Bruce Cassidy underwent a crash course on the Vegas Golden Knights a year ago, when he began considering pursuing their vacant head-coaching position.
The hockey lifer admits to some previous East Coast bias, considering his 40-year career in the sport—between playing and coaching—had never stationed him farther west than Chicago. He’d typically be winding down or asleep by the time the Golden Knights played during the franchise’s first five seasons, so he devoured highlights and reading material on the team over a couple weeks last summer. Cassidy felt pretty acquainted by the time general manager Kelly McCrimmon introduced him as the organization’s third-ever coach in June 2023. He only missed one bombshell that was dropped on him soon afterwards.
“What I didn’t know right away when I got hired was that [owner Bill Foley] said he was going to win a Stanley Cup in year six,” Cassidy said in his postgame news conference after winning this year’s Stanley Cup. “I found out it was year six after I signed, so I went, ‘All right, there’s a little bit of pressure here,’ but here we are.”
Cassidy jokes about the “Cup in Six” pressure now, but deep down, he must have loved it right away. It meant the ambition at the top of the franchise matched exactly with his own.
The highlight of his previous six-year tenure with the Boston Bruins came in 2019 when he reached the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. Hours before Game 7 of that series, Cassidy gave what would become perhaps his most remembered quote when asked about his legacy.
“I just want my name on the damn Cup,” he said.
It backfired, going down as famous last words when the Bruins lost 4-1 in the decisive game and then failed to make it past the second round in Cassidy’s final three seasons at the helm. But the 58-year-old wasn’t ready to give up after Boston fired him last offseason.
Vegas wasn’t his only option to stay behind an NHL bench. As many as three other teams contacted him, according to NHL.com.
Cassidy did his homework on all of them, but something stood out about Vegas after he reached out to the likes of team captain Mark Stone and recently acquired star Jack Eichel. He was confident the Golden Knights gave him the best chance to keep winning.
Cassidy at first struggled balancing that revelation with worry about uprooting his two youngest children, who had spent their whole lives in the New England area after he first went to work in the Bruins’ organization in 2008. But his family, including his wife, Julie, was receptive to a move west, where Cassidy could chase his lifelong dream.
“He cares so much about winning, and I think that’s why he jelled with our group,” Stone said on the ice after winning the Cup. “Our team cares so much. We wanted to win the Stanley Cup; he wanted to win the Stanley Cup. He pushed hard this season. He pushed a lot of buttons to help us get here.”
It’s not like Cassidy was succeeding a history of failed former head coaches with the Golden Knights. Vegas’ firing of Pete DeBoer last offseason was as controversial as Boston’s dispatching of Cassidy around the same time.
DeBoer had twice led the Golden Knights to within one series of the Stanley Cup Final and carried a reputation as one of the most tactically shrewd coaches in the NHL. Going back further, original Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant was beloved among the fanbase and in the locker room, known as one of the top “players’ coaches” in the NHL.
Cassidy somehow brought together the best of both of his predecessors. The players loved him, but he also implemented a personnel-fitting scheme of patient offense and packed-in defense that the Golden Knights rode to the Western Conference’s best record in the regular season.
“We’re in the winning business, and he had done a lot of that,” McCrimmon said of what drew him to Cassidy. “That’s why we brought him in, and I think he’s met our expectations and more along the way.”
In the clinching game of the Stanley Cup Final, Cassidy made a splashy move of starting an original Golden Knights lineup of forwards Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson and Reilly Smith to go with defensemen Shea Theodore and Brayden McNabb. That was despite another typically buttoned-up former East Coast mainstay in the organization, president of hockey operations George McPhee, admitting to not agreeing with the plan and calling it “a gimmick.”
Cassidy showed a flair for showmanship by sticking with it anyway. He said he’ll be bringing the Cup back to his summer home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, during his allotted day with it this offseason, but make no mistake: Cassidy is now a Vegas guy.
Not only is he getting his name on the “damn Cup,” but a big part of his legacy will go down as being the missing piece to make the “Cup in Six” proclamation come true.
“At the end of the day with Bill, he’s done everything right,” Cassidy said of the owner and his high expectations. “I think the players would tell you that. I’ve only been here one year, and he’s treated me so well. I’m really grateful to being given this opportunity.”
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