The Bruins have found their man, as they officially announced the hiring of Jim Montgomery as their next head coach on Friday.
The Skate Pod: Reacting to reported hire of Jim Montgomery
The first thing Don Sweeney, Cam Neely and Bruins ownership had to be convinced of when considering Montgomery was that he deserves a second chance. Montgomery was fired 31 games into his second season as head coach of the Dallas Stars in Dec. 2019 due to “unprofessional conduct.”
Montgomery later acknowledged he had an alcohol problem and checked himself into rehab in Jan. 2020. He did not fight the Stars’ decision to fire him and said they made the right call. Few details are known about the incident (or incidents) that ultimately tipped the scales and led to said firing, other than that it obviously involved alcohol.
Montgomery got back on his feet in St. Louis, where he was an assistant coach with the Blues for the past two seasons. By all accounts, he has stayed clean and been nothing but professional there. The Bruins obviously must have done their homework and talked to everyone they needed to talk to before deciding they were comfortable hiring Montgomery.
Once they were convinced of that, Montgomery made all the sense in the world. He checked a lot of the boxes Sweeney and Neely were looking for. Let’s run through some of them.
Sweeney and Neely both made it clear that connecting with and developing younger players would be crucial. Montgomery has done that. He spent three years as a head coach in the USHL with the Dubuque Fighting Saints and five in college hockey at the University of Denver. Among the future NHLers he coached up during those stops were Johnny Gaudreau, Mike Matheson, Will Butcher, Danton Heinen, Troy Terry, Trevor Moore and Logan O’Connor.
In Dallas, he oversaw the rookie seasons of future stars Miro Heiskanen and Roope Hintz. In St. Louis, he received a good amount of credit for aiding in the breakout seasons of 22-year-old Robert Thomas and 23-year-old Jordan Kyrou this year. Montgomery is known as a positive person who does a lot more picking up than tearing down, which the Bruins were looking for as a change from Bruce Cassidy’s direct, blunt and sometimes public criticism.
With Patrice Bergeron returning for at least one more season, though, the Bruins are not strictly in rebuilding, develop-the-youth mode, at least not yet. So, they needed a coach who can also work with veterans and who has a track record of winning.
Montgomery has been there and done that, too. His Stars teams also featured veterans like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, Mats Zuccarrello, Jason Spezza and Ben Bishop. Helping with the Blues’ offense and power play meant working with 30-something players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, David Perron and Torey Krug.
As for winning, he’s done that everywhere he’s gone. Dubuque won two Clark Cups in his three seasons there. Denver made the NCAA Tournament in all five of his seasons there, reached two Frozen Fours, and won the national championship in 2017. After missing the playoffs in the two seasons prior to his arrival, the Stars made it to the second round in his one full season there.
Sweeney and Neely want more offense, both at five-on-five and on the power play. Montgomery helped transform the once-defensive Blues into a team that ranked third in total offense, fourth in five-on-five offense and second on the power play this past season.
But Sweeney has also said he doesn’t want to sacrifice the Bruins’ defensive foundation. Well, Montgomery has won with defense, too. The 2018-19 Stars ranked second in the NHL in team defense. His 2016-17 Denver national title team gave up the fewest goals in the country.
So, Montgomery has done all of this. His resume is impressive. It’s easy to see why Sweeney, Neely and the Jacobs came to the conclusion that he was the right guy for this Bruins team.
But Montgomery is not a magician. He cannot do all of that if his roster isn’t good enough to do it. Developing young players into top-four defensemen and top-six forwards is easier to do when those young players are as talented as Heiskanen, Hintz, Thomas and Kyrou. Helping to transform a team into an offensive juggernaut is easier to do when that team goes out and acquires a player like Pavel Buchnevich during the offseason.
And that responsibility falls on Sweeney. It’s possible that Montgomery would get more out of this Bruins offense as is and more out of their young players than Cassidy did. But it’s up to Sweeney to make that job easier by getting him better players to work with.