Surprised. Shocked. Stunned. Incredulous. Irate. Disappointed. Disgusted.
Use all of those words…and then some…for how I was feeling this morning when the Boston Bruins press conference started and GM Don Sweeney announced that Claude Julien was returning as head coach next year for his 10th season.
I think the reasons for my state of mind were very clearly spelled out in a pair of posts yesterday. But I am still having a hard time coming to grips with the news.
I’ll live of course, so please don’t spend any time worrying about my well-being. As if you were…but what do we have to look forward to next year? I am really scared to even think about it at this very moment.
I just re-listened to Donnie Hockey’s and Claude’s presser. Let’s have a brief chat about some of the answers that were given. Because again, I said so:
*When Sweeney was asked why the quick decision on Julien as compared to last year, one of the things he said was “Claude really wants to be here…” and assorted related drivel.
So what? I’d like to be there too. But I’m not getting the job. Why do I care if he wants to be there? In a related question to Claude, he said he wasn’t one to bail on the situation as it currently was. It shouldn’t have been his option. Or was that a shot at Doc Rivers for bailing on the Celtics in their rebuild? Of course it wasn’t a shot at Doc. Just felt like deflecting for a minute.
Anyway, hopefully the decision to stay wasn’t really in his hands. Sure he could’ve resigned I suppose. But then the B’s would have probably blocked him from working elsewhere for the length of his contract (2 more years)…especially since the NHL went back to not allowing compensation for coaching defections. So was Claude leaving on his own volition truly an option? Doubtful.
*Sweeney, “Claude and I are aligned on what kind of team we want, a defensive style.” Yuck. But also, a lie? Why did Sweens then try to make some moves last year to try to catch up to the state of the NHL these days? Which is not really a defensive style. Interesting…
*Sweeney and Julien both spoke often about “the implementation of youth.” Funny, I didn’t really see much of that this year. Well documented in the previous 2 posts. What I omitted in those was also that Claude refused to play David Pastrnak on the power play this season. Pastrnak should be one of the first guys on the power play, 19 years old or not. No excuse for that not happening.
*Julien, “we felt that we were good enough to make the playoffs this year.” Fantastic. Was that the goal? Reaching for the sky, I see. Lovely.
*Sweeney, channeling his inner Dan Duquette, “take out the first 3 games and the last 13 games and we accumulated a significant run of points.” WHAT?! Sounds like the Duke’s “more days in first place.” Or maybe he was reflecting on Peter Chiarelli’s “only one of 5 teams to make the 2nd round the last 2 years” comment. Or any Major League Baseball pitcher that says, “if you take out my worst 8 starts and only take the best 17, my ERA is under 3.50, instead of 5.27” etc. Bottom line, these quotes are all crap.
*Sweeney, “we don’t anticipate a major overhaul.” And, “I’ve had conversations with all of our unrestricted free agents and if they are serious about coming back, I’d love to have them.”
First, they absolutely need a major overhaul, specifically on defense. Second, do you know who the UFA’s are? Here’s the list I saw: Eriksson, Kelly, Stempniak, Liles, Kevan Miller, Gustavsson, Talbot, Irwin, Kemppainen and other minor leaguers no one’s heard of. If they don’t bring ANY of those guys back, I wouldn’t mind it at all. Loui, cuz I don’t want to overpay for him. The others? Meh…
*Sweeney, “Kevan Miller had a good year.” I admit, I did not watch every minute of every game. Not even close. But those who did would surely not say the same thing. Nice plus-minus though, I guess that was the key. Disturbing to hear Sweens kind of mention Miller and Adam McQuaid as part of the core. Ummmmm…
*Julien, in response to a question on whether the players had stopped listening (also related to the assistant coaches), “No.” I may beg to differ. That’s why guys were dealt last offseason, wasn’t it? Clean up the locker room? Should be another reason why some guys should go this year too…as long as Claude is staying.
*While we are on the assistant coaches, Sweeney, “Doug Houda will not be returning and the other assistants’ contracts are up. Claude and I are discussing this…” Yup. The assistants will be the scapegoats.
