Sweeney Speaks On Bruins Decision To Fire Cassidy

Boston Bruins Press Release

BOSTON BRUINS QUOTES

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

BOSTON BRUINS GENERAL MANAGER DON SWEENEY… 

Opening statement…

“I’ll start briefly by stating that it was a very, very difficult decision yesterday. I met with Bruce in the afternoon, both professionally and personally. I want to thank him and his family, Julie, Cole and Shannon, for what they’ve really done, both on and off the ice for the Boston Bruins organization. A really tough day overall, but I had to make a decision that I felt was in the best interest of where our team was at now and moving forward. I’d be happy to answer your questions.”

On why this decision was made now…

“The timing after taking a few weeks to unpack, a lot of things happened over the course of the year and where I thought the direction of our team was currently and equally with some of the surgeries and some of the things coming out where our team was going to be going forward and impacting our club, I just felt that the messaging and voice that was going to be required, I felt we needed a new direction. I had met with the coaching staff like I normally do to go over not only the year and their feeling of where our team was and what we were capable of achieving. And then I met with Bruce afterwards as well talking about his staff. At that point in time, he had made a decision that Kevin Dean wasn’t going to be extended. We had talks during the course of the year about he and Kevin and their relationship, everybody was aware that there was a little friction there at some point in time. They got past that and went back to work as both of them as professionals and I think have a long history. Then I just went back to work and talking with our group, scouts, management, certainly ownership, and just made a clear decision that it needed to change and that’s where I arrived yesterday afternoon.”

On feedback from the players influencing the decision…

“We have gone through exit meetings; I have done it at every level, you know they’re not driving the bus in terms of making my decisions. I honestly believe that they impact our hockey club more than any of us. They’re invested and I think they want to know how invested the organization is. I think taking anything away from you know what they’re trying to accomplish as a group, you know I honestly believe it doesn’t matter what they’re necessarily saying individually. It’s collectively as a group and to how much they think they can accomplish, and they agreed with me because I had used a statement that we left everything on the table, and they felt the same way. Young or old, I think there is a message delivery that I think a new voice will resonate with them.”

On if the group is disgruntled…

“No, I don’t think that’s the overriding, I think they think like I do that Bruce is a terrific coach, and I think that he will have a tremendous amount of success as he did here in his next opportunity and I think every player would agree with that, he’s a terrific coach.”

On where he felt Cassidy fell short…

“I felt that both the message and how it was being delivered and more importantly maybe how it was being received, you know, young and old and that’s where I reference both younger and older players and taking ownership of it as I would, and I do with where our roster’s at and the changes that I ultimately have to make. I think the players you know felt they were very well prepared but at times, young and old, they struggle, and sometimes that’s the voice that’s in their head and I think ultimately I had to make a decision that takes us in a different path.”

On if the fan reaction was anticipated…

“Well, if you go back when I promoted Bruce, I think there was a similar reaction, and I expected it then and I expected it today. You know it’s not a comfortable position to be in when you’ve got a popular coach both publicly and the amount of success he’s had. Yeah, it’s going to be an unpopular decision and it’s not going to resonate. It didn’t sit well with me, very difficult decision as I referenced both personally and professionally, but you know the rhetoric behind at times you hear about the Bruins organization, the Jacobs family, about being uninvested owners, absentee owners – it’s so far from the truth. They are very present, when I would go to write plans in front of both Cam and Charlie and Mr. Jacobs and that organization — they expect, as I referenced a few weeks ago, holding to a standard the best in class. And Bruce has been a part of a lot of the success we’ve had, so yeah, I believed the fans were going to be upset. As it came upon me to make the right decisions, both personnel decisions as well as staff decisions, that’s ultimately what I am going to try and continue to do.”

On if ownership approved the decision…

“I make my recommendations; I had spoken to them over the period of time and made my recommendations as to where I was leaning. You know a few weeks ago, I took last week with the combine and then ultimately came back over the weekend and made my final recommendation and got their support.”

On if Bruce’s criticism was difficult for players to receive the message…

“I think Bruce is very honest, he answers a question honestly and articulately. I’d say that the vast majority of those times Bruce would’ve said the players have heard that same message before he’s delivered it publicly, and I think he’s stuck to that. I don’t think any players necessarily would be caught off guard. As I referenced a few weeks ago, the constructive criticism, you know the word criticism is most of the time what people hear, sometimes it’s not easy, and he just wants to make sure he is clear and direct with his messaging and not contradictory.”

