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Claude is gone…CLAUDE IS GONE!!

Little late to the party on this one as well.  But of course VERY deserving of comment, for sure.  (Kind of) lost in the shuffle during the New England Patriots Super Bowl celebration, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was fired…and a week later was tabbed to take over the Atlantic division first place (though Eastern Conference 5th overall) Montreal Canadiens.  Yup, the HATED Canadiens.  Yup, the same Canadiens that fired Claude in 2006.

I’ve written over and over again in this space that it was time for Claude to go.  It had been for quite some time.  Missing the playoffs the last two years is inexcusable.  Especially the way they choked down the stretch both years.  And then being on course for missing the playoffs a third straight year this year.  Just unacceptable.  How could he still have his job after all that?

Not that it has all been his fault.  It has not.  Cam Neely, Don Sweeney and Peter Chiarelli haven’t necessarily given him the best roster in recent years.  Maybe help is on the way with some of Sweeney’s recent draftees.  But we may not know that for a while.

But you know what?  Neely and Chiarelli gave Julien some pretty damn good rosters early in his tenure.  Sure, he won a Stanley Cup.  Just one though.  He had a talented team that should have competed for a Cup many other years as well.  You may say, “he went to another Cup Final”.  I will then tell you that this was all well and good, but in a lockout shortened season not quite the same accomplishment.

People often forget that Julien was probably an OT goal against Montreal in the first round of the Cup year from being fired that year.  And in the year they lost in the Cup final, they also dodged a bullet in the first round with that miracle win against Toronto.  And some other colossal playoff failures:  2008-09, 116 points in regular season, 2nd round loss to Carolina.  2009-10, 3-0 lead in 2nd round against Philadelphia and lost 4 straight to be eliminated.  The loss of David Krejci in Game 4 was certainly big.  But to lose that game and 3 straight after and kind of blame that injury?  Nope.  2011-12, first round loss to Washington (Chiarelli said the players were “tired” from the previous years’ Cup run…ugh).  2013-14, 117 regular season points, 2nd round exit to Montreal.

It all adds up.  Why don’t/didn’t a lot of people see this?

He is a good coach, maybe better than good, but not necessarily great.  And certainly not legendary, as some people (you again Magoon) seem to think he is.

Amazingly enough, as recently as about 5 weeks ago, I was convinced Claude was at least here through the season.  I thought Donnie Hockey was blowing smoke when he told us that he hadn’t ruled out a coaching change.  Apparently he was not.

Figured the contract would keep him here through the year for the most part.  The Jacobs’ don’t like to eat money.  Could they have known Montreal was going to jump in and (apparently) offset some of the dough owed Julien?  Did they know/sense that the Canadiens were sniffing around?  I doubt it, but I guess you never know with these sorts of things.

In any event, Bruce Cassidy is now the head coach.  Logged about a year and a half as a head coach of the Capitals, getting canned during the 2003-04 season.  Had to wait quite a bit for his 2nd head coaching gig…longer than most.  Has tallied almost 900 games as a minor league head coach, including almost 500 since the Capitals role.  Spent the last 5 years in Providence.  Has had some regular season success, but not a ton in the playoffs.  Supposedly has a good reputation with young players.   Seems to have been groomed to be the next Boston head coach, though the title is still interim at the moment.  Hopefully the rep with young players is true.  And that it means he will implement them in faster than Claude.  I will say this for Claude, having Cassidy on the bench with him this year with the feeling that Bruce was “the next guy” couldn’t have been a warm and fuzzy feeling for Julien.  I know I wouldn’t have been excited about it.

So after all of the above, I personally am not buying the “interim” thing.  I think Cassidy will officially be the next head coach.  Unless of course they tank horrendously down the stretch.

But is he the answer?  I have no idea.  Does the fact that Cassidy is 3-0 since taking over and that Julien is 0-1 in Montreal mean anything?  I think it probably means squat.  Though I would definitely expect a better effort from a team in the immediate aftermath of their coach just being fired.  I know I have seen that out of the B’s in their three games.  Having not seen the Montreal game Saturday night, I can’t really completely comment on their effort.  But they lost to an average at best Winnipeg team at home.  So I would guess that is not a positive.

I will say that the offensive “game plan” is certainly more aggressive.  The D corps scored 18 goals in the first 55 games.  They have 4 in the last 3.  This is the most noticeable difference to me…the D-men are waaaaaaay more involved offensively.  Now, this could certainly lead to goals being given up in bunches at the other end because of their (over)aggressiveness.  But hey, they have an “All-Star” goalie in Tuukka Rask, so everything should be fine, right?  Ok, maybe not.