*Sweeney, “players came to me and said “sometimes when we gave up one goal, it felt like 2.”” I guess I’m not sure what this means. A shot at the offense and not being able to come back in games because the lead seemed insurmountable? Well, Sweeney later said that “we were 5th in the league in scoring, we just couldn’t keep it out of our net at times.” So which one is it?
*Sweeney, “we had a lot of trouble with 2nd periods.” Yup, that’s what I was thinking. Damn 2nd periods. Really screwed them up this year.
*Sweeney, “understanding shooting lanes may be all our young defense needs.” Nope. They need to play, for one. Not get their minutes jerked around. They likely need lots of other things too. Understanding shooting lanes is likely only a small part of what they need.
*Julien was also asked a question, where part of it was “Patrice Bergeron said you were the best coach he ever had…” Bergy has played most of his NHL career under Julien. What else was he supposed to say? He had Mike Sullivan as a coach for two years and Dave Lewis for one. Not hard to call Claude his best coach in comparison. Or was he comparing one of his Junior coaches? Providence B’s coach? Bergy’s statement means nothing to me. Stupid to even bring it up.
So even though the press conference turned out to be different from what I thought (and hoped), it was still pretty laughable. What else are Claude and Donnie supposed to say, I suppose? I’d rather have had them not have a presser. It certainly decreased my confidence…as I am sure it did to many others.
Is that what they wanted? Lower the expectations for next year even more? Maybe. Either way, not much of anything encouraging came out today. To me anyway.
Let’s see what Cam and the family Jacobs has to say next week…can’t wait…
As we await the Boston Bruins press conference in a mere 9 hours, I wanted to address one more thing. Wanted to get it out before Don Sweeney announces he is tacking two more years onto Claude’s contract tomorrow. Haha! No, that would be hard to believe. But aren’t you wondering why Claude will actually be at the presser tomorrow with Donnie Hockey? Seems a little odd, no?
My guess is that they will announce a “mutual agreement” for Claude to move on from the Bruins. Allows Julien to save a little face while he searches for his next gig…which probably won’t take long. Ottawa rumors have been going around and surely there will be other teams with interest.
But we all know that if this is the case, Julien is getting fired. Just like the charade the Red Sox put on in the fall of 2011 when they “mutually parted” with Terry Francona. Tito was canned and everyone knew it. It was a little uncomfortable…and I expect more of the same later this morning. I really cannot see there being any other announcement regarding Claude and the team. But I’ve been wrong before.
Anyway, in prepping for the previous post, I dug a little deeper into the Claude Julien era. I knew most of it, but wanted to make sure I had all my facts 100% correct. The end result of my prep? The Claude era was not as pretty as most want to make it out to be. People will always remember the Cup win and the near-Cup win. But what we should remember is all of it. The Cup appearances…and some excruciating and inexcusable playoff losses. Plus the two regular season collapses the last two years. Again, upper management and the players have to share blame all around. BUT, let’s be real about this Claude lovefest.
Let’s start with the fact that everyone is celebrating his 393 wins, most in club history. That is nice. Winning is the end result, so let’s give the man his due there.
Art Ross had 387 wins and 95 ties. Claude had 393 wins and…0 ties. Let’s say Ross splits his ties and gets say, 47 more wins added to his ledger. Claude is then still chasing him. I’m generally not into comparing regimes 70-plus years apart. However, this is worth noting.
Let’s review things year-by-year. Because I said so:
2007-08: 3rd place in division, 1st round playoff loss. Fair enough, first year as head coach. Especially when you consider that Chuckie Kobasew was your 4th leading scorer…with 39 points. No qualms here I would say.
2008-09: 2nd in overall NHL in points…1 behind San Jose. Eliminated in 2nd round of playoffs by…Carolina? An inexcusable Game 7 home loss to boot. Not to mention they were down in the series 3 to 1 before fighting back. Not impressed.
