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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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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.

Boston Bruins Season Preview?

Not quite.  For one, the season is three games old.  For two, I was pretty disgusted with their offseason and kind of tuned them out until Opening Day.  So there you have it…

Fear not!  The above will certainly not stop me from commenting on the roster/coaches/management/first three games…or anything else.  What’s better than listening to (reading) someone’s at least partially uninformed opinions?  Not much!

I’m not sure we need to rehash my extreme disappointment in the retention of Claude Julien after last season.  Again, Claude has had a good run here.  One Stanley Cup win and another appearance in the final.  Mostly competitive teams all the way through.  But missing the playoffs 2 years in a row should be unacceptable in Boston.  Especially the way they fell apart at the end of both seasons.  Not to mention that the brass has said they want to transition the style of play to…something that Claude has historically not favored.  Sometimes things just run their course and it’s time to go.

I am entirely convinced that Claude is still here simply because they handed him a 3 year contract extension in the middle of the 2014-2015 season.  This is Year 2, still a bit early to eat the dough if he was fired.  I guess we will see how the year goes, to see if Jeremy Jacobs is comfortable eating one year on the contract.  Then again, watch him win enough this year…

As for the players, looking back at the end of last year’s roster, I was surprised to see how much turnover there actually has been.  Sure, they re-signed Kevan Miller to a ridiculous contact.  They re-signed Torey Krug to a fat contract as well, but I can stomach that more than Miller’s.

But look at some other names that are gone:  Loui Eriksson is the big one of course.  I’m not upset at all he is gone.  I am extremely pissed off that he walked with the B’s getting zero in return.  Easily could have dealt him at last year’s trade deadline.  Or at least possibly traded his rights before free agency started.  Whatever.  The other names that are gone that I want to reference are the likes of Chris Kelly, Max Talbot, Joonas Kemppainen, Dennis Seidenberg, Lee Stempniak, Landon Ferraro and Brett Connolly.  Zac Rinaldo is still here, but he is in the minors.

Focusing on the forwards above, outside of Eriksson, they are largely 3rd/4th liners at best.  But Claude loved to play them.  Now that they are gone, this HAS to be a promising development, right?!  They have been replaced by the likes of Austin Czarnik, Danton Heinen and Noel Acciari…with David Pastrnak presumably playing more and Frank Vatrano another viable option when he returns to full health.  Unproven NHLers and young, for sure.  But you’d have to think that they’d have bigger upside than the veterans above, led by Claude’s seemingly all-time favorite in Chris Kelly.  Sure, Riley Nash and Dominic Moore I suppose are a couple of those “old reliable’s” that Claude can fall back on.  Maybe Tim Schaller too.  But my point is there don’t seem to be as many of them around this year.

Defense?  Slightly different story.  Right now, kids like Colin Miller, Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara are playing.  But Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid are hurt.  You know once they are not, they will take 2 of those jobs.  K. Miller, McQuaid, Krug, Zdeno Chara, Seidenberg…and then a combination of John-Michael Liles, Joe Morrow, C. Miller and Zach Trotman filled out the D crew last year.  A pretty horrific crew, to be kind.  But Chara, Krug, McQuaid & K. Miller will go back to being the “core” very soon.  They HAVE to, since they are the ones being paid handsomely.  Liles will be the 5th in line…since he is a vet.  Leaves one spot for the kids.

How does that help the D in this current season?  Bringing back the guys that mostly stunk last year?  Burying the kids again?  I don’t see it.  I say burying kids “again”, because that’s what Claude did last year.  I have no idea if C. Miller, Trotman or Morrow can actually play.  But with the state of the D/team last year, they should have used all of last year to find out.  Well, I guess they decided that Trotman couldn’t play, since they let him walk after last season.  But they seem to be on the same course defensively this year as last.

Add in Tuukka Rask’s struggles last year, in part because he didn’t receive much help from his D, and we could be looking at a long season this year as well.  At least a mediocre one.  Another reason to keep playing ALL the kids.  On both D and O.

I’m simply not convinced that Julien will do it.  I think he has ALREADY changed course a little bit.  Take Czarnik, for example.  I thought he was the most impressive newcomer on Opening Night.  He centered the 3rd line and played on both the power play and penalty kill units.  I thought he looked pretty good.  Apparently, he didn’t play as well in Game 2 and found himself on the bench in Game 3, in favor of Schaller…with Moore taking his spot on the 3rd line.  The whole team laid an egg in Game 2 and apparently Czarnik was to blame.  Heinen hasn’t done much in my eyes, especially since he has played on the second line.  And Jimmy Hayes also still appears to be useless.  But Czarnik is the first guy out.

Carlo is playing heavy minutes and seems to be acquitting himself quite well.  O’Gara too.  Even C. Miller.  So we shall see when Claude starts jerking them around.  And for the love of God, can someone please tell me why Chara is playing over 25 minutes in a game in THE THIRD GAME OF THE SEASON??!!  39 years old.  Moves with a piano on his back.  Has broken down late in the season a few years running now.  But Julien already is upping the minutes.  Insane.  Stupid, actually.  One of my favorite parts of the pregame on Opening Night was that Julien told the interviewer that Z worked all summer on skating and side to side drills in the effort to increase his speed.  Ummmmm…that ain’t happening.

Some other brief observations from 3 games:

*Not excited about Patrice Bergeron missing the first 3 games due to injury.  Glad he got in the World Cup of Hockey in full though.

*Like what I see from David Backes thus far.  The contract ain’t pretty.  But at least for now I hope that he can replace Heinen and make the David Krejci line with Ryan Spooner more productive than it has started out as.

*That being said, it would appear Backes, Krejci and Spooner are best used at center.  In addition to Bergy, that’s a full house.  But none of them are playing 4th line.  Interesting to see how this all pans out.

*Krejci looks terrible so far.  Hip?

*Tuuks played well in the last game.  But that softie to start his season still angers me.

*Listening to Jack Edwards call a game is still insufferable.

*Pastrnak looks ready to make a “leap”.  Let’s hope Claude doesn’t bury him the next time he fails to backcheck.

*Brad Marchand was fantastic in the first game.  Should’ve even had one more goal if he didn’t try to get fancy with an open net.  But I hope people aren’t expecting 40-50 goals from him this year.

*I know that it’s tough to look at guys that have sort of blossomed after leaving the Bruins, such as Blake Wheeler.  But in that trade they received Rich Peverley.  Peverley was a pretty big piece of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Boston the end of that season.  Maybe we let this one slide?

*The whole team was awful against the Maple Leafs.  So did the B’s need to go out and get Anton Khudobin back?  Not saying Malcolm Subban was ready, especially after his scary injury to end last season.  But Subban supposedly looked good in camp.  So maybe just re-sign a Jeremy Smith or something until Subban or Zane McIntyre can contribute?  Or just give 1 year instead of 2 to Anton?

*Seth Griffith supposedly looked pretty good in camp too.  He put up huge numbers in Providence last year.  I have no idea if he can actually play in the NHL.  But I do hate losing young players that seem to have potential for absolutely zero…which is what happened when the B’s tried to sneak Griffith through waivers at the end of camp.

In any event, the returns are good thus far, but it’s early.  I’m not convinced this is a Cup contender.  Let’s see if the young kids pan out and better yet, if Claude sticks with them through all the ups and downs.  Hopefully the infusion of at least a little bit of youth keeps us watching for a spell anyway…

 

 

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