Earlier this week, Boston Bruins management led by Cam Neely and Don Sweeney, made the decision to relieve Bruce Cassidy of his head coaching role with the Bruins. This announcement made waves across the hockey world as another highly decorated, and highly sought-after coach was on the market. The reasoning can be debated, the merits can be mulled over, but in the end, the decision has been made (I, for one, don’t agree with the decision, but that is neither here nor there).
Now that the Bruins have a vacancy behind the bench, who will be next in line to take over? Who can bring a more positive, encouraging approach to the Bruins’ young, up-and-coming players, and add more offensive creativity to this team? Here are three options the organization are reported to be considering.
David Quinn, the former Boston University coach and New York Rangers manager, is on the market having last coached Team USA in the 2022 Olympics. There are lots of appealing aspects of Quinn’s resume, starting with his success at the collegiate level with a number of Bruins players (including Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk). Quinn also has NHL coaching experience from his stint with the Rangers. This experience is an especially important aspect.
The Rangers under Quinn provide two pieces of experience that the Bruins are looking for and which few other coaches can match. First is the market. For all of their differences, coaching in a huge media market as the coach of an Original Six team is just different. Quinn has handled the media coverage and can bring that first-hand knowledge to TD Garden rather than learning on the fly.
Second, and likely more important to management, Quinn oversaw the Rangers as they underwent a youth movement. The “Kid Line” that has forced their way into the spotlight during the 2022 postseason started under Quinn last season. He may not have found the playoff success the Rangers are demonstrating this season, but he was responsible for the development of a young roster, development that is paying dividends a year later.
Now, if he’s so great, why is he still available? Plenty of other teams need a coach, shouldn’t they be calling him? Fair question, the Bruins need to answer that for themselves as well. I suspect Quinn has had the option to return to a bench, but has opted for a more patient approach to find the right fit.
During his time in New York, Quinn was fine but never led a dominant team. There are certainly questions about whether he would be able to coach a roster into a playoff spot, especially a team that has as many holes and injury questions as the Bruins will to start the season. I believe his dismissal from the Rangers was not so much an indictment of Quinn as a coach, but rather a team seeing an opportunity to sign an established coach with a track record of success in Gerard Gallant. That opportunity doesn’t present itself every day, so the Rangers jumped at it, leaving Quinn the odd man out.
Leach spent last season behind the Seattle Kraken bench as an assistant coach on the expansion team’s staff. Prior to his move to the Pacific Northwest, Leach had worked for the Providence Bruins for four years as their head coach, and an extra year as the assistant. This gives him intimate knowledge of the Bruins’ prospect pool, and experience maximizing the productivity of younger players like Oskar Steen, Jack Studnicka, and Trent Frederic. These are all players who are expected to elevate their game next season in Boston. Leach’s track record with these players makes him an attractive candidate as he doesn’t have to hypothesize what he will need to do to unlock these players’ potential. Rather, he can say for a fact what worked for him.
Working in Leach’s favor also is Sweeney’s admission that prior NHL head coaching experience is not a prerequisite for the next Bruins coach. Leach can point to his career progression working up through the American Hockey League (AHL) as an assistant coach, being promoted to AHL head coach, making the move to an NHL assistant coaching role, and now the Bruins’ role would be the next logical step as an NHL head coach.
With these positives, Leach does have some question marks to address. None of his teams in Providence won Calder Cups, a fact that could circle back to the roster he had to work with, a roster constructed by Sweeney and Co. Even still, Leach’s team in Seattle was abysmal to watch. Sure, it was an expansion team and nobody realistically expected the team to be a reprise of the Vegas Golden Knights’ immediate success. But plenty of fans expected the Kraken to be competitive and at least relevant for a large chunk of the season in the Pacific Division. Instead, Leach’s team was out of contention seemingly before the first puck dropped on their inaugural season.
There is no rule saying a bad team means they have a bad coach, especially not an assistant who may not be able to make every decision, but this track record is reason for pause. Most assistant coaches who make the jump to a head coach come from a dominant team, or from a dominant position group within a team. Hiring an assistant from the Tampa Bay Lightning or Colorado Avalanche would be more in line with this philosophy. Or turning to the St. Louis Blues or Toronto Maple Leafs to poach the coach responsible for their power-play success this season would make more sense than picking a coach responsible for the defensive corps that finished 24 out of 32 teams in goals against per game.
The final name on this list comes from the collegiate ranks. Nate Leaman is the bench boss for the Providence College Friars as well as Team USA at the World Juniors. The Friars are in the midst of a 10-year stretch of consecutive winning seasons, and Leaman has been at the helm for all of them. In his 12th season, he has seen NHL draft picks come through his door, and I drafted players who were later signed by NHL teams once their NCAA careers wrapped up. This history of success and development is enough on its own to see Leaman’s name land high on the list of desirable coaches. Add in his international experience with the US at the World Juniors and a strong candidate’s profile begins to emerge.
Leaman presents his own collection of questions, though. He just signed an extension with the Friars in May, would he leave this new deal? One would presume the NHL draw would win out, but some coaches find their place in the college ranks and aren’t a lock to leave. Second, similar to Leach, is Leaman’s lack of professional coaching experience. While he has plenty of experience with college players at Providence and with Team USA, directing 19- and 20-year-olds is not the same as 32-year-old veterans of the NHL. There would be an adjustment period and Bruins management would have to decide if Leaman’s style can translate to the older players.
Nate Leaman will have the opportunity to become an NHL coach, few people would debate that fact. Whether he is the right fit for the Bruins in this instance is up for debate and may prove to not be the situation either side is looking for.
In hiring their next coach, Boston has to decide the direction the team will be taking: attempting to remain competitive with an aging core that will need to be supplemented on the fly, or tearing down the team and attempting a rebuild. Leaman may be better suited for a rebuild because of his connection with younger players, players who would presumably find more roster spots on a rebuild than on a team attempting to remain in the thick of a playoff hunt. Because the Bruins don’t seem interested in a rebuild, Leaman may not fit their long-term plans.
Who Gets the Job?
All three of these options have merit, and these would be the top-three names I had on my list if I was in Sweeney’s position. Although these are all good options, Sweeney must know if this coaching decision doesn’t have an immediate impact, his job is on the line. For that reason, management should prioritize Quinn as their first choice. His past NHL experience is the determining factor. Coaches generally have better luck the second time around in a head coaching position, so given that he checks the other boxes management has laid out, he feels like the safe bet. Leach has a lot of sentimental value, and in a different moment in time think would be a great fit, but I am not sure Sweeney can risk his job on a first-time coach, even one who is as respected around the league as Leech is. Leaman may be a fantastic coach for the future, but it is not quite his time yet with the Bruins.
Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.