Cassidy has brought ‘fresh voice' to first-place Golden Knights


The Vegas Golden Knights were a huge disappointment during the 2021-22 NHL season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since entering the league as an expansion franchise in 2017.

Sure, injuries were a huge factor in the team's lack of success, but it was clear that a change behind the bench was needed.

When the Boston Bruins surprisingly fired Bruce Cassidy in June despite leading the Original Six club to the playoffs in all six of his seasons as head coach, the Golden Knights didn't wait long to make him their next bench boss. Cassidy was the second of 10 new head coach hires last offseason.

So far, it's been a great move for Vegas.

Cassidy is back in Boston, helping his Golden Knights prepare for Monday night's showdown against the Bruins at TD Garden. Vegas is flying high atop the Western Conference standings with a 18-7-1 record, including an 11-2-1 mark on the road. The Knights have scored the sixth-most goals (89) and allowed the seventh-fewest (68).

What has Cassidy brought to the Golden Knights that's contributed to their impressive start to the campaign?

"Structurally they’re a lot different than they were under both Gerard Gallant and Pete DeBoer," Golden Knights team insider Gary Lawless told NBC Sports Boston last week. "What Bruce does in the defensive zone is kind of a hybrid of what Claude Julien did when he was with Boston and then Bruce kind of built on it when he was with the Bruins, and then he’s brought that structure and system to Vegas."

"Bruce is a fresh voice, but he’s pretty unique in his -- he has a little bit of Darryl Sutter in him I think, in terms of accountability. I don’t think he’s as hardcore as Darryl. He’s a little more of a player’s coach, and I wouldn’t say warm and fuzzy but more of a communicator with the players. He has a pretty good rapport with them.

"It’s interesting. During a game, Bruce is really competitive and intense. We’ve seen that already. But then he’s really quick to turn it off after. Even if he’ll blast a guy or the team on the bench during the period, reports are that he’ll move away from that at the next intermission. He’ll come in with positive reinforcement and try to get the guys going back in the direction they want to go in. It’s very interesting that he takes accountability and responsibility for what the coaching staff has to do in terms of preparing the players, but then takes no credit for what the players do on the ice when they’re successful. It’ll always be, this is the plan that we put in place and then good on the guys for executing and succeeding. The players have really responded to him well. He’s quickly been accepted in Vegas as part of the community. The fans really react to him and respond really well to him."

Some of the criticisms of Cassidy during his time in Boston -- and especially in the aftermath of his firing in May -- were his struggles developing young players and also being too tough on them. His relationship with Jake DeBrusk got plenty of attention. B's president Cam Neely in May said some of Boston's younger players were "afraid to make mistakes".

In fairness to Cassidy, the Bruins front office didn't do the best job drafting and providing him with top young talent, plus the team was always in win-now mode and never rebuilding. But the fact is the Bruins haven't developed the next wave of premium players outside of two first-round picks in Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak. This failure produced a lack of depth over the last five years, which proved costly in several playoff runs.

The majority of the Golden Knights' top players are veterans, but they are getting solid contributions from several young players under Cassidy.

Eichel back among NHL's elite as Vegas prepares for showdown vs. Bruins

Logan Thompson headlines the group. The rookie goalie has a 12-5-0 record with a .920 save percentage and 2.54 GAA. He's been one of the most surprising players of the season.

"The starting goalie is a rookie, and he seems to be the happiest guy on the planet," Lawless said. "There’s a young D pair in Nicolas Hague and Zach Whitecloud. They’re both in their (fourth) year in the NHL, but they’re still young guys. And so far they seem really happy and enjoying things. Paul Cotter scored the winner in the shootout the other night and Bruce was really complimentary of him during training camp and gave him a job on the Opening Night roster.

"Young players today, they want the opportunity, and coaches -- it’s their job to try to win. It’s the NHL, it’s not going to always be warm and fuzzy. I wouldn’t expect it to be. I don’t think anyone should. So far, everything we’ve seen from Bruce has been positive."

Cassidy is no stranger to regular season success. The Bruins won 49-plus games in three of his five full seasons as head coach, including a Presidents' Trophy in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 regular season. The playoffs is where Cassidy's Bruins teams often ran into trouble. They advanced past the second round only once -- a run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2019 -- in six postseason appearances.

The Golden Knights have come close to winning the Stanley Cup in five seasons as a franchise. They lost in the Cup Final in their 2017-18 debut campaign, and they also reached the conference final in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Can Vegas finally get over the hump and win its first title with Cassidy behind the bench? If not, it won't be because of a lack of talent. This is the deepest and most skilled roster the Golden Knights have ever put together.

It's now up to Cassidy to fit these pieces together into a championship puzzle, something he came so close to doing in Boston.

Contact Us