2009-10: 3rd place in division, 2nd round playoff loss. Wait, 2nd round playoff LOSS? More like 2nd round playoff DISASTER. Losing a 3 games to none lead against the Flyers. Then blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 7. You say losing David Krejci in Game 4 changed the complexion of the series? I say, perhaps, but one player is going to make you lose 4 games in a row? Even with what happened the next year, this one still stings. But as Peter Chiarelli said directly after this debacle, “We are one of only 5 teams to make the second round of the playoffs in each of the last two years”. Congrats Pete. You and the Duke (Dan Duquette, “The Red Sox spent more days in first place…”) can hang out and exchange quotes together…or something.
2010-11: 1st place in division, won Stanley Cup. How can anyone complain at this, you may ask the Blowhard? You really can’t. But do you remember they barely made it out of the first round? Also, one could argue that Tim Thomas won this Cup and no one else. I might argue that anyway.
2011-12: 1st place in division, 1st round playoff exit. Another Game 7 loss at home. Another classic Chiarelli quote after this series too: “The players came to me in the exit interviews and noted how they felt that they were worn out because it really felt like one long season…you know with the Cup year last year…” Ummmmm…ok bud. Those players shouldn’t be here if they don’t feel like competing…which is how I saw it. But that’s what happens when you bring 17 of the 20 players back that won the Cup. More turnover was needed for more hunger in the locker room. Maybe that’s more on Pete than Claude. But shouldn’t Claude have lit more of a fire under the team if this was the case?
2012-13: 2nd place in division, Cup Finals loss. We should be happy with this, right? Sure. But you remember it was only a 48 game season, right? And that they had a miraculous comeback against Toronto in the first round (down 4-1 middle of third period in Game 7, then down 4-2 with less than 2 minutes left, only to win in overtime?), right? The fact that they needed that, in a Game 7 at home no less, was a little surprising. Don’t get me fired up about losing a 2-1 lead late against the Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Finals either. I was there. And yes, that still stings too.
2013-14: Most points in NHL. 2nd round playoff loss to the hated Montreal Canadiens. Another Game 7 loss at home. Congrats on the President’s Trophy boys. At least there is that…
2014-15: 5th place in division, missed playoffs. Lost last three games of regular season to finish 2 points behind Ottawa for the last playoff spot. Sure, Ottawa went 19-7 down the stretch and the Hamburgler (Andrew Hammond) was unbeatable for them in net. But…still no playoffs.
2015-16: 4th place in division, missed playoffs. Tied with Detroit in points, but lost tiebreaker. 3-9 record down stretch to play themselves out of it. Under .500 home record. But…we’ve been through all that already.
I’m not even counting the 2006-07 season, Claude’s one season coaching the New Jersey Devils. Well, it was the first 79 games anyway. He was fired with 3 games left, coincidentally, right after a win against the Bruins. Timing a little odd for that sacking, no?! GM Lou Lamoriello felt that “the team wasn’t ready mentally or physically for the playoffs”. Maybe a little extreme for him to do, but he did it. Only got him a second round playoff loss. But still a black mark against Claude I would say.
Now that we’ve taken a stroll down memory lane, there seem to be some negatives that can be highlighted, no? And SHOULD be highlighted? Maybe I’m nitpicking. But I also feel like Claude, Pete, Cam and all the players should have made this run a lot more impressive that it actually was. I believe the Cup appearances really skew everyone’s opinion of the last nine years. Probably more good than bad overall, but some of the bad was just putrid. In many ways, I feel that the team underachieved. The talent was usually there for “more”. Isn’t a lot of that on the coach?
Again, all facets of the organization must take its share of the blame for any shortcomings. But the head coach always takes a lot more heat than anyone else, correct? Deserved or not, it’s time…
Maybe? Please? Finally?
Listen, to all you Claude Julien apologists, this is not to say the Boston Bruins’ demise is solely Claude’s fault. Not in the least bit. Neither Peter Chiarelli in his last year or Don Sweeney in his first in the General Manager chair did much to actually help the on-ice product. And ultimately, the players have to play the game. And they certainly played poorly a great deal, especially at the most critical times. But it’s time for Claude to go.