On if they are expecting a new coach to take them further…

“Good question. I feel that where our group is and what we were able to accomplish in the year, in the bulk of January, February, March, is a good hockey team. Now that being said, with the injuries we have and where the players come back health wise, that could dictate that and the start that we get off to may dictate that. Our goaltending I expect made some headway throughout the year and I think that’s hopefully going to continue if they put forth the investment, in Sway’s case the maturity and experience that he’s going to gain. I think our defense, albeit needs to get healthy, as a group is pretty strong. The question looms for Bergeron. That’s the question in terms of when you’re talking about bringing back a similar type of roster, that he’s a big part of that and I still have to wait for that decision. I don’t have any clarity on that as I stand here today so I’m not going to fully answer the question because I don’t have that answer as I sit. Now we are going to take a shift not unlike 2015 where we institute some younger players, and we have to continue to do a good job of that when they’re ready. Putting players in when they’re not ready, it’s not going to help fool anybody. These guys want to win, we’ve done a pretty good job over the course of that time period of reference of being very competitive, we just didn’t get it done. In 2019 we were close, and we’ve been close, I just didn’t think we played our best hockey that we were capable of playing against Carolina and I don’t take anything away from Carolina and what they accomplished, and I would think they’d say the same thing against the Rangers the drop of Game 7.”

On his job and doing a potential rebuild…

“My job relative to keeping it, I think I’ve made decisions whether it be in my last year of my contract or my first year of my contract, it’s in the best interest of the Boston Bruins. That’s not why I stand up here today to worry about my job, as far as what my recommendations are, they’re not caught off guard in any way, shape or form in the directions that I need to move well in advance. In terms of how I think we are, injuries are going to be a part of that, but we’re a competitive group and we’re going to remain a competitive group, but we may need to infuse at some point in time. We have the injuries and things that catch up to you that you just can’t get out from under, that’s a problem. And into Bergeron as I referenced last time I was here; it could be a directional shift as well.”

On how a new coach could impact the matchup with Carolina…

“I’m always process-driven. I think the structure of our hockey club will remain. I do believe coaching – obviously, the talent, you watch Edmonton and Colorado get up and down the ice last night, it’s a talent-driven league. But structure, how you can defend – you look at Tampa and all the success they’ve had. We’re a good club. You’re in the top part of the league for a reason. Sometimes it just depends on where you are in your cycle. Teams have been in a position. It’s the first time Colorado has been in the Stanley Cup Final for 20 years. Joe [Sakic] has done a hell of a job. Chris [MacFarland] and Craig Billington, they’ve got themselves at the doorstep. And other teams are in a similar fashion. We’ve been a team that’s been very competitive, and I want to continue to do that. It may take a time period where, not unlike [2015] where we felt that we needed to make some changes in where we had several players on long-term deals, and I made some very tough decisions at that point in time trying to infuse some younger players, and at times we did it well and other times we fell short. Fully acknowledge that along the path here as well. We need to continue to do a better job in all those areas if we hope to remain competitive.

On what qualities they will look for in the next head coach…

“I’m still going to be a process-driven and a structure guy. I do believe that we can continue to evolve in involving our defense. We’ve been an upper echelon power play and penalty killing team. I think that needs to remain. You’re seeing that rear its head in the playoffs. You watch Florida have a ridiculously good power play during the regular season and it sputtered in the playoffs, and it probably cost them a little bit. So, I think those are difference makers as you’re going along. Again, I don’t dictate how the refereeing is going to go but I think you’re seeing a trend in that area that special teams are certainly playing a big part of it and the goaltending is going to be a part of it. So, the coach has to have the communication skills to be able to bridge that gap with older and younger players. I think that’s paramount now with integration. As I said, in a perfect world, all players are overcooked or overbaked. Kenny Holland and my peer group have used that terminology. And we won’t be any different. But I go back, you’ve asked me about the Lysells of the world. Only when they’re ready. I mean, David Pastrnak is a great example of that a number of years ago. We didn’t necessarily believe he was ready, but he came in and scored against Philadelphia and next thing you know, he’s in our lineup for the rest of the year and impactful moving forward. So, those will be the challenges that we try and find the balance of development and an infusion of talent and the new coach is going to have to be able to communicate and bridge that gap from older players, communicating with them and holding them to a standard that I think we all feel is necessary. And in this town, it is necessary to hold a team to a competitive standard. That coach has to walk that walk.”

