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It was Bruce Cassidy’s birthday. And it was two weeks since his Vegas Golden Knights team lost Game 7 to the Dallas Stars in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The head coach was still a little sour.

GM Kelly McCrimmon called his team’s early dismissal a “missed opportunity,” and Cassidy is definitely in the same camp.

McCrimmon made some bold strokes at the trade deadline adding Noah Hanifin, Tomas Hertl, and Anthony Mantha.

But injuries, which haunted the team all season, proved detrimental to the team building chemistry and sloping towards a peak as the playoffs began.

Vegas looked good at times in its series with the top seed in the Western Conference but came up short by a goal in Game 7. The Stars moved on and continue to inch towards a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.

Cassidy offered us a half hour of his time and was expansive on a number of subjects.

Named the third head coach in VGK history on June 14, 2022, Cassidy owns an overall record of 388-206-70 as a head coach in the NHL, to go with an additional 57 victories in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Cassidy previously served as head coach of the Boston Bruins where he rang off six playoff seasons including a trip to the Final before losing to the St. Louis Blues in Game 7.

In Cassidy’s first season with the Golden Knights, he led the team to its best record in franchise history at 51-22-9, topping the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. 

The playoffs were even better and on June 13, 2023, Cassidy lifted the Stanley Cup for the first time in his career after his team defeated the Florida Panthers in five games.

Gary Lawless: Well, first things first, happy birthday.

Bruce Cassidy: Yeah, you know what, it’s another year. Another one in the books.

GL: How old are you?

BC: 59.

GL: So, 59, what would nine-year-old Bruce Cassidy say about the 59-year-old Bruce Cassidy?

BC: What would the nine-year-old say? He would say I’m happy you were able to win the Stanley Cup because that’s what I’ve been dreaming about today, to be honest with you. I wish you had done it with the Bruins because that was my team at that age with Bobby Orr. But it actually felt pretty damn good doing it with the Knights so I don’t know if I could have topped that experience with Boston or not. That was the nine-year-old kid in me. It would have been 1974 so the Bruins would have been on one of their big runs but lost to Philly. Bernie Parent, who was an original Bruin, came back to play them. But that’s what I would have said, he would have said congratulations on a career in hockey. Something that I did every day at that age. He would probably be too young to talk about parenthood or anything like that, you know what I mean. I bet he would be happy to hear I’m a good dad. Cole’s playing hockey and baseball, the sports I loved. It would be centered around that.

GL: Kelly McCrimmon said during the close-out day here that he viewed this year as a missed opportunity. Would you agree with that?

BC: Well, I think every year once you make the playoffs, you start even. I think, in general, I’ve always looked back at when you lose, as a missed opportunity. It goes back simply to last year; Florida was the last team. But on a more detailed scope with us, yes, I think it was a missed opportunity, and probably a number of reasons for that. Let’s see how it all plays out. If Dallas is the last team standing, you’re going look at them and say we were tied in the third period of Game 7. It could have been us easily. Probably still saying that even right now.

GL: How long does it take you to shake off a playoff loss? You know, life does go on and there’s another season next year.

BC: I think our players would echo this or the staff, or the people who were involved last year, you’re running and especially for me, I got hired last year and was running from June 14th on to try to get going, to get this team to where I thought we could get and we did. Then you don’t have a lot of time to decompress after the season and it wasn’t an easy season. So, I think the first 48 hours, there’s a certain level of you’re pissed off you lost but also your brain shuts down for a bit. You get to do that when it comes to hockey. About three days later, you’re mad that you’re not playing Colorado. You’re watching the series and thinking that should be us and it starts all over again. I’d say there’s mixed emotions at the end. I just think our whole team was mentally fried by the end a little bit. I think that’s what happens with teams that repeat and go through a season of injuries like we did, you go through some of the same things and hurdles that we had to jump over. You figure this is a one-year thing. This guy’s hurt and the Mark Stone situation and then you have to go through it again and we weren’t able to do it this time. 

GL: Is it too much of an oversimplification that you got to say it’s hard to do? To me, going into the first round, I thought the team was going to be vulnerable because there were players coming back from injuries and there were new players, and I didn’t know if you would click. I think you clicked in Game 6. I thought Game 6 was a very good game, but I thought there was a bit of slippage for Game 7. I thought if you had gotten through that round, you might have had a chance to really do something special.

BC: Yeah, we needed X-amount of runway to get going. The weird part is that we were healthy going into the playoffs yet the guys that were out and who were healthy going into the playoffs, they needed more time to play. I’ve always believed the team that’s playing very well going into the playoffs, you can’t have all but half your guys out, but those teams are the ones you’ve got to be careful of. They know what it takes, they know what it looks like, and they’ve been living it for a month or six weeks, whatever it is. We weren’t that team. We got our health back and we needed time to get to be that team and you saw pockets of it the first two games. We checked well and did enough to score. That’s what you’ve got to do against Dallas. They don’t give you much. It got away from us in Game 3, and we really took a step backwards and gave them life. We still lost in overtime though, so the margins were thin. I agree with you that Game 6 was our best game. We didn’t score the winning goal until 50 minutes into the game, so it wasn’t like we were dominating them on the scoreboard. We might have just been the better team so that’s a lot of what happened in this series. I thought, Game 7 we were the better team for the first two periods, personally. I watched it again the next day and it backed it up. We were the better team, but we missed our opportunities, and you don’t get a lot of them. I’ve said before, Alec Martinez has blocked more shots than anyone in the NHL, but it happens to hit his shinpad and goes top shelf. After that, we didn’t generate enough to get the win. We know that. At the end of the day, you look back and say sometimes maybe it wasn’t meant to be. I hate to use that, but when you look at us, our two best scorers were missing some pretty good chances, and then they get a lucky one. Sometimes that’s the bounce you need if you’re Dallas. For us, we couldn’t overcome that bounce. Another year, maybe we would have and pushed through and gotten our goal. That’s where I’m saying we don’t have enough runway. The guys who we relied on for offense in those situations hadn’t played a lot of hockey and were still finding their game. You know who they are, and that’s where we needed a timely goal and didn’t get it.

