BOSTON - Bruce Cassidy knew he had something special from the day he took over as head coach of the Boston Bruins.
When Cassidy was named as the Black & Gold's bench boss in February 2017, the first two players he talked to were Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron - the team's longest-tenured members and the unquestioned leaders of the club.
"[They were] terrific," said Cassidy. "I remember to this day, Bergy said, 'Listen, you're my coach. Whatever you need, I'll do'. I thought that was, for a guy in my position - that right away it's like, 'OK, let's go'. Make sure you're ready and direct and assertive in your approach and we were."
It was the ability of that championship-tested core to embrace the new man in charge - after nearly a decade with Cup-winning coach Claude Julien at the helm - that helped the Bruins ease into a new chapter.
"I'm not in every locker room, but I have to believe that we have the best veteran group in the league in terms of being able to sit down and talk about hockey, and having an opportunity to earn their respect and vice versa," said Cassidy.
That respect translated quickly into success for Cassidy and the Bruins, who on Wednesday morning announced that they had inked their head coach to a multi-year contract extension as he gets set to kick off his third full campaign behind the bench on Thursday morning.
"It's a privilege and an honor," said Cassidy, who had one year remaining on the contract he signed when the interim tag was removed following the 2016-17 season. "I'm happy to be sticking around for a while…it's where I wanted to be."
Video: Cassidy addresses his contract extension
Cassidy has led the Bruins to the postseason in each of his three seasons as head coach, including last spring's run to the Stanley Cup Final. In 191 regular-season games, the 54-year-old Ottawa native owns a 117-52-22 record, good for the fourth-highest winning percentage in team history. He also required the second-fewest games among Bruins coaches to record 100 wins with the franchise (166), trailing only Tom Johnson (138).
"Obviously the record speaks for itself," Bruins president Cam Neely said when asked what he likes about Cassidy's style. "I think he's very open with communication. He's got an open-door policy…it's the up-tempo, [the] focus on trying to score goals. I think everybody enjoys that style of play, but also understand that you've got to play well defensively. You've got to play well in your own end. You have to check.
"Those are the things that I noticed right away. The guys really gravitated and adapted to it and enjoyed that."
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney believes Cassidy's ability to communicate with the players - on the bench, at practice, and in the dressing room - has built up a certain expectation among the players that translates well into how they respond on the ice.
"He's earned the right to lead this club," said Sweeney. "He's got a good pulse of the room to allow veterans to do what they do, but also govern what he needs to. Sets up the ideals of the hockey club each and every night, knows what the expectations are…and holds them to a standard each day. Then the next day that turns right into a teaching opportunity and moving forward to the next day.
"And I think that's what players can identify with, realizing their opportunity is still going to be there. There are some coaches that have longer term memories and Bruce is almost the opposite, trying to plan with what comes forward."
Video: Sweeney Updates on Carlo, McAvoy, Bergeron, Cassidy
In addition to the players and his coaching staff, Cassidy has also had a strong working relationship with Neely and Sweeney, a rapport that formed during Cassidy's eight-year stint with the Providence Bruins. That ability to effectively talk through what will be best for the success of the team has allowed Sweeney and his hockey operations group identify the right players for Cassidy's lineup.
"Everyone knows they can express their opinion freely and try and take the collaborative approach," said Sweeney. "We don't agree on absolutely everything…after the fact, we have to analyze some stuff and see where we might do better. That's what we do every day to try and get better and that's his approach.
"For me, those things work really well together. We don't really question a lot of the things that we're trying to do. We have a path, we try to stick to it. When the twists and turns come, we adjust."
On the surface, there does not appear to be much for Cassidy to adjust as the 2019-20 season gets set to kick off on Thursday morning with the opening of training camp. Last year, he led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup Final berth since 2013, following a regular season in which the team amassed a 49-24-9 record, while finishing second in the Eastern Conference with 107 points - the second straight season the team hit the 100-point mark.
But, despite Boston's memorable 2018-19 campaign - which also included a 19-game point streak, the second-longest in team history - Cassidy knows there is plenty of work to be done if the Bruins expect to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final.
"We're going to continue to grow that culture," said Cassidy, who has led the Bruins to 256 points since taking the helm, second-most in the NHL over that span to Tampa Bay (283). "Teach the new guys, this is our standard, we're gonna get there, this is how we're gonna practice, here's how we're gonna train and get our conditioning up so that we can play all night if we have to.
"Last year is a chapter we're putting behind us. We had a lot of success, didn't reach our ultimate goal of winning the Cup and that will be our goal this year. We're gonna work toward that this year, starting [on Thursday]."
Video: Neely discusses Bruce Cassidy's contract extension