Either way, this is great to see.  14 goals in 3 games overall?  I like that too.  Small sample size of course.  But after watching Claude’s system for years, even the 3 game stretch is refreshing.  I eventually accepted Claude’s system, since they did win that Cup and were competitive and playoff-bound most years.  But it doesn’t mean I loved it.

Cassidy’s system may not work long-term.  This may just be the coaching change wakeup call.  But maybe some of these forwards can showcase their talents more now.  Maybe this system works with a lot of the youngsters on the way.  Who knows?

Time will tell.  Cassidy hasn’t changed the personnel really.  Anton Khudobin is back.  I like it.  Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban are simply not ready to play in the NHL and may never be.  Khudobin has been brutal this year, but has also been hurt and buried when healthy.  Maybe the stint in Providence got his head back on straight and Bruce actually gives him some time down the stretch to keep him sharp.  Peter Cehlarik is the only new body among the skaters.  Impressed by him thus far…along with the line of Cehlarik/Krejci/David Pastrnak.  But again, only 3 games.  He played Zdeno Chara over 26 minutes in the last game…still entirely too much.  Hasn’t appeared to change much ice time overall among the players.

So again…we will see.  But there have been some encouraging signs for sure.

Nice 4 game West Coast trip starting tonight that may shed some more light on the situation.  San Jose and Anaheim seem to be tough foes.  Los Angeles and Dallas perhaps not…but LA is the 2nd night of a back to back.  So maybe.

Definitely intriguing to see how they play the season out, starting with the trading deadline.  There are 24 games left.  I have no doubt that the Jacobs clan would love at least one round of playoff gates.  So perhaps we don’t see much player change until the offseason.  Especially the integration of many more youngsters.  I don’t think Sweeney will overpay for pieces to prepare for what he thinks will be a long playoff run at the deadline.  But I also don’t think he will deal major pieces away over the next couple of weeks either.  It’ll be interesting to see how they balance things the remainder of this season.

But hopefully they will be at least on a better track.  And certainly more entertaining to watch…

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Boston Bruins Mid-Season Report Card

Slightly more than mid-season, actually.  53 games in by the time this is finished.  But the All-Star Game just happened…or whatever the All-Star nonsense was this year anyway.  So…it is what it is…

Full disclosure, the Blowhard has not watched every minute of every game.  Far from it.  No way anyone can tolerate Jack Edwards that much, can they?  But we feel like we can fire some grades out based on game action, reports, opinions and box scores, among other sources.  We may just make up some bogus grades just to see if any of the three readers of this blog vehemently disagree (Keo?).

Grades are completely arbitrary in these cases anyway, so what difference does it make?  Whatever…let’s get to it:

Jeremy Jacobs, Charlie Jacobs, any other Jacobs associated with ownership: D.  For the better part of my lifetime, these jamokes really just care about putting a team on the ice that gets them a round or two of playoff gates and aren’t necessarily chasing championships.  I’m not the only one who thinks this.  And you know what?  They’ve been pretty successful at it.  This year is more of the same.  It’s really as simple as that.

Cam Neely, Don Sweeney and I suppose the rest of the front office: D-.  Maybe I should give Cam some more credit, since I believe he has wanted to fire Claude Julien for years but ownership won’t let him.  Maybe I should give Sweens more time, since many of his draft picks seem to be highly regarded.  But Cam has been around a while and the team has regressed.  And Donnie Hockey’s major league moves have been below average, at best.  So I’m not budging.

Claude Julien: D+.  Sense a theme here?  Yeah, leadership has been disappointing, to put it mildly.  Everyone knows how I feel about Claude, so I won’t re-hash that here.  He gets the “plus” though since his personnel isn’t awesome these days.  And technically, they are in the playoffs as of today…though the games in hand they own currently will obviously not be “in hand” at the end.  Let’s move on…

Brad Marchand: B+.  All-Star.  Point a game almost.  So why a B and not an A?  Cuz of those stupid things he still does.  Like the trip on Niklas Kronwall last week.  Infuriating.

David Pastrnak: B.  20 goals is nice.  So is the team high plus/minus of 14.  But he has tailed off in recent weeks.

David Krejci: C.  Too much dough for not much production and a minus 11.  Yikes!

