For the first time in a long time, the Boston Bruins have an opening behind the bench.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney made the difficult decision Monday to dismiss longtime head coach Bruce Cassidy after six largely successful seasons. Sweeney elevated Cassidy, then the Providence Bruins bench boss, to the big chair after Claude Julien was let go.
So, it’s been quite a while since Boston was truly in the market for a new voice, and it comes during an offseason in which the coaching carousel is primed. The Bruins are now one of six teams looking to fill the void, meaning there’s no shortage of competition.
Sweeney on Tuesday morning admitted he had a few names in mind already while weighing in on what he might (or might not) be looking for in a new coach.
“I’m certainly going to be open-minded,” Sweeney said. “I’m going to cast the net a little wider. I don’t think it’s an absolute prerequisite. As I’ve said, we’ve got an experienced group of guys that want to win, know how to win and a young group of guys as the next core — Charlie (McAvoy) and David (Pastrnak) being part of that, that hopefully can bridge and will continue to bridge the next group of young guys that will come in. Now, the coach needs to direct that ship that’s certainly why I want to make sure I cast the net wide enough. I don’t believe it’s an absolute prerequisite to have a coach behind an NHL bench.”
With that in mind, here are five potential replacement candidates.
Trotz is the best coach on the market and will be treated as such. He should be Boston’s priority if it believes the Stanley Cup window is still open and expects to retool the roster as such. There are six openings right now, with a wide array of opportunities. If the allure of an Original Six franchise is tempting for Trotz, Boston could make sense (though Detroit has an opening, too). As the top free agent on the market, Trotz probably doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild, so Patrice Bergeron’s decision could be a massive factor. Even so, it’s probably a long shot.
There’s certainly familiarity with the Seattle Kraken assistant. Leach previously served as the Providence Bruins head coach before leaving the organization to join Dave Hakstol’s staff with the expansion Kraken. The 42-year-old has deep ties to the region, including a cup of coffee with Boston, and Providence won two division titles with Leach behind the bench.
Probably unlikely, despite Sweeney’s contention head coaching experience isn’t a prerequisite. But Kelly, whom Sweeney noted is still under contract as a Bruins assistant, checks a couple of important boxes. Because he’s not very long removed from playing in the league, he’s probably more in tune with today’s player. He can relate to Bergeron or Brad Marchand not just because they were teammates but because Kelly was a veteran himself. He has seen the game through their eyes. But his relative youth, at least compared to other potential candidates, theoretically better positions him to connect with younger players, too. If this is an unofficial rebuild, Kelly might actually have a better chance, as there’s room for more on-the-job patience and learning. Otherwise, he might be a little too (Kelly) green for the job.
Similar to Kelly, Halpern’s NHL playing days aren’t too far in the rearview. The Athletic’s Pierre Le Brun recently included Halpern on a list of people who could be ready to make the job and become an NHL head coach, with the goal of finding “the next Jon Cooper.” Halpern has been working alongside Cooper in Tampa Bay for a few years now. That apprenticeship under arguably the NHL’s best coach can’t be discounted, and Halpern’s ability to relate to younger players could make him an intriguing candidate.
Donato would be a very, very interesting move. The Harvard University bench boss has head coaching experience, albeit not at the NHL level. But he obviously has more than 800 games of NHL playing experience (counting playoffs) and was a teammate of not only Sweeney but Cam Neely and even Bergeron. He’s been coaching at his alma mater since 2004 (hard to believe at this point), so he’s obviously comfortable around 20-somethings. If he wanted to make the jump to the NHL, making the short move down Storrow Drive feels like the perfect place to start.