BOSTON, MA -- Wednesday morning, Bruins GM Don Sweeney and head coach Claude Julien held a conference call to formally announce the hiring of assistant coaches Bruce Cassidy and Jay Pandolfo, as well as announce the re-signings of defenseman Kevan Miller and forward Seth Griffith.
It is all part of a plan that is targeted to improve the Bruins and see them return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after two consecutive years of not being one of the top 16 teams that qualify for the postseason.
“Claude and I have been discussing in an ongoing manner, really since I was hired, about his staff, as well as our roster,” Sweeney said. “Teaching, communication, development, reinforcement of the structure and how we expect our players to play were the topics that we kept coming back to in our discussions. This restructure of the staff really was a collaborative effort to provide Claude with a group that will reinforce how he wants his team to play, and we’ll also work to get all of our players, vets, young players, new players to the organization to perform to their highest level.”
“There are transitions in this game, which happens throughout the whole league, and every once in a while you see the changes being made for all the right reasons,” Julien said in discussing the hiring process of the new coaches. “I think we’re in a transition mode here and we were fortunate enough to have two coaches that I think will fit in extremely well with my group, in Bruce Cassidy and Jay Pandolfo. Both those guys I interviewed two years ago when Geoff Ward left, was very impressed with the interviews that I had. So when we had an opportunity to fill those roles, again I was certainly willing to circle back with those guys. They certainly have good knowledge of our organization, of our players, so for me it was a very smooth transition that I think will be happening between those two guys, integrating with, obviously, Joe Sacco, Bob Essensa and myself.”
Julien added that Cassidy will be behind the bench for games, coaching the defensemen. Pandolfo, a Burlington, Massachusetts native and two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New Jersey Devils, will be the club’s “eye in the sky” from the press box as well as continuing to help develop the young players in the Bruins system.
When the discussion turned to the signing of Miller to a four-year contract, Sweeney said, “Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development. We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role.
"Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.
“Kevan’s been on an upward swing. I think this year was a good indication of that. Obviously the style he plays, he’s subject to getting dinged up. He came back from his shoulder surgery and didn’t miss time with his shoulder at all. He works extremely hard; he works hard on his own individual game. But the character piece speaks for itself. The depth that you need and are required to have at that position is important. I think it allows the younger players that we have in the system to come in and either push players out or develop at the right pace. So we felt comfortable that at his age and the term of it that he was going to continue to get better and work on his game because he’s diligent about it.”
Julien explained why Miller is a welcomed commodity on the ice and in the dressing room.
“First of all, the experience certainly helps, but he’s got some confidence,” the coach said. “I think he had his ups and downs this year, there’s no doubt about that. But for the most part, I thought he was a real good defenseman for us when he moved the puck. Offensively, he had a bit of an upside to him. You saw him making great plays in the offensive zone, pinching the wall, carrying the puck in deep. But at the same time, we’re talking about character players, and he’s certainly one of those character players that, in my mind, could become one of those leaders in that dressing room. He’s well respected; he’s well liked. He’s always ready to play.
“This guy, like [Sweeney] said earlier, has only got I think 160-some games in the NHL, so he’s only going to get better. I think his commitment to getting better is there. He’s big, he’s strong, there’s a lot of upside to him. When you look around the league, it’s not easy to find players like that.”
In Griffith, Julien sees a player who needs to add consistency to his game.
“Consistency is probably what you want from Griff. He’s a skilled player; he skates fairly well. But at the same time, at the NHL level here the biggest thing is you try and find players that you know what you’re going to get on most nights. So if he can improve in that area I think that’s going to be a big boost for him. “
When asked if moves such as free agent signings or trades could be expected during the off-season, Sweeney was quick to say he will leave no stone unturned.
“I’ll explore whatever I have to do, in every way, shape or form to continue to improve the club and find the blend and the balance that we need. I said that in my opening statement at the end of the year that we’re just going to continue to look to improve our club in every way, shape or form.
“We have areas that we want to address in the depth of our organization more likely in the forward position, either on the right wing or the center, or again on the backend. But we’re exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players or to be in the marketplace.”
Sweeney believes that signing Miller is a good one for his defense corps and he also is targeting getting Torey Krug’s signature on a new deal.
“We’ve had talks with Torey [Krug] and we’ll find, whatever term that ends up being, a contract for him.” Sweeney said.
Another Bruin set to become a free agent on July 1 is Loui Eriksson. As first reported Wednesday by TFP’s Editor-In-Chief, Dave Pagnotta, the Bruins and Eriksson’s agent will continue negotiations on a new contract for the team’s second leading scorer (63 points).
“We’ve been in discussions with Loui and have a pretty good idea where they would like to be at, and we’ll see whether we can find common ground there,” said Sweeney. “But there have been ongoing discussions on that front. As I’ve always said, I really respect Loui as a player. He had a fabulous year and we’d love to be able to retain him.”
While the rest of us have been watching the Stanley Cup playoffs, Sweeney has been busy with putting his plan for his team in action. This is, clearly, just the beginning. Stay tuned. It looks like it could be a summer to remember.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.