A 9 year stretch as a head coach in the Boston market? Fantastic. Nice run. But if you look at the other professional Boston organizations since the year 2000, the same thing happened at 2 of those 3 addresses. Hell, it’s 3 of 4 if you want to include the local professional soccer team.
Doc Rivers coached the Celtics for 9 years. 1 NBA title and 1 Finals loss. Some other close calls. But 41-40 his last year in town. Heading to a rebuilding phase with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett out of town after the season (with Ray Allen gone the previous year and Rajon Rondo the next). Don’t get me going with Doc. I think he was severely overrated and only good when his players were good. Check his record. Anyway, he did a great job when he was here all things considered, but the organization was changing, so it was time for him to go.
Terry Francona managed the Red Sox for 8 years. 2 World Series championships. But his last year (2011) is going to be remembered as the “chicken and beer” year, where the team collapsed to the tune of 7-20 to miss the playoffs and ultimately cost Tito his job. Thought Tito was overrated too, but in the same vein as Joe Torre and the Yankees, he knew how to handle a clubhouse full of All-Stars to combine to form a generally great product on the field. But it all fell apart quickly at the end. You know why? The players eventually walked all over him and ownership all of a sudden didn’t support him. Therefore, it was time for him to leave as well.
Steve Nicol coached the Revolution for 10 years. No championships, but 4 Finals appearances. Now, I can’t really speak in too much depth about what happened there on the pitch at the end. But things apparently soured there too and led to a new coach.
Why hasn’t it happened to Bill Belichick and the Patriots as we are going on a 17th year in his regime? I think a few reasons. There is more turnover in football, so a lot of players can’t get comfortable…especially with the mostly non-guaranteed contracts in the NFL. Consistently good veteran leadership in the locker room…where bad apples get weeded out quickly. Assistant coaches may be closer to the players on a day-to-day basis, with the position groups separated for much of practice. Keeps Bill at sort of a distance. I’m sure there are other reasons, including…the team still wins at a high level. Something that the other coaches failed at toward the end of their tenures.
Anyway, back to Claude. I personally was never a fan of his system. But it eventually got the Bruins a Stanley Cup and quickly another Cup Finals appearance, so I begrudgingly accepted it. I don’t think Cam Neely was ever a fan either. And when he became President of the Bruins in June 2010, I think most people expected him to can Claude after his 3rd season at the helm. Especially with the drop of 25 points from 2008-9 to 2009-10 and of course the collapse against the Flyers in the 2010 playoffs (losing a 3-0 game lead). But Cam kept him and GM Chiarelli and…they won the Cup the following year. So now Cam was forced to stick with Claude.
Then Pete gave Claude the 3 year extension in the middle of the 2014-15 season and the Bruins were stuck further. No way the Jacobs family was going to eat a 3 year contract. So even though Chiarelli got the gate after last season, the team moved forward with Claude. Another mistake.
Neely and Sweeney were clearly in favor of changing the players the Bruins wanted to put on the ice. They clearly wanted to get away from Claude’s system, based on most of the moves that Sweeney made in the summer of 2015. Get younger, faster and not so laser focused on defense. The contract had to be the only reason Julien was back. He was just not a fit for where management wanted to go in the future.
Could Julien adapt his approach to this new direction? Most were skeptical, but he is a good NHL coach, so maybe? Now the answer is in…and it is “no”. I think he tried, but when the chips were down, he went back to burying young players and playing guys like Max Talbot way too much. He played an aging Zdeno Chara 24 plus minutes a game. Z is certainly game for that and did the best he could, but realistically he should not be doing that anymore.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have no idea if guys like David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano, Seth Griffith, Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, Tyler Randall, Colin Miller…or any of the younger guys…will be viable NHL players. I feel good about Pastrnak actually, but not sure of the rest. Anyway, THIS was the year to play the hell out of those guys to find out. This was not a Cup-winning team from the beginning. It was clearly a transition year. Let the kids play and deal with their inevitable mistakes. And there would be plenty of mistakes. Claude couldn’t do it.