On potential candidates…

“I have a list of candidates. But the search is going to take me some time to go through and do my due diligence and continue to talk to our staff and interview from a wide base and learn about what other people outside the game, how they view our younger players and how they view our team as it is.”

On the assistant coaches…

“Both Joe [Sacco] and Chris [Kelly] are under contract. I’ve had a discussion with Bob Essensa, so I’ll see where that one lies. As I referenced, Kevin Dean won’t be extended. I don’t categorically say that because I’m going to hire a new head coach and if he decides he wants to interview Kevin, I know Kevin will be looking at other opportunities elsewhere. I would leave that up to the head coach. But it’s unlikely at this point in time.

On his contract status…

“I haven’t finalized anything. As I referenced a number of weeks ago, I have an indication as I’ve charted a course for this organization that I’ll be back.”

On if he met with Cassidy…

“I did. I met in person with Bruce yesterday afternoon.”

On how Cassidy took the news…

“Not well, as I didn’t [when] delivering it. I sat there and said, ‘I’m the same guy that six years ago sat with you to believe in you,’ and I sat there yesterday believing in him as an excellent head coach. It’s just I made a very difficult decision and I had to deliver the news as I would, in person, and discuss some of the things where we both fell short and not getting the job done and wishing him well. It’s only a matter of when, not a matter of if he has a next opportunity.”

On if Cassidy was firm in his ways and not evolving…

“I think Bruce has evolved. I’ve been working with Bruce for 14 years. I’ve watched him grow into – and it’s the reason why he was hired six years ago – or I promoted him six years ago. Because I knew what his skillset as a coach was. As far as evolving, I think his confidence as a head coach and the messaging that he wants to deliver, I think is exactly as he wants it to be. Has it changed with the group that’s still here and is it as effective with the group that’s here? That was my determination. Not as effective as it was. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be less effective somewhere else. Because I do believe he’s a good coach and is going to have a similar winning percentage elsewhere.”

On the message to fans who have lost faith in the front office…

“You can be more specific if you’d like. I think that’s a generalization. If you feel that way, I’m perfectly happy to answer the question. I don’t think I’ve lost faith in myself as a manager. I don’t think our winning percentage over the last six years, seven years that I’ve been a general manager would necessarily support that. We haven’t won. That’s what supports that. And that’s why I stand up here today to try and make the necessary changes. And I will. And to answer your question, if I don’t, guess what? Somebody else will be standing up here. I referenced that with the Jacobs family and with Cam. One of the best parts about working for this organization is to be held to that standard, knowing that you have the full latitude to make the recommendation on decisions that you think are right. And then when they’re not, they get somebody else. That’s as categorically honest as I can possibly be. That’s as black and white as it is. To be held to that standard and to aspire to be best in class is exactly what you want to be part of. And then, when the decision is made, they just categorically make a business decision to say this is in the best interest of the Boston Bruins. And I might not be part of that.”

On why Cassidy was let go instead of front office leadership…

“It may fall the other way at some point in time. Today, that’s not the day. I made a decision as to what my recommendation would be and the change in the course. We have had a good team. We’re going to continue to have a good team. Do we have to pivot based on where injuries are? It may come. And maybe they make the decision then that I’m not the right guy. As it stands right now, I have the support of the people that I work with and work for. And I’m thankful for that. I didn’t make the decision to change the coach, because of that. I made the decision because I’ve been in the place where I hired Bruce six years ago and the same person that stands here today, and say, I need to make a change. As I referenced, the messaging, the direction and some of the things are not resonating as loudly as they did. That’s part of the exercise.”

On if Cassidy lost the room…

“No. No. You don’t go out and get 107 points and win 51 games if players aren’t responding to you. That just doesn’t happen. He’s able to push the buttons that are necessary. But it takes its toll over the course of time. You have to find a way to deliver that message a little differently or the personnel changes and you cycle it out. That’s a little bit of the cycle of what happens. “

On if the team needs to add future picks…

“Everybody would like to never trade picks and never necessarily have to give up – you can make lateral trades. But you know when you get to the deadline, what team trying to win did that? You just have to. You know you’re going to leverage. And you try to spread it out as we did. And then at some point in time, as I referenced, you may have to be in a position where you are going to recoup like we did in [2015]. And you hope you execute it to the nth degree. Like I said, we’ve done it well, but not well enough. And that’s what our aspirations are, to continue to do it better. To answer your question, yeah, I’d certainly like to add from a futures standpoint and be much deeper and stocked. Chances are, if you’ve been a team that’s been looking to win and be competitive every year for 15 or so years, you’re going to sacrifice some things and there is going to be a tradeoff. And that’s exactly what’s happening.”