Torey Krug: B-.  Not his fault they overpaid him.  But the minus 8?  No thanks.

Patrice Bergeron: C.  Something is not right.  Has he been hurt since the World Cup of Hockey?  Half a point a game and only a plus 3?  Too good for that.  At least he is still winning a good chunk of his faceoffs.

Ryan Spooner: C.  Claude is never going to trust him.  Spooner is never going to be a defensive whiz.  But he’s been disappointing either way.

David Backes: B-.  Seems to be what was about expected.  Again, not his fault he was overpaid.

Dominic Moore/Tim Schaller/Riley Nash: B.  Why not?  I didn’t expect anything from these dudes.

Austin Czarnik: B-.  Didn’t expect much from him either.  One of the young guys that actually stuck…for a while anyway.  Looks like with the recent stretch of healthy scratches he will end up in Providence soon.

Brandon Carlo: B.  Probably the only young guy that will stick the whole year here.  Seems to have tailed off lately, but nevertheless pretty impressive for a 20-year-old defenseman.

Zdeno Chara: C.  Thanks for your many years of service Big Z.  But…

Frank Vatrano: B-.  Kid looks like he can score at the NHL level.  We will see what happens with the rest of his game going forward though.  Let’s hope Claude continues to play him also.

Matt Beleskey: F.  Ok, maybe that is a bit harsh with time he has missed due to injury.  But looks as if he has been less than impressive thus far.

Colin Miller/Kevan Miller: C.  We’re the Millers was a pretty damn good movie.  I don’t really have anything else to say here.

John-Michael Liles: C.  If he keeps being the 7th defenseman, we can raise this up to an “A”.

Adam McQuaid: C+.  Fights on occasion.  Plus 2 is best on the D corps.  C+?  What the hell!

Jimmy Hayes/Anton Khudobin: G? Z? FF? F—–?  Useless.  The both of them.

Anton Blidh/Noel Acciari/Joe Morrow:  Incomplete, kind of.  These three have played almost 20 games apiece.  But I haven’t seen them much.  And it really doesn’t feel like they actually play.  Maybe they should get a D or something since they have been around for a while.  But I’m pretty fair.  They can thank me later.

Danton Heinen/Rob O’Gara/Malcolm Subban/Zane McIntyre/Matt Grzelcyk/Sean Kuraly: True incompletes here.

Last but not least…Tuukka Rask: B+.  Most know my feelings about “Tuuks” as well.  Don’t love paying goalies 7 mil a year, especially when they very rarely steal games.  That being said, Rask has played pretty well this season.  Sure, the requisite amount of softies have gone past him over the course of the year.  But he has gotten it done for the most part.  And he has needed to, with the fact that his backups have one win all year.  Guess I have to give him some credit…

Claude can…stay??

Yup, you heard that one right!

Let’s face it, this year’s version of the Boston Bruins isn’t making a long Stanley Cup run with Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville, Toe Blake, Claude Julien or even Scotty Bowman as the coach.  All one needs to do is look at the personnel to make that assessment.

You can thank Donnie Sweeney and Cam Neely for that…with an assist to the (not so) dearly departed Peter Chiarelli.

As the B’s stumble along in their state of mediocrity, with an unfathomable and unacceptable home record of 9-10, let’s also address the real reason Claude is going nowhere:

The contract.

I know, I’ve said it time and time again.  There is now about a year and a half left on it.  Jeremy and Chaz Jacobs are not eating that, I can assure you 100%.

MAYBE if the B’s do not make the playoffs for the third year in a row, especially if they choke down the stretch similar to the last two years, Julien gets gassed after the season.  But something tells me he is here going into next season as well.

Why?

Good question.  But in reality, as stated above, does it matter who the coach of the team is with this roster?

I think not.

I have come to accept this all as fact.  Claude has had a nice run here.  But as I’ve also said for some time, the team needs a new voice.  Sometimes the coach just somehow wears out his welcome.  Players tune him out.  Or they don’t exactly follow the plan anymore.  It happened with Terry Francona and the Red Sox.  It happened with Doc Rivers and the Celtics.  Francona and Rivers had the same core for years and things just changed.  In Rivers’ case, admittedly the eventual parting had a lot to do with the more talented players aging and Rivers not wanting to stick around for a rebuild.  In Francona’s case, he seemingly kept softening, the players got too comfortable and eventually took advantage of him.

