By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s time for new voices on the Bruins’ bench, but voices that are still familiar and will convey a similar message to the ones they’re replacing.
That’s the message the Bruins sent Tuesday when they announced the new look of head coach Claude Julien’s staff by adding Bruce Cassidy and Jay Pandolfo as assistants.
Cassidy spent the past eight seasons as a coach, including five as head coach, with the Providence farm club. Pandolfo just finished his second season in the Bruins front office, including last season with the title Director of Player Development.
Joe Sacco, who has been a Julien assistant the past two seasons, will return, along with goaltending coach Bob Essensa, who has been with the Bruins since 2003. The Bruins announced Doug Jarvis, a Boston assistant since 2010, will not be back. Previously Doug Houda was let go and he has since signed on in Detroit.
We all know about the Bruins’ plan to integrate more youth going forward, and Cassidy and Pandolfo are familiar with the players the Bruins have coming up through the pipeline. In the case of Cassidy, we’ve already seen the results of his work and that of Providence assistant coach Kevin Dean, in the development of Torey Krug, Ryan Spooner, David Pastrnak and others. Pandolfo has been working with several of the Bruins’ prospects, in some cases up close and personal, during his time since he retired as a player in 2013.
Although accusations of Julien being a hater when it comes to younger players are a bit over the top, clearly the Bruins have decided it would help to have some gentler voices both teaching and boosting the confidence of their younger players. Every coaching staff needs a good cop-bad cop scenario and Cassidy and Pandolfo might be able to better support the youthful players after indiscretions and mistakes better than Julien and his prior staff.
Specific roles for the assistants haven’t been revealed yet, but it’s expected Cassidy, a NHL defenseman for five seasons, will work with the blue-line corps. Cassidy duplicated much of Boston’s structure in Providence and his philosophy about how to play the position should translate well to what general manager Don Sweeney and Julien have talked about the past couple years.
“He wants you to push the pace, move the puck,” retired defenseman Colby Cohen, who played for Cassidy for three seasons in Providence, said. “He wants guys who are also responsible. He’s not happy if guys sell the farm every time. But he wants guys who are good puck movers, good two-way guys.”
Obviously it’ll be up to Sweeney to provide Cassidy with better talent to work with. Nonetheless, Cassidy also helped develop Johnny Boychuk, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, so he can clearly adapt his coaching style to suit different types of defensemen.
Bringing Cassidy and Pandolfo into the NHL room won’t just benefit the younger players. The veterans will also benefit from having new voices and new ideas around. Pandolfo already has a rapport with the guys from his time as a player. Everyone respects a guy with more than 1,000 games NHL experience, when you add regular season and playoffs. Cassidy has his NHL pedigree as well, and he has a straight-forward approach that will hold guys accountable.
“Even when I thought he was being an [expletive] I still appreciated knowing where I stood and I could still appreciate his criticism,” Cohen said. “There were no mind games.”
A couple different voices with new ideas and an ability to thicken the players’ skin should benefit the Bruins in their pursuit of a return to respectability. The Bruins have also reaffirmed their commitment to Julien. While some might see Cassidy’s promotion as putting him one step away from the head position, by staying in-house for Julien’s assistants it looks like the Bruins took particular care to pick guys Julien was familiar with and are of a like mind with the philosophies already present in Boston.
If Sweeney’s plan was to have Cassidy as head coach with Pandolfo and others as assistants, the GM would’ve just done that this summer. Instead he stuck with Julien and what the Bruins hope is a bolstered support staff. By the same token, Julien knows the high regard the organization holds Cassidy in and it never hurts to have someone nearby to push an individual, be it a player or a coach.
In the grand scheme, who’s working with Julien isn’t going to matter if the Bruins can’t upgrade the talent. Sweeney has to make the right choices about what veterans to keep or import while working in younger players. But at least in Cassidy and Pandolfo the Bruins know they have two assistants with experience developing talent without sacrificing winning. And only winning next season will make any of the Bruins’ moves this offseason winners.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.