On if he feels he needs to make that decision now…

“No. I feel that we have a very competitive team. Am I going to look to make some changes, necessary changes? Absolutely. And part of that will be the younger guys coming on board, whether they can make a difference. Maybe we get a glimpse of that with some of the injuries and rehabs we have to go through, and then we make a decision from there.”

On what he wants out of his roster…

“I want to win.”

On if there’s a skill or toughness issue with this roster…

“I think it’s both. I think it’s playing with a little bit more pace, and maybe that’s in the bottom six. I think we were well-equipped depth-wise, but when certain players go through their challenges, were other guys able to step up and be with the group? And that’s on me. You guys asked me the same question, whether I should have continued to add at the deadline, and likely should have. Didn’t necessarily say that was possible or to the large point of leveraging even further, maybe not. But finding that balance of youth and infusion and pace of our game and playing to that standard and getting a bit more. The war of attrition is a big part of this. Who would have thought that McAvoy and Lindholm both would have gotten injured in that first round series? But they did. So, it does take its toll. The first year we lost our right side, so history would tell me you better be equipped on the back end when you’re going into the playoffs in order to get through. It’s just seemingly where injuries amount for us. So, we have to be well-balanced to take a run. You just do.”

On if this decision could help with Bergeron’s decision…

“No. I mean, I’ve had multiple conversations with Patrice about this organization over the course of my time here. We continue to have them. He has too much respect for Bruce or for me, or for anybody, to make recommendations about who the coach is and who he’s going to play with. Went through the same thing with Claude where he played and had a lot of success with. It’s more out of respect. In my conversations with him yesterday, I did not ask whether this impacts his decision. It’s Bergy’s decision and his timeline. He referenced it during his acceptance of the Selke.”

On negotiations with Pastrnak…

“Well, we can’t have a discussion with David until the calendar year on the 15th, but I’ve said all along that I will attack that one as I have with all of our players that we’ve looked to go longer term on right away. We’ll see where it goes. David has a decision to make in that same vein. He might be sitting back and balancing the same way with it, whether it’s Patrice or anybody else we’re adding. Those conversations will come to light, and we’ll have to make a decision based on the information I get.”

On if he anticipates using a buyout option…

“Not today I don’t. Not while I sit here today. It could change, but no.”

On if he’s had any more discussions with Krejci…

“No. I’ve had a discussion with David’s people. David has flown back to South Carolina and I expect at some point in time we’ll communicate.”

On his faith in the scouting staff to use picks…

“There’s been a tremendous amount of rhetoric, if you want to ask the obvious question of whether or not we failed in 2015 to knock it out of the park in our draft, then ask. It’s not like I haven’t addressed it before. The draft is what it is, you try to do the absolute best job you possibly can. I think that we have several players that have certainly turned into good NHL players. I don’t believe that we executed to the level we were capable of, so you need to continue to do it better. In subsequent drafts we have at times. Other drafts we haven’t. That’s a little bit of the variance of drafting 18-year-old kids, and it doesn’t put any of the onus elsewhere except on us to continue to look to do it to the best of our abilities. I’m sure every team feels the exact same way.”

On if he sees the team as a contender as the best-case scenario…

“Best case, it has to be healthy. And that’s a little bit of a variance where I stand here today. I mean, wasn’t sure that – I referenced that [Brad] Marchand was going in for MRIs, and we just didn’t have the information a few weeks ago that he was having his hips done and certainly that Charlie [McAvoy] was going to have to have his shoulder done. We knew on Griz, and Mike Reilly’s a little more of a maintenance thing. Bergeron’s was a maintenance thing. How they come out of it and where the get back into the lineup may determine that ultimately. But they’re really good players, and I expect will re-launch themselves into the next level they’re capable of, which would indicate that we’re going to be a really strong team again if I can do some things this summer.”

