There are many issues with this year’s and past versions of the Boston Bruins. The roots of these stem from goaltending, coaching, the defense, mismanagement, and the lack of consistency from key players. In this five part series, the obvious problems with the Boston Bruins will be noted and explained. This edition will evaluate how Claude Julien has affected the team’s play.
Claude Julien is statistically the best coach in Bruins history. He has the most wins (401) in team history with an overall record with the team of 401-229-88. Julien is the longest tenured coach with his current team in the NHL, this being his ninth season on Causeway Street. Julien has also added a Stanley Cup and a Jack Adams Award (coach of the year) to his resume in Boston.
So with all of these spectacular numbers, why have fans been calling for his head the last few seasons? Several reasons actually. First, some may say that Julien’s biggest fault lies within his reluctance to play the kids, give them key minutes, and how he holds them to a much shorter leash than the veteran players. Some of the most notable players he has done this to would be Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, and Colin Miller. Obviously, the Seguin and Kessel experiences did not work out well