Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Cassidy knows Bruins must adapt to new NHL

Ty Anderson
August 16, 2017 - 2:05 pm

The NHL is constantly changing, and perhaps nobody knows that better than Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, the in-season replacement for Claude Julien that dragged the Bruins out of mediocrity and brought them back to the playoffs this past spring.

Under Cassidy -- who, along with Patrice Bergeron, joined WEEI’s OMF Show today live from Fenway Park for the second day of the 2017 WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon -- the Bruins increased their speed in practice, and successfully translated that  into wins, which turned out to be the antidote to their early season woes. And perhaps a natural fix given what’s gone on around the league in between B’s playoff berths.

“You gotta keep up,” Cassidy said of the league’s recent shift towards a more speed-oriented style across the board. “And it’s a copycat league at times.

“You see Pittsburgh win a couple of Cups and they’ve some young, fast players that get on top of you, they turn over pucks with their speed and their sticks as opposed to their brawn,” Cassidy continued. “Now L.A. did it a different way and they were champions not that long ago, and so did Boston do it that way, so you gotta be careful you don’t switch too quick and get away from your roots as well.”

On the topic of roots, the Bruins represent a team in the middle of an identity crisis.

Their backend is still led by the physicality of the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara (with Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller as supporting cast members in that department). But behind those bangers, there’s serious skill in Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, and the next wave of defensive prospects. There’s also forwards Matt Beleskey and David Backes, the club’s last two big free agents, both of whom play the rugged, Western Conference heavy game, and two players looking for their optimal fit within a system that’s shifted towards speed and skill under Cassidy, and with more burners on the way this training camp, with at least four prospects expected to legitimately campaign for NHL roster spots.

A team in a similar situation, Cassidy said, are the Oilers.

“They’re big and they can skate, and that’s ideal,” Cassidy said. “But I think that at the end of the day, you have to go with your philosophy of how you draft. If you’re drafting speed and skill, then that’s what you’re gonna put on the ice because those are the players you’re going to build your core and your team around. If you’re drafting size and brawn and more in-your-face type players, then that’s the direction you gotta go.

“And I’m not saying there’s a right or wrong way, but the game is faster,” explained Cassidy. “It’s just the way it’s officiated, the way they’ve made the rules that benefit foot speed, a lot of the hits that are borderline are always automatically penalties and sometimes five-minute majors can affect the game, so you have to careful with your physical players as well, they sort of have to re-educate themselves on how to finish checks. So a lot of that lends itself more to the smaller, quicker player.”

“The speed of the game is there,” Bergeron, sitting alongside Cassidy, confirmed. “It is a faster game, but at the same time you have to adapt to it.”

This is not the first philosophical change that the league has gone through. It was six years ago that people put an emphasis on toughness after seeing what the Bruins did to win the Cup, that turned towards an emphasis on shot-blocking with the success of the Rangers and others, then to aggressive defenses, and now towards four lines of speed.

But no matter the trend, there’s a simple act that follows, according to the coach.

“You have to adapt accordingly or you get left behind,” said Cassidy.

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