Boston Coach Bruce Cassidy has plenty of questions on how the NHL will handle everything from positive coronavirus tests to strategy for a unique playoff format. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

 

Bruce Cassidy is, by nature, a positive and forward-thinking person. He is hopeful that the NHL will be able pull off it’s ambitious 24-team tournament during this coronavirus pandemic and also trusts that the league will in turn do everything in its power to keep its workers like himself safe.

But he’s not blind. Cassidy has seen some of the latest outbreaks in parts of this country. The league itself has had 11 reported positive tests, including one with the Bruins and several for the Tampa Bay Lightning that forced the shutdown of that team’s facility for a few days.E

Earlier this week, Cassidy discussed some of his lingering concerns and questions, both health- and hockey-centric, he still has for the league’s return to play plan as we are two weeks away from the scheduled opening of training camps.

“I’m concerned, first, for our health, obviously. And I’m interested to see where it goes with these outbreaks for these athletes as it pertains to us,” said Cassidy, enjoying a few last days on Cape Cod with his family. “What’s the procedure? What’s the protocol? How are they going to handle false positives? How long do you have to wait? I know you have to quickly get two negatives before you reintegrate. But once we get going, how long is that reintegration period going to be? Because that’s going to have a big effect on every team.

“Just stating the obvious, let’s say it’s a star player or a goaltender (that tests positive), how long does it means he’s out if he’s asymptomatic. As for the breakout, yeah. I’m a believer in science and it’s still around. Until we have a vaccine, it’s going to be a different way of life. How are they going to prep us for that so that we’re safe as possible? I know there’s going to be risk when we all get together, I think that’s a given, but how can we mitigate the risk as much as possible? That will hopefully be taken care of for everyone’s sake.”

When the league announced its unique strategy to finish off the 2019-20 season and award the Stanley Cup, it was almost hard to imagine for a lot of us, what with the amount of testing needed to be conducted and all the potential snags that could crop up along the way. Even as we draw close to camp openings, it doesn’t yet feel quite real to Cassidy.

“I’ve said all along that I think it will be real for me when I walk in the room and I’m staring at the whites of the eyes of our 23 guys – or I should say 30 now because there’s 30 going,” said Cassidy. “Once we get back on the ice and we start doing what we’ve been doing for years – running practice and communicating, coaching, teaching, delegating – that’s when it will get real for me. I still think it’s hard to believe that we are going to go back in the middle of summer some days, yet I know that it’s right around the corner because we’ve prepped for it. I’m doing a little work still, but until you start interacting with the players, then it will hit home.”

Not being allowed on the ice during the voluntary workouts, Cassidy has stayed away from the Bruins’ training camp but he expects to get in there next week. Camps are scheduled to open on July 10. While there’s still a whole lot of uncertainty as to how and whether this can be accomplished, Cassidy as a coach is focused mostly on how he can help his team win the Stanley Cup.

The Bruins are scheduled to participate in a round robin with the other top three seeds in the Eastern Conference – Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia – to determine seeding since the play-in series are completed. Cassidy said there’s been an ongoing internal debate about how to approach the round robin. Teams are supposed to be getting one exhibition game, which should help, but it’s doesn’t give staffs a ton of information on where individual players are in their fitness and sharpness.

“We’ve talked about about the round robin and what’s more important? Is it seeding, or is it getting guys close to 100 percent as possible? It’s such a short camp after a long break. And we went back and forth on that. I think we’re going to play it by ear,” said Cassidy. “For example, if a player comes up and his groin’s a little sore. Are we going to push him through this just to get him a game and then he’s worse for the playoffs a week later, or do we rest him? There’s going to be some tough conversations about that. It’s not about rest because we’ve had plenty of rest but it’s more about maintenance with small injuries that could occur during camp. If a guy is 100% healthy and feels good enough to play, then we’re going to put those guys in. It’s more about if these little things come up that could hurt them a week later when you do start the playoffs. And then in the playoffs, or even in the round robin, there are guys who will have to understand the focus level has to be high in a hurry. And that’s going to be the biggest challenge for a lot of teams. It is. First of all, you’re playing in an unknown arena once you do play, playing in different circumstances. You’re playing in August and you’re not used to that. You haven’t got your mind wrapped around that yet. That’s where our depth has always paid of for us. We’ve always been able to move guys in and out of the lineup. It should be a positive for us.”

Getting both goaltenders,Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, up to speed could be a challenge. And while Rask went the distance in the playoffs last year, Cassidy didn’t rule out Halak seeing playing time.

“It’s always a possibility,” said Cassidy. “Once we get back at it we’ll know where everyone is, but we’re going to assume Tuukka is our starter. But it may be every second day for two months if you’re fortunate enough to keep winning and meet your goals. With that much time off, is he going to be achy early on? So yeah, assuming he’s ready to go and gives us a chance to win, (Halak could play). And that’s going to be tough for him, too. He might play one game and then all of a sudden we’re in the playoffs. And he’s played one game since March. So we’ve got to factor that in as well. How do we get him as sharp as possible? We’re going to have to have a discussion on that, too. The good news for us is that they’re both great pros, they’re both here, so they’re going to get their work in.”

Meanwhile, his roster up front was still in a state of flux. The Bruins obtained two middle-six pieces in Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase at the trade deadline and neither had secured a home on a line. They had started to both play on David Krejci’s line at the time of the shutdown, but Cassidy said he’s inclined to at least start Jake DeBrusk back with Krejci because of their relatively long history together. He’d also like to give Kase a longer look on the right with Krejci.
Because of Cassidy’s penchant for mixing up his forward lines, this issue may not be as a big deal as it would be for teams who employ more entrenched combos, but it’s an issue nonetheless.

“I think they both (Ritchie and Kase) played well enough to be in the lineup. I believe that. But did they find instant chemistry with anybody? That’s to be determined. It’s going to be one of those moving parts (situations). What have you done for me lately? And if you remember in that last game in Philly, Sean Kuraly moved up there and played very well, so that’s part of the equation, which is good. You know me, I like to move things around,” said Cassidy.
“There are some things to work on. And some of it, there might be some competition and hopefully guys will see that, like it’s a training camp. They come in and say ‘Hey, my spots not there. I have to play for it.’ That will be a bit of a message to a select group as well.”

As for his own health concerns, the 55-year-old Cassidy’s got them, but he doesn’t sound like he’s living in constant fear.

“There’s a level of concern obviously. I’ve got kids,” said Cassidy. “But in the meantime, I feel good, I feel like I’m in good shape and that’s not being arrogant. I just feel like right now I’m feeling healthy and I’ve abided by all the CDC guidelines. We’ve kind of stayed in our little bubble. It’s expanded a little bit lately, as have the rules. And nobody’s been sick in our family for four or five months, so I think in our case we’re doing well. But it only takes one person to pass it around and all of a sudden, who knows?

“I’m trying not to think about that too much. I think it hits home when someone on your team gets sick, then all of a sudden it’s more a reality, though for me it’s definitely real … and I don’t want to be one of those statistics. The league doesn’t want that, either. They’re going to have it structured so you’re safe as possible. … I’m putting my trust in their hands and I have a feeling they’ll look after it.”

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