GL: What do you like about coaching in Las Vegas?

BC: Chance to win. I like the direction from the top down. I think Mr. Foley is a fantastic owner, gives the team, the GM, the coaches, the players whatever they need to be successful. I like that he’s around. Says hello. Checks in on his team, loves being around. I think management lets the coach do his job. I look at it as a bit of a stay-in-your-lane type of organization, which really, I believe in. You’re hired to coach, coach. You’re not hired to be the trainer, so I don’t need your opinion on a doctor, you know what I mean? Stuff like that. I’m good with that. I like that. Some people prefer a more collaborative organization where there are decisions always made with a pool of people. I think there’s a time and a place for certain things like that. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but in general, [Kelly McCrimmon] and I talk every morning. We talk about the lineup, we talk about the league, talk about what’s current, talk about reviews that happen, you name it. We talk about it. We’ll talk about Henderson and what’s going on down there, but at the end of the day when he leaves the office, it’s my job to get the best out of the players. He’s not in here every day, second-guessing those moves and I really respect that. And the players. I’ll say the players, they’re the obvious. The players love being here. It’s a great group to coach. They’re high-character, willing to be coached, yet still give you enough pushback. We’ve got some winners in that group, so it’s not just ‘do as I say.’ Now, I’ll go back to collaboration. They understand they have a job to do as players. I respect that too, that they’re not going upstairs every time a decision is made or their agent is on the phone, whatever. Things like that haven’t happened the two years I’ve been here. We settle things in this office, right here or in the video room as a team, whatever, or the dressing room and we move on. I got a lot of time for the way they conduct their business as players, as well, and come to work wanting to get better every day.

GL: What do you like about Las Vegas?

BC: I like the weather in October, November, in March and April, half of May. It’s getting hot for me now, Gary. I like the people, the fanbase is fantastic. When you’re out in the streets, because I’m a guy who will be out there—riding my bike, playing golf, doing groceries, whatever, picking up the kids at school—very supportive people. They’re diehards for their team, they want to see it do well, but I think they have a certain calmness about them that they’re not in your face with that stuff. A lot of time for the fanbase. Love the town of Summerlin, we live here. I love the fact that The Strip is 25 minutes away, I was out there last week for a concert. So that’s right there if that’s your thing. The city is great if you’re raising a family. I got teenagers, the schools, you name it. I don’t have any complaints.

GL: The fire or hunger or passion, whatever you want to call it, to win, to win the Stanley Cup, if we could have measured it prior to 22-23 and then we could measure it right now, would they be comparable? Where would they be?

BC: Well, it’s a tough question because you come in and I think everyone says they want to do it. I was close, and a lot of guys in this room were close. We all had tastes; some guys did taste it. I don’t think you talk about that in September much. You’re about building your game, that’s what we talk about, and I think the players would say the same thing. They’re not handing trophies out in October. So, I don’t know if it’s there at the start or if it's measurable. I think it’s inside you. You know what the work is, you know there’s 82 games, there’s going to be another 20-30 whatever it is in there at the end, so, you know there’s a grind involved. I think we all know that. I don’t think you truly know how much of a grind it is until you win it. So, we did learn that. Going into this year, I think we had the same hunger to repeat right away, you could feel it. And then, what you need to get there, we lost a bit of our rhythm, our chemistry. You could see it in our game. It wasn’t anywhere where it needed to be and that’s okay at times, but it does have to get there. And that’s my only thing about this year, I don’t know, after November, if it was true that we got where we needed to. Small stretches, but not enough. But that wasn’t because of lack of wanting to do it, I don’t think. I’ve said this, once you win you know what it takes, so that can be a positive, it can be a negative, right? You can sort of say I know what it takes, and part of your brain can tell you, well, you don’t have what it takes this year. So, you got to be careful of that, too. Did that creep into some of our minds? I don’t think so. I think we all knew, deep down, that our team was good enough. I just felt, in a nutshell, we didn’t have enough time with the team we had going into the playoffs to get everyone on the same page and into their role and into their lines, into their pairs and get going.

GL: Has the hockey fan in you resurfaced? Do you find yourself looking at your watch at 4 p.m. and going, I wonder who’s on and maybe I’ll sit down and watch a little bit?

BC: I’ve watched a lot of the games. I’m not glued to the “I got to be home at 5 p.m.” to turn it on. It’s more about okay, what’s going on, do the kids have anything today, no, let’s turn the TV on. We’re having dinner, we got the game on. I’ll sit outside with the game on. No disrespect to the announcers, but a lot of time the volume is off because the kids are talking. There’s that kind of fan in me. But, yes, the Game 7’s are always interesting as a hockey fan.

GL: Next year, it’s all unpredictable, you don’t know what your roster will be. Kelly used the phrase when the team missed the playoffs two years or three years ago and they came back, he said ‘humbled and hungry.’ Do you feel that way?

BC: Well, I was one of those people who wasn’t on that team, but I felt the exact same way. I was humbled and hungry, so they’re appropriate words. I definitely will feel hungry. I don’t know if we were humbled to the extent that the team was and I was in 2022 because I don’t look at this year as some abject failure. We didn’t win and that’s what you want to do, but I think there were reasons for that. It wasn’t like we were 100% there and just fell on our faces. We just had some obstacles that we weren’t able to overcome. I feel like we can overcome them next year. Hungry, for sure, and I would say highly motivated as opposed to humbled.