The inevitable, excruciating for him to ponder became reality yesterday for Mike Sullivan. Two-plus months after the end of the NHL's 2005-06 regular season, the 38-year-old Sullivan was officially dismissed as the Bruins coach, putting to end weeks of speculation that he likely would not survive the franchise's ongoing, wide-ranging overhaul.
Sullivan, who will receive the $600,000-plus due him for the final year of his contract, was notified of his dismissal yesterday by general manager designee Peter Chiarelli.
According to a source with direct knowledge of the Bruins' front office negotiations the past two days, the Bruins yesterday came to terms with a new coach and will name Sullivan's successor today or tomorrow. Another source, well acquainted with Chiarelli's connections and confidants around the league, and particularly in Ottawa, where he remains the Senators' assistant general manager until July 15, said that former Red Wings bench boss Dave Lewis will be named Boston's coach.
``My gut feeling, I guess, was this was an inevitability," said Sullivan, reached by cell phone last night while he attended his son's guitar lesson. ``But, obviously . . . you don't know that until it actually happens. I say inevitable, just based on the way things had been playing out."
Chiarelli, reached earlier in the day, praised Sullivan as ``classy" and ``professional".
But in the end, said Chiarelli, he had to make the decision solely on who he felt would be the best coach for the club he inherited at the end of last month, when he was named Mike O'Connell's successor.
``It was a difficult process and I understand [Sullivan's] disappointment," said Chiarelli, who, because of the conditions placed on him by the Senators, could not interview coaching candidates expeditiously -- a situation that left Sullivan waiting some three weeks to learn his fate.
``I handled it the best I could, given the constraints of the situation," Chiarelli said. ``I am sure Mike will go on to have success in the league."
The Bruins' news release, issued late in the afternoon, made no mention of Boston's three assistant coaches, including Wayne Cashman, Norm Maciver, and Bob Essensa (goaltending). However, Jeff Gorton, Boston's assistant general manager, responding via e-mail last night, reported the assistant coaches ``will have the opportunity to talk to the new coach" about further employment with the franchise.
Provided the 52-year-old Lewis is named coach, there is a slight irony in the hire. Lewis was the Devils defenseman who, during a preseason game, delivered the hit to Gord Kluzak's knee that effectively turned upside down the talented defenseman's career. Two-plus decades after knocking the franchise off its tracks, Lewis could be the one charged with getting it back on the rails.
Meanwhile, Sullivan, amid his disappointment, reconfirmed that he wants to remain a coach, ideally in the NHL.
``Obviously, I am disappointed in the decision," said Sullivan, whose chore was made all the harder this past season when a series of personnel decisions left him with far too many AHL-caliber players on his bench. ``I loved every minute [of being Boston's coach], and know I never took a day of it for granted. I grew up in the area. I grew up a Bruins fan. I've always loved the Bruins.
``In part, what makes this so disappointing is that I really enjoyed coaching the players that I coached.
``This year, and the previous year, I had real quality people to work with, and I am going to miss the interaction with those players that, as a coach, you enjoy on a daily basis. I think the world of those guys.
``One thing is for certain -- I know I want to be a hockey coach. I love what I do. I love going to the rink every day. I love the challenge of trying to get 20 guys to play for the same purpose. Now, moving forward, in what capacity I continue to do this, I'm not sure right now. Certainly, the NHL is the pinnacle, and the idea of coaching in the NHL again would be both flattering and enticing. For now, though, I have to digest what has taken place."
Sullivan had hoped Chiarelli would have rendered his decision some 10 days earlier -- a deadline Chiarelli set after the two of them met for the better part of a day in Chiarelli's Ottawa office. But the decision dragged on, said Chiarelli, because his work agreement, brokered by the NHL office in New York, delayed him in talking to prospective candidates.
Chiarelli said over the weekend he narrowed his list to five candidates, one of whom was Sullivan, an acknowledgement of how much he liked the holdover coach. But after careful consideration, said Chiarelli, he opted for the change.
``I was respectful of the process," said Sullivan, who called Chiarelli early last week, hoping to get a read on where he and his staff stood.
``I had hoped it could have been sooner, but . . . I understand. I think Peter was in a difficult position, as I was, and as my staff was -- I don't know if there is much more to say than that.
``I have always tried to be professional in my dealings with the media, with management, and with my players -- to be critical of anyone right now would not serve any purpose. All in all, it was not an easy situation, for anyone.
``No question, for me, and for anyone, uncertainty is never easy to deal with -- it was a difficult situation for me and my family, and for my coaching staff as well.
``At least a decision has been made, though, and we can all move on with our lives."