there – the head coach and the assistant coach – and there has to be some compatibility and they're working closely together every day with important players for us. So you just can't have a person filling in there. It has to be a person who's conscientious about development and conscientious about coaching and teaching."
NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be answering one question facing the Bruins this offseason each day until Aug. 8.
Saturday, July 30: What rookies are poised to challenge for spots on the Boston roster?
Monday, August 1: Will Brad Marchand prove that last season's offensive breakthrough and huge playoff performance was no fluke?
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