Coaching carousel spins perfectly for Bruins, Stars, Knights
Getting fired by the Boston Bruins didn’t stop former coach Bruce Cassidy from picking up the phone and giving some advice when replacement Jim Montgomery called to ask.
Getting fired by the Vegas Golden Knights also didn’t stop Peter DeBoer from answering a call from Cassidy, who replaced him in his old job. DeBoer was off to the Dallas Stars, where Montgomery last had a head coaching job before being dismissed in 2019 for off-ice reasons.
The weird offseason rotation of musical coaches around the NHL turned out great for everyone involved, with all three teams leading their respective divisions at the midway point of the season. Montgomery’s Bruins are running away with the Eastern Conference, DeBoer’s Stars and Cassidy’s Golden Knights are also on track to make the playoffs and it seems every situation was a perfect fit.
“Sometimes, a new body comes in, a new voice and things work,” Montgomery said Friday at All-Star Weekend in South Florida, where he was joined by DeBoer and Cassidy. “The credit I give both of those guys is Butch and Pete have done a great job for a long time, and I’d like to be able to copy what they’ve done.”
It was almost so perfect a fit that Montgomery came close to buying Cassidy’s old house. The only thing stopping him was the desire for a quieter street for his 5-year-old daughter.
Other than that, it has been a seamless transition for Montgomery, likely the front-runner for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year making the most of his second chance. Fired by the Stars in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct, Montgomery sought help for alcohol abuse, spent two seasons as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues and got the job in Boston with a team Cassidy coached to the playoffs the previous six years.
The Bruins won 39 of their first 51 games and are on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history.
“To see him where he deserves to get another chance to see him kind of making the most of it, that’s awesome,” said Anaheim Ducks All-Star forward Troy Terry, who played three seasons under Montgomery at the University of Denver from 2015-18, when the retired center emerged as hockey’s next potential coaching phenomenon.
“It’s not surprising. From just the brain and just the mind for hockey of people I’ve been around in my career, I’d put him at the top, probably: just his intelligence for the game, the way he sees it, the way he can make adjustments.”
Credit some of those adjustments to Montgomery’s chat with Cassidy, who despite a bitter end to his time in Boston filled in his successor on the staff, players and some of their strengths and weaknesses.
“I felt like I had a good handle because of the information that he gave me of what I was walking into as the Bruins head coach,” Montgomery said.
So did Cassidy in Vegas after chatting with DeBoer, who took the fall for an injury-riddled season that included the Golden Knights missing the playoffs for the first time in their five years of existence.
“It’s nice when the coaches are willing to kind of share a certain amount of information, even though we compete against each other all the time,” Cassidy said. “Pete and I have been around a little bit longer, so we know the league. Monty obviously with Dallas and St. Louis got to know the league, so I think you do understand what goes into it.”
Cassidy agreed with Montgomery that there’s something to be said for “a new voice” in charge of a team and credited the leadership groups in place for all three teams having success.
Vegas All-Star center Chandler Stephenson also sees plenty of similarities — although different mannerisms — between Cassidy and DeBoer, who he’s pleased to see winning with the Stars.
“They both have their systems, have their way of playing and envisioning us to play that way every night,” Stephenson said. “(DeBoer has been) at it for so long, so he was bound to have success. Not really surprised. He’s a great coach and a great person, too. He was just bound to get Dallas to where they want to be.”
But DeBoer doesn’t want this fortunate turn of the coaching carousel to serve as an advertisement for firing coaches every couple of years. On his fifth NHL stop after stints with Florida, New Jersey and San Jose — including taking the Devils and Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final — the now-grizzled veteran points to the coaching continuity of the past two champions, Colorado and Tampa, as evidence of what wins at this level.
“The fact that all three of us landed in spots with good teams and made an impact when we got there, I think what it shows you is the depth of coaching at this level and I think the levels below us,” DeBoer said. “There’s a lot of great coaches out there.”
So many that the coaching tree has more than just three winning branches.
Rick Bowness, who DeBoer replaced in Dallas, took over for Montgomery and coached the Stars to the Cup Final in the 2020 bubble, has the Winnipeg Jets safety in playoff position in the West. Former Jets coach Paul Maurice ‘s Florida Panthers are also just a few points back of a wild-card spot in the East.
That’s no coincidence given the amount of assistance coaches want to give each other while bouncing around the league.
“You help each other out,” Montgomery said. “The brotherhood we have is special.”