What We Learned: Bruce Cassidy's Jack Adams case

Bruce Cassidy isn’t getting the credit he deserves. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The hockey world collectively decided in, like, mid-October that there was no way someone other than Gerard Gallant was going to win the Jack Adams this year.

Vegas got off to a hot start and kept it up for the better part of five months, which is really quite something when you think about it. Even if we’re saying the Golden Knights have gotten very lucky this season — and they for sure have — the fact they’re probably going to finish second or third in the West, instead of second or third outside the playoffs there, is remarkable.

But there is a candidate out there who is perhaps a little more qualified, because he’s the coach of the absolute best team in the league, which was likewise not expected to do very much this year. A few people had the Boston Bruins at or near the top of their division at the start of the season, but few could have predicted that they would spend almost the entire season as an absolute buzzsaw. It’s very, very easy to argue that Bruce Cassidy is the reason why.

In most respects except the standings, Vegas is middle-of-the-pack. In pretty much all respects, the Bruins are a clearly elite team. In terms of adjusted 5-on-5 underlying numbers, they are first in the league in share of shot attempts, share of unblocked shot attempts, share of shots on goal, share of expected goals, and share of scoring chances. They’re second in share of actual goals.

The Bruins have the best goal difference in the league, and have a really good chance to win the Presidents’ Trophy despite the fact that they have two other 100-point teams in their division right now, while the entire rest of the NHL only has three.

The problem with Jack Adams voting in recent years has been the fact that actual elite coaches rarely win it. Apart from Barry Trotz, who’s a fine coach, winning in 2015-16, Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien and Bruce Boudreau are really the only high-end coaches to win it in the cap era. Dan Bylsma and Dave Tippet are close, but there are more Bob Hartleys, John Tortorellas, Patrick Roys, Paul MacLeans and Lindy Ruffs in the mix here, and that’s especially been true lately. It still boggles the mind that Mike Babcock doesn’t have a Jack Adams, right?

Instead, it typically goes to the coach of a sub-mediocre team with an inexplicably high PDO that pushed them over 100 points. Right now, Vegas is 11th in PDO, but it was in the top eight when it was winning a lot just a few months ago. That the team has cooled as the season wore on — in a weak-sauce division, mind you — isn’t a surprise, but everyone has Gallant’s name carved in stone on the award.

Apart from some early-season goalie struggles, Vegas isn’t a team that lost a lot of man-games to injury (and boy did those AHL goalies get lucky to keep the team afloat when that happened). Certainly, when it comes to actual important players — i.e. not Clayton Stoner and Luca Sbisa — they were healthy up until the past two weeks or so.

Meanwhile, the Bruins have missed just about every important player on their roster for at least some of the season. Patrice Bergeron, for whom people were making an MVP case until he missed a bunch of games recently, has been unhealthy-scratched for 18 games this season. Brad Marchand has missed nine (plus got suspended a few times). Charlie McAvoy, shelved for 20. Davids Krejci and Backes missed 18 and 21, respectively. Zdeno Chara returned to the lineup Sunday for the first time in nine games.

Plus Brandon Carlo probably broke his leg on Saturday and is therefore almost certainly done for the season. There is speculation that Rick Nash, the Bruins’ big deadline acquisition, has also played his last game this year.

And a lot of those have been recent. And with all those impediments, the Bruins lost two games out of 15 in regulation in March, including a few games where Chara, McAvoy, Krug, Bergeron, Backes and Nash were all out simultaneously.

So how did the Bruins keep it together? Cassidy and the kids. And also Marchand, David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask. Every guy who gets called up ends up being really good, and one imagines that has a lot to do with Cassidy having been the coach for many Bruins prospects in Providence until about 14 months ago.

The Bruins have dressed six skaters who technically qualify as rookies for at least 30 games. It’s the most rookies of any team in the league (the Kings have five, the Caps and Devils have four each.) That’s almost a third of the roster for almost half the season, and basically all of them have been at least decent as role players.

McAvoy would have been a legit Calder candidate without his MCL sprain, because he’s been the Bruins’ best defenseman all year. Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen are both top-10 in rookie scoring despite missing at least 10 percent of the season (also due to injury ha ha ha). Matt Grzelcyk has been a very good bottom-pair offensive defenseman. Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork are both little-used (and Bjork has missed a huge chunk of the season with injury as well) but effective enough when they are.

And that doesn’t include late addition Ryan Donato, who’s on a point-a-game pace through his first seven pro appearances, because of course he is.

