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…