Pastrnak was the most infuriating one. The kid has great talent. But is 19 years old. And of course is not polished defensively. He would make a bad pass in the first period and not see the ice until the third period again. I get that you have to teach a kid a lesson to help him improve. But maybe a benching for a shift or two. Not entire periods.
Claude also still hearkened back to the days when the “Merlot Line” of Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton were actually somewhat useful. He played the 4th liners too much. Particularly frustrating was to see them on the ice down 1 with 2 minutes to go. Or down 2 with 5 minutes to go. Those guys should be glued to the bench in those situations.
How Julien didn’t play Brad Marchand and his 37 goals on the first power play unit was confusing as well. And he also often ignored Marchand in the shootouts, sometimes in favor of defenseman Torey Krug. That’s right, the Krug who had all of 4 goals this year. And the Krug who is a DEFENSMAN!
Thank God Chris Kelly was hurt most of the year. It could have been worse.
Don’t let the above take Neely…or Chiarelli or Sweeney…off the hook either. Neely has overseen this demise from the start. He has to take some responsibility. If he didn’t like Claude from the beginning, he should’ve put his own people in place from Day One. Ok, that probably would’ve cost the B’s their recent Cup, so maybe that wasn’t the way to go. BUT, he could’ve stopped Chiarelli from throwing out ridiculous contracts to 3rd and 4th liners and bottom pairing defensemen. Or overpaying top-six “stars”, who weren’t actually stars at all. Or trading Johnny Boychuk for nothing at the start of the 2014-15 season. There were other ways to trim salary to meet the cap, with lesser players involved. And they could’ve just kept Johnny for the year and let him walk after (or trade him at the deadline) if they didn’t like his price to re-sign long-term. Kind of like the Loui Eriksson situation this year. But we’ve been through that…
Also, Sweeney’s performance last summer was a mixed bag. Not to mention the B’s conducted a “worldwide search” for their next GM over the course of a couple of months, watched good candidates get hired elsewhere, then hired Neely’s pal that was already working for the club in a different capacity down the hall. The Milan Lucic trade reaped some benefits. The Dougie Hamilton trade really did not. The Zac Rinaldo trade was laughable. As was the Adam McQuaid contract. The Reilly Smith for Jimmy Hayes trade (and subsequent extension for Hayes) is looking worse by the day. But it was Sweeney’s first year and he is trying to change some things around, ssssooo…I will lay off him a little…for now. Maybe some of the draft picks and college kids he has been signing will pan out…
Management was also the problem at the trade deadline this past year. They tried to “have their cake and eat it too”. It felt like last summer that the team was in transition, as noted above. But…the Jacobs’ certainly wanted some home playoff gates to add to the till. I think Cam and Donnie Hockey thought they could straddle the line and get a playoff round or two in and still transition the team. Therefore the trades for Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles, where they gave up a slew of draft picks. And the non-trade of Loui Eriksson. Then…no playoffs. Even though it was only a miss by a mere point, it was a miscalculation at the deadline, to me anyway.
And again, the players are not blameless. Tuukka Rask may have been sick for the last game, a must-win to get in the playoffs. But sitting is inexcusable. I get it, sometimes you get sick. And maybe you can’t even get out of bed. But professional athlete’s fight through everything all the time, some of it is serious. The medical care they have access to is beyond compare. And he missed a key game for Finland in the semis of the last Olympics in Sochi. Coincidence? I don’t know…the whole thing just didn’t sit well with me.
3-9 in last 12 games, losing to non-playoff teams such as New Jersey, Carolina and Ottawa along the way. Sure playoff berths in the last 2 seasons choked away at the end. The final game embarrassment this year. Putrid home record of 17-18-6. And all of the other stuff written above. The head coach has to be accountable for a great deal of it. Just has to be, any way you slice it.
Thank you very much for your service Claude Julien. But best of luck at your next stop…