On if a new coaching voice will make a difference…

“I surely hope so, that’s the intention of when you’re putting together a team over the course of time you’ve had some success, I think you should take some comfort in the fact that you’ve made some good decisions in that regard. Maybe not to the level of the team that’s won, and you hold yourself to that standard. I think that exact same rhetoric was in place when I promoted Bruce. And I would say it’s going to remain until the next coach comes in here and does what I hope he’s capable of doing with the group of players that we have. The answer will be in what our record is and what our accomplishments are. Maybe you’ll have the chance to ask the next guy that.”

On if the next candidate needs to have NHL coaching experience…

“I’m certainly going to be open-minded. 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 and David 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 and be able to communicate effectively across all those age groups. And 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.”

On how injuries influence a coaching decision…

“What was the connection I made with the injuries?”

On injuries with the team and how the coach would prevent that …

“I don’t think I referenced that Bruce could prevent that from happening. I think I answered the question of some of the things that go into making a decision and why you might not have success, and they’re all parts of that. Did you have a more direct question you’d like me to answer?”

On if the team had beat Carolina, would he have made the same decision…

“Hypothetically, if we had continued on in the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup — no, I’m probably happy about the parade we’re on. That’s sometimes the margins. The margins you just referenced in the Carolina series were really small, we knew that going in. They were really small. That was a really good hockey team. It would have taken us to execute — I don’t think the depth of our lineup shone through 5-on-5 like they had for January, February, March. That’s some of the issues that reared their head at an inopportune time. Attrition is part of the exercise, and when you lose those players, that’s a difficult thing to overcome, as an organization and a team. That, I did not place on the head coach in terms of why they got injured or how they got injured. Just as I referenced and answered this question, and I’ll do my best to answer yours.”

On if he thinks there needs to be a fundamental change in playing style…

“I don’t think it’s a fundamental change. I do believe there are some things we need to continue to evolve at and incorporate. We had some discussions and the coaching staff, every year, does things on their own as to how they want to play. We talk about those openly and in a collaborative manner. No different than our staff, via scouts, via analytics, via myself, and the people that watch the team – how can we continue to evolve with the group that we have? Is the personnel capable of doing that, and what are the other teams doing better than we’re doing? And vice versa. Other teams look at us and think, ‘They do this pretty well.’ They’ve copied and changed. Coaches collaborate around the league. Let’s be honest, they do. They pick each other’s brains. I just spent time with Team Canada, watching a coaching staff that was highly competitive with each other, pick each other’s brains in how they continue to evolve. I don’t think we’re going to be any different in trying to incorporate any of those things in areas of our game. Now, you’re going to ask a new coach – you look at the personnel, I’m going to get feedback from the coaches I’m going to interview. What is this group capable of doing, and the stylistic tweaks you have to make? There were some significant changes in our game when Bruce took over. I think we benefitted from it to a large degree, and I’m hopeful that a new coach coming in will have the proper tweaks as well.”

On the need for team toughness…

“I don’t think we’ve ever disagreed in having team toughness. I think I played for a lot of teams that had team toughness. I played for teams that didn’t. And you’re exposed. I do believe that you absolutely, categorically need team toughness across the board. I think watching Colorado – [Kurtis] MacDermid hasn’t played the entire playoffs. So, when you’re talking about having an element, whereas [Ryan]. Reaves – again, I’m referencing two individual players that define what you may be describing. It’s just a mindset of your team that has to have it. There are pockets of your season and certain opponents – I would reference too, specifically, the two games against Nashville last year were hard-nosed games. Nashville led the league in fights by a wide margin. I don’t think that we were lacking in team toughness and a response in any way, shape, or form in any one of those games, outside of when Bergeron got popped and whether or not our team responded as appropriately as they could. That being said, that next game against Nashville, I think they did respond. And that’s what I reference as team toughness. And I think we are – I am completely siding with you in the fact that I think it’s necessary for our marketplace and the identity of our hockey club that we have it.

On if they were tough enough in the playoffs…

“Unfortunately, we took more penalties than Carolina. Which at times is puzzling but that’s how it played out. We got hurt. We had guys get hurt. Grzelcyk left that series. McAvoy left for Covid but also got injured in that series. Lindholm left that series. I don’t know if that’s toughness, maybe it’s just bad luck in that sense. I want that in our team, but I don’t want to trade it off for skill and speed. I want a balance.”

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