Side note:  You may ask, “Why has it not happened to Bill Belichick yet then?”  My opinion is that the Patriots have kept a strong core there that keep buying in (and winning) every year.  Since the roster is so large, the assistant coaches have more interaction on a day-to-day basis with individual players…therefore different voices.  Maybe above all, roster turnover in the NFL is somewhat drastic.  So…many reasons, I suppose.  Maybe I’m wrong…

Back to Claude…it is time to go, but what’s the difference?  Donnie Hockey recently said he isn’t ruling out a coaching change.  But that was a bunch of crap.

The Bruins are clearly in transition.  They are trying to balance at least one playoff round gate to line the Jacobs’ pocket with trying to integrate some kids.

Although…Claude isn’t integrating them fast enough from what I can see.  Austin Czarnik and Brandon Carlo have played decent roles this year thus far.  And Frank Vatrano has contributed since he came back from injury.  David Pastrnak?  Doesn’t count.  And he should have been playing more the last couple of years anyway.  The likes of Noel Acciari, Anton Blidh and Danton Heinen don’t see the ice enough when suited up.  Joe Morrow is on the roster, but there is a good chance he is actually dead.  Etc.

The fact of the matter is Claude will still go to the Dominic Moore, Tim Schaller and Riley Nash types before the youngsters.  Where is the Merlot Line when you need it?!

As long as Sweeney keeps these veterans around, Claude will do it.  As long as the Jacobs’ won’t let him go, Claude will do it.

I think Sweeney and Neely know this.  And they are ok with it based on the circumstances.  As long as Claude gives some of the kids SOME ice time, the fringe vets contribute and stay competitive and the better players on the roster carry their weight…this seems to be ok with everyone.

Including me.

Because I have begun to think that Claude is here for just the transition, barring unforseen circumstances.  Maybe through next year.  By then, some of the youngsters above will have hopefully established themselves.  Other youngsters are on the way and may break through.  The latter group includes 2016 draftees like Charlie McAvoy, Trent Frederic and Ryan Lindgren.  2015 draftees like Jakob Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn.  Other past draftees like Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara and Zane McIntyre.  Random other dudes like Sean Kuraly.  This does not include Malcolm Subban…what appears to be the colossal waste of a first round pick.  In any event, some of these dudes need to hit, right?

Claude doesn’t play kids, we know that.  He is probably humoring Sweeney and Neely by playing a few.  But once his contract is up and some of these kids hit, someone else will be coach.  I am convinced of that.

You may say, “Why can’t they deal some of those kids and get some established players/stars?”  I may say “easier said than done.”  Though I’d sign off on that too.  I have no idea what others think of these kids though.  So I am not sure a deal is coming.

I am no genius.  Far from it.  But I feel like I see the Neely/Sweeney plan.  You have the core veterans locked up for the next several years, partially due to Chiarelli handing out no-movement clauses like candy, but nonetheless.  These players include:  Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, David Backes and Torey Krug.  For better or for worse, all those dudes will be making at least 5.25 per year for the next several years, with various degrees of no-trade protection.  Maybe Matt Belesky and his 3.8 per through 2019-2020 is here too.  But thankfully he can be dealt if necessary.  Pastrnak has to be considered core too, but they will need to sign him when he becomes a restricted free agent after this year.  I imagine at this point Carlo is part of the core as well, but is locked up at less than 800k through 2018-19.  Perhaps Vatrano, who is signed through next year.

The rest?  Zdeno Chara’s contract is up after next year.  I have to believe they will keep him around until the end at this point, but it’s hard to see them re-signing him…at any significant dollars anyway.  Hopefully they will lose either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller in the expansion draft.  (If they go the three defensemen protection route, Z and Krug have to be protected with their “no moves” and Carlo is ineligible, same is true for Colin Miller and Morrow I believe, for whatever that is worth.  That means there is only one spot left for Quaider or Kevan).  God can only hope Jimmy Hayes goes in the expansion draft,,,maybe Anton Khudobin as well.  They’ll be out there anyway.

Then some kids come up and make a difference…under a new coach…as the franchise starts ascending again.

Is all of the above enough to make the franchise great again?  Not sure.  A move in free agency or by trade for another stud D-man won’t hurt.  But on offense and in net it may just be enough…if enough kids pan out of course.  And if the new coach encourages goal scoring more than Claude does.

So if this is the plan, and I truly feel like it is, why bother with a new coach at this very point in time?  I just don’t see it.

I have resigned myself to the fact that Claude will be here the rest of this year and possibly (probably?) all of next.  And you should too.

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