By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It turns out the Bruins owe Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle a debt of gratitude for the resurgence Boston is going through under coach Bruce Cassidy.
Almost 10 years ago the Bruins were looking for an assistant coach for their Providence farm club, following the departure of Scott Gordon and the ascension of Rob Murray from assistant coach to head coach in Gordon’s place.
While doing his due diligence during the search, Murray consulted with his friend Carlyle about Cassidy’s acumen as a potential hire.
“I just said that the situation that he was in in Washington was one that I don’t think anybody could’ve had success in and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Carlyle told me after the Ducks’ morning skate at TD Garden in preparation for their game against the Bruins on Tuesday. “That he was a very, very well-qualified coach and that he knew how to run a bench. He was upbeat and I enjoyed working for him and I thought that he would be an NHL head coach someday.
“And I said he was probably overqualified for the position he was interviewing for.”
It took nearly a decade for Cassidy, who had coached the Washington Capitals with Carlyle as one of his assistants during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, to once again become a head coach. But without Carlyle’s vote of confidence, there’s no telling if the Bruins would’ve brought Cassidy to New England or where he might’ve wound up resurrecting his coaching career.
Now, Cassidy is 74 games into his Bruins head coaching career with a record of 47-18-9 and is the Coach of the Year favorite, non-expansion team division. He paid his dues as the assistant in Providence, then as Murray’s replacement as the P-Bruins’ head coach and eventually assistant coach and interim head coach in Boston.
All these years later, the look of Cassidy’s team is familiar to Carlyle.
“He’s got a hockey club now that’s playing at a very high level and that’s a Bruce Cassidy team – they’re quick, on the puck, he wants them to skate, he wants them to be up-tempo. And that’s the way he likes his teams to play,” Carlyle said.
Carlyle’s kind words to Murray all those years ago were an endorsement for a colleague and also a bit of payback for Cassidy having similarly helped out Carlyle. When Cassidy became the Capitals’ coach, Carlyle had been out of the coaching game for a season after a five-year run with Manitoba in the AHL.
After two years in Washington, Carlyle went back to the AHL for one more season before Anaheim gave him his first NHL shot. In his second season, while Cassidy was coaching Kingston in the OHL, Carlyle led the Ducks to the Stanley Cup championship.
“Good for him. He owes me a bottle of wine,” Cassidy recalled thinking after the Ducks’ win.
“I was happy for him,” Cassidy continued. “I liked Randy a lot, a lot of respect for him, he helped me a lot that year. He’s an old-school hockey guy yet he’s been able to evolve. He likes to play a certain way and we would, I don’t want to say butt heads – with Randy he’s opinionated – but as soon as the puck dropped we were on the same page, wasn’t going to carry it over. In the meetings, say your piece, I would say mine, other assistants say his, and off we went together.
“You have a little sort of small feeling of ‘hey this guy won a Stanley Cup, good for him winning.’ And I feel like a small part of it.”
Although Cassidy’s Bruins play the style Carlyle came to expect from teams coached by his ex-boss, Cassidy’s coaching has evolved over the years. He’s stolen things here and there from other coaches, the way any successful coach would.
Part of Cassidy’s better-rounded coaching philosophy stems back to his time being around Carlyle.
“He talked about the neutral zone a lot back then,” Cassidy said. “As a young coach I think you worry about the offensive zone and the defensive [zone], sometimes you think ‘oh, the neutral zone, not much happens there.’ But he opened my eyes there on how to win the neutral zone and the importance of it. And that’s what he talked about a lot back then and I was less concerned about that. And I think nowadays we’re pretty good at that.”
The Bruins are “pretty good” at a lot of things nowadays, and Cassidy’s tutelage deserves a bulk of the credit for the organization’s turnaround. And for a couple of reasons, Carlyle can take a piece of credit for Cassidy turning into the Bruins’ savior.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.