BostonBruins.com — The Bruins aren’t a team that takes their American League success for granted.
They know it’s not a coincidence that players who have bubbled up from the Providence pipeline — players like Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller — have fared so well once they’re wearing Black and Gold in Boston.
They know they are fortunate that, as they look toward the 2014-15 season, they have viable options in Ryan Spooner, Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Fraser, Justin Florek, Matt Fraser and more to fill any roster vacancies that remain.
In fact, Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien and Co. are quick to point to one source in particular as the reason behind the team’s success with players who come up from Providence.
“Bruce [Cassidy] has done an unbelievable job of developing players,” Julien said during a conference call last week. “And to me, he’s still a fairly young coach. He’s coached in the NHL, and I think at the same time, I think he’s one of those guys who should certainly be considered to be a coach in the NHL again, too.”
Cassidy has been a part of the Providence Bruins’ coaching staff since 2008. For three years, he served under Ron Murray before being promoted to head coach in 2011. Since then, the Bruins have seen a steady stream of prospects join the big club with tremendous success.
There were Krug and Bartkowski during the 2013 playoff run, when injuries to veterans forced both into the lineup for their first professional playoff runs. Both performed like the veterans they had replaced, particularly Krug, who famously scored four goals against the New York Rangers in the first five playoff games of his young career.
During the 2013-14 season, both Krug and Bartkowski — along with Miller — came up big when injuries hit the B’s hard during the long winter months. Despite long-term injuries to veteran blueliners Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, those three D-men contributed substantially to Boston’s run to the President Trophy.
Not every team in the NHL fares as well when AHL call-ups replace veterans for substantial periods of time, but the Bruins are fortunate that the system Cassidy runs in Providence produces players that can acclimate so seamlessly in Boston.
“I think when the salary cap came in and the free agency became a tougher process to build success on, I think every team would love their players to come from grown in-house for a number of different reasons,” Cassidy said during this year’s Development Camp. “We play the same system, so they're coming right in to it. They just have to play; they don’t have to think a whole lot.”
At the end of the day, not only does grooming future stars in house pay off when a veteran goes down midseason; it pays off long-term, as management tries to build a contender and still fit under the salary cap. The Bruins are likely to see some of their young talent bubble up to Boston in 2014-15, when they must submit a roster that doesn’t exceed the $69 million cap.
“The contracts, I don’t understand all of it — but clearly, if you're developing your own prospects, I’m sure you’re not overpaying,” Cassidy said. “You know, there is a set structure there. So I think every GM would tell you that it is important that you get players coming through Providence, and I take a lot of pride in it. I think we’ve done a good job down there over the last few years, but again, that is what we get paid to do.”
Cassidy added that sometimes, his job is not as simple as grooming a player until a spot opens up for him with the big club. Sometimes, his job is about being creative. It’s about finding a place for a player who may not be the obvious choice and then watching that player thrive.
“It always starts with – you have to draft good players,” he said. “You have to have guys to work with, and then you have to find what makes them tick. Some kids come in there, and they are scorers. They’re not necessarily going to do that in Boston, so you have to find another way for them to fit into Boston but still enjoy playing the game and play to their strengths.”
Furthermore, sometimes his job is about managing a player’s expectations until that player’s time comes to crack the big club. Prime time doesn’t always come as soon as a player would like, and that is where managing expectations becomes an art.
No matter the case, though, those players are always ready when their numbers are called. It’s all part of a day’s work for Cassidy in Providence.
“We’ll get who we get, and if they’re down with us, then we’ll try to get them up to speed where next year, they can beat someone out of a job,” Cassidy said. “It’s the circle of life, right? I mean, your young guys take the jobs and helps your salary cap, etcetera, etcetera. And if they end up with us [in Providence], then that will be our goal. They’re going to be treated maybe a little differently than maybe a first year guy coming in. They know they’re close, so we’ve got to get a little more goal specific — visual goal specific — with them, teaching and coaching.”