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BU Blogger Says Boston College Hockey Misses Mike Cavanaugh

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Has Cavanaugh's departure hurt the development of BC's forwards?

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Over on the BU blog Bay State Road Sports, guest blogger Will (you may know him as @BurntBoats on Twitter) laid out a hypothesis for why BC's last few crops of forwards just didn't seem to develop: BC misses former associate coach Mike Cavanaugh, who left BC to become the head coach of UConn two years ago.

You can (and should) read the entire article here.  The TL;DR version: when Cavanaugh was at BC, he was tasked with coaching the forwards, while Greg Brown coached the defense and volunteer assistant Jim Logue handled the goaltenders. After Logue and Cavanaugh departed in 2013,

"York took the unorthodox but understandable decision to hire goalie Mike Ayers as the 2nd assistant behind Brown, and bring in retired-NHL-forward-with-no-coaching-experience-at-any-level Marty McInnis as the volunteer assistant. This made BC the only program in the league to have a volunteer assistant coach responsible for coaching up the forwards."

Will goes on to point out that the final crop of forwards Cavanaugh coached for four years improved by an average of .106 points per game per season, whereas in the two years since he left, BC's forwards regressed year over year by  -.001 PPG.

His hypothesis, which he admits is based on a fairly limited sample of two years, is that Cavanaugh's coaching had a huge impact on the much-ballyhooed development of BC's forwards through the years, and that without him coaching them up, BC has suffered. He offers this as an alternative to the generally accepted truth among BC fans that the recruiting classes that produced the graduating seniors of 2015 and 2016 were very poor by BC standards, especially up front, setting up BC's offense to stagnate.

His argument is compelling and not without merit. I think most BC fans would agree that losing Cavanaugh has hurt, particularly on the recruiting trail, where Cavanaugh was a key part of the recruiting team. In addition, BC was fortunate enough to have staff stability with Jerry York, Mike Cavanaugh, Greg Brown and Jim Logue for many years, a stretch during which they build up a dominant force that often seemed unbeatable. Having staff turnover after all that stability would certainly hurt any team.

However, I'm not ready to say Cavanaugh's departure and the hiring of Marty McInnis as a volunteer assistant coaching the forwards has had a major impact on the development of the forwards, for two reasons.

1) We are talking about a two year stretch in which year one had Johnny Gaudreau

2) The recruiting classes in question really were quite bad

#1 sort of explains itself. Will suggests that BC players throughout the York/Cav/Brown era have benefitted from playing alongside elite talent, which is true, but Gaudreau and Hayes put up insane numbers in 2013/14, numbers that are likely to skew any statistical measure of the team. After Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes departed, the 2014/15 team was bound to take a huge step back offensively in all situations, not only by losing their points but also by forcing players in to tougher minutes and more prominent roles.

#2 requires a bit more digging. The sophomores (now juniors) that McInnis coached in 2014/15 certainly will be expected to improve as that was a strong class (Calnan/Gilmour/Fitzgerald/Cangelosi). If they don't make a jump this year, especially with all the new weaponry surrounding them, it will be time to wonder about the regime's ability to develop forwards. However, the other two classes under McInnis's purview for two years clearly are a cut below.

Not counting Johnny Gaudreau, who was a late addition due to his decommitment from Northeastern and obviously left after his junior year, the Class of 2015 forwards were Danny Linell, Michael Sit, Quinn Smith, Cam Spiro, and Destry Straight. The class of 2016 forwards are Brendan Silk and Peter McMullen.

None of these players were NHL draft picks. The classes of 2014, 2013, and 2012 all had draft picks, as have the classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019. Beyond that, none really came in with a pedigree that led folks to expect them to be high end scorers.

Sit, Spiro and Linell came straight from the high school ranks. Sit had a pretty nice scoring rate in high school at just over a point per game, which is nothing to sneeze at in Minnesota but is not necessarily elite. Smith had a total of 17 points in 52 USHL games. Straight was probably the closest thing to a disappointment in terms of scoring at the college level, as he did put up over a point per game in the BCHL -- but BCHL stats are not expected to translate as well as numbers from the USHL. For 2016 forwards, McMullen is a walk-on; Silk was once considered a top prospect and was part of the US national development program, but major injuries held him back during his high school years. In his final year with the USNTDP Silk scored 6 points in 42 games.

None of this is intended to disrespect the players discussed, all of whom have played roles in various successes for BC during their years here, but it's clear that none of them were really expected to be high end scorers for BC with the possible exception of Straight. Using their statistics as a litmus test for how Jerry York's staff can develop forwards following the departure of Mike Cavanaugh seems more than a bit unfair.

This season, two crops of returning talent - the aforementioned juniors, as well as sophomores Alex Tuch and Zach Sanford - all come back and are surrounded by an infusion of excellent freshmen. They should all improve their point output significantly this season. If they don't, it will be time to reevaluate this subject. Until then, I still think the biggest explanation for BC's dip in year over year improvement up front can be found by looking at recruiting.