BOSTON — As he sat at the podium at TD Garden’s Legends club Jim Montgomery praised the job done by his predecessor Bruce Cassidy, whose polarizing firing created the Bruins coaching opening Montgomery was hired to fill.
Montgomery who was hired 10 days ago, and officially introduced Monday, begins his second stint as an NHL head coach. He was fired in the middle of his second season with the Dallas Stars for an undisclosed reason and later revealed he was in alcohol rehab. Before that he’d been successful at every level from junior hockey to college to the start of his NHL career.
After expressing gratitude for a second chance, Montgomery pointed to his own strengths as a communicator and an offensive strategist as ways he hoped to improve a Bruins team that hasn’t advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs each of the past two years.
“This was a 51-win team last year, so I think the staff did a really good job last year. Moving forward, I think there’s areas that, I’m hoping with new, different style that it’s going to lead to a little more offense.”
His history supports his goal. As an assistant coach in St. Louis each of the last two years, Montgomery worked with the offense and power play. The Blues scored 3.77 goals per game (third in the NHL) and their power play was ranked second in the NHL, scoring 27 percent of the time.
Bruins president Cam Neely liked what he saw tactically.
“One of the things that kind of stood out early on was Jim’s philosophy of getting our defensemen to move a little bit more on the offensive blue line,” he said. “Whether they end up scoring the goals is going to be one thing, but they can create a little more offensive from being fluid on the offensive blue line.”
While nobody spoke out publicly the speculation after Cassidy’s firing was that his sometimes caustic communication style had begun to grate on his players, especially the younger ones. Montgomery wasn’t contrasting himself to Cassidy, but pointed to communication as a strength he’d bring to the job.
“I think my biggest strength is being able to connect with people, whether it’s young players, old players, or that middle core group of your 24-28 year olds that are incredibly vital. I think the most important thing is I’m going to communicate how important it everyone’s role is to the team’s success.”
Sweeney said Montgomery’s continued evolution distinguished him among the candidates the team met with.
“He’s kind of a student of the game in the same way that he’s the teacher of the game. All the checkpoints – wanting to create a little bit more, looking at our roster, acknowledging that maybe there’s areas that we can continue to improve but excited about the challenges of working with the players who are currently here as well, and getting to a higher level,” Sweeney said. “For us, he just checked off the boxes of a winning history, a coach that has an open mind to communication as well as evolving style of play. “
“If I’m going to preach that we’re going to be very open-minded with our communcation, I better lead by example,” he added. “Those values lead to very open and honest communication. It allows people to be vulnerable which is where you get your greatest amount of growth.”