Turn on any Bruins game and watch this team. They’re not only dominant, but they’re fun to watch. It seems as though no deficit is too large for them to overcome, and that’s in the rare instances when they trail in the first place. More often, they’re not only beating teams, but absolutely speedbagging them. That game against the Panthers on Saturday was a bloodbath, and this is a team that was without its top two defensemen and a handful of depth forwards.

There was — and should have been — a lot of concern about the direction of this team when Claude Julien got canned, essentially for having a low PDO relative to expectations. But the Bruins’ turnaround under Cassidy, who’s wrung plenty of elite performances out of over-30 players this season, has been nothing short of incredible. Rask and Anton Khudobin have both been very good in net, but not exactly .930 like Marc-Andre Fleury to make Cassidy look like a genius.

The rest of the team is doing that instead, and it’s because no one has done a better job coaching a deeply inexperienced, injury-plagued team to pretty much the best and scariest team in the league.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Friday’s Ducks-Kings game was appointment viewing and the Ducks won in overtime and isn’t that nice?

Arizona Coyotes: These guys do not know how to tank.

Boston Bruins: Of course Jake DeBrusk returned to the lineup and scored twice through a mega-dominant game for David Krejci. That’s Bruins hockey these days, I guess.

Buffalo Sabres: Five assists for Jack Eichel in a single game. Why not, right?

Calgary Flames: Congrats to these scrappy underdogs on beating …………. the Oilers?

Carolina Hurricanes: Nine years without the playoffs. Gotta keep that coach around though.

Chicago Blackhawks: Duncan Keith entered Sunday shooting 0.5 percent, the lowest non-zero shooting percentage in league history. That rules.

Colorado Avalanche: And that’s the end of their playoff push.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Seth Jones and Artemi Panarin both had four points, but the team still lost to Vancouver in OT after a three-goal comeback. Could be a lot worse. Could lose to Vancouver in regulation.

Dallas Stars: Did Tyler Seguin have the quietest 40-goal season in recent memory? No one is talking about it.

Detroit Red Wings: The pom-pom crew in the Detroit media has really covered itself in glory this season, but this take really is incredible.

Edmonton Oilers: “Failing to develop” ONLY Jesse Puljujarvi? Huh, okay.

Florida Panthers: These guys are cooked.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are really making a big push to be the official team of Utah, I guess.

Minnesota Wild: Word is this Ryan Suter injury might be real bad. That would be sub-optimal.

Montreal Canadiens: Gotta love a silver lining, baby!

Nashville Predators: My advice? Don’t give up three power play goals on a single five-minute major. Just thinking out loud.

New Jersey Devils: Congrats, you’re about to make the playoffs. Your first-round opponent is probably the Bruins. Enjoy!

New York Islanders: If there’s an extension for Jaro Halak, that’s gotta be it for Snow.

New York Rangers: Can I give you a hint? There’s been a decision made on Vigneault already.

Ottawa Senators: Man it’s always great to remember the Sens (maybe) traded their first-round pick this year.

Philadelphia Flyers: I love to go into the playoffs with no idea who my goalie is.

Pittsburgh Penguins: I love stuff like this. What do you think the Pens’ chances of winning the Cup are right now? Like 10 or 12 percent? Less?

San Jose Sharks: Easy to forget the Sharks have been great for the past couple weeks without Joe Thornton.

St. Louis Blues: Uhhh, yikes.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Yeah it was Stamkos getting in a fight that drove the Bolts to a 7-3 win over the Rangers and not, like, playing the Rangers.

Toronto Maple Leafs: A million percent start sitting guys. Especially the ones who are bad but keep getting into the lineup.

Vancouver Canucks: Of course these guys are on a four-game winning streak. Good lord.

Vegas Golden Knights: This is very nice.

Washington Capitals: This Ovechkin guy? Pretty good!

Winnipeg Jets: For me, getting Jacob Trouba back right before the playoffs would be helpful.

Play of the Weekend<

Wild Bill Karlsson is crazy for this one.

Gold Star Award

I love arguing about who should win awards.

Minus of the Weekend

It’s weird, right, that I didn’t hear a thing from Vegas fans for like six weeks and then a bunch of them emailed me on Saturday after they clinched a division title they should have had locked up a month ago. Ah well.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Flamester” had one that made me laugh out loud. I’m not gonna edit out the typo.

Travis Hamonic and Tj Brodie for Calgary’s first tound pick back

Signoff

Oh ho ho ho no, patented Skinner burgers. Old family recipe.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)