Jim Montgomery - Coach
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Unlike the NFL or MLB, it’s kind of hard to gauge the real impact of an NHL coach.
Some make it very obvious that the team is going to do things his way or the highway. Others try to let the players try and figure it out. Even yet more try to find a way to thread the needle between these two styles, often to disastrous results. There are even some who believe that a coach is mostly just there as a cheerleader, and the real x-factor of a team is the General Manager. So what can a new coach bring to a sport like this one? Where so much is on the line and in a market that is all about a first impression?
Well, Few can say they had a year quite like Jim Montgomery.
Monty’s Historic Season
Coach Monty had a number of questions coming into this season; sure, the players seemed to be bigger fans of him than the last guy, but this was an aging team with no prospect system and a number of question marks at nearly every position but defense and center. What do you do there?
Well, it appears the answer is “motivating your players to a historic regular season.”
The Jack Adams says it all; so many analysts foresaw the demise of the Boston Bruins at long last (the “at long last” was implied, but never quite said.) and Monty, with a warm presser presence, an even hand, and a lot of trust in his players, seemingly fixed every last problem the Bruins offseason gave us; Jake DeBrusk played like a top 6 player and loved being here again. David Krejci came back. David Pastrnak had 100 points. They just. Kept. Winning. And he was at the head of all of it!
Sure, he sometimes faced problems with properly motivating his players to play their best day-in, day-out. I think that can be an issue for guys with the reputation of being a “Player’s Coach” for a litany of reasons; foremost being that you need to have a lot of trust in your players. If you’re good at working that relationship, having strong leadership among the players, make adjustments when necessary, and set a good system? That can work! For most of the regular season? It did work! Defeats felt shocking because every other game felt inevitable after a certain point. He deserves credit for that!
But if any of that goes sour, or your trust extends beyond it’s reach...these good things held up by risky habits can spiral out of control.
Speaking of which...
April Showers bring true headscratchers
As the season dwindled to a close...cracks began to form.
I believe fully and strongly that Montgomery and the coaching staff made a calculated bet late in the season on whether or not Patrice Bergeron’s health could be successfully leveraged to cap off a historic season with a bow, and that a hurting Ullmark could still be trusted with the net even with a series lead slipping away from him in large part because of how immoble Linus was becoming. They lost those bets twice over, and then chose willingly to put a player who probably needed further time off out there, with painful consequences.
Which player am I talking about? Yes.
That’s the problem.
It’s hard not to feel like Monty got outcoached badly down the stretch by Panthers HC Paul Maurice partially because did pretty much everything he had to do in order to convince those Panthers to play up to the Bruins’ level by tinkering constantly; moving bodies around the lineup at will, changing goalies on the fly, the works. Monty seemed to only be content with making strong changes as though he figured the series would be over in a snap, he’d have his full lineup at 100% by Games 4 and 5, and then he could just cruise.
It did not work in a bad way, and I think part of it comes back to the inevitable concern of trust; I think he put too much trust in things working out due to the sheer momentum of talent and might the Boston Bruins had shown and through the first few games, continued to show. When things began to fall apart as badly as they did, I don’t know if he was ever equipped to deal with it. The slugfest he had with the Blues back in 2019 doesn’t prepare you for a situation where you hold all the cards, but certain cards could make things worse. He had the Panthers dead to rights with the team and lineup he had, and could’ve easily brought the goalie rotation to the postseason.
He didn’t, and now here we are.
I think this whole thing would’ve gone down fine if the Panthers won it all. I do, really.
Sure, we’d be grumbling and annoyed and calling for his job after one season (not that the way the playoffs ended could’ve prevented any of it) but I think the sting would’ve been slightly less. Maybe dulled with “hey, they lost to the champs, who knows?” and all that.
But no...We had to give the Cup champs their coach.
Bruce Cassidy who left town and got the Vegas Golden Knights, the team we’d been promised was gonna be dead and buried by next year, all the way to the promised land and frankly I’d be shocked if they weren’t Western Conference Champions again next year. That stings.
The curse of the new coach is to be eternally compared to the old one, and having that happen will unfortunately poison the discourse around him. Especially now that the Bruins are about to make some unsteady steps into a new chapter of the team.
I’m not sure that’s fair, but that’s the job he signed up for.
Now that he doesn’t have a roster seemingly designed to play every game like they were the greatest team on planet earth, I think we’ll get a real good look at what he’s actually made of here.
Because like him or not, he’s gonna have to trust this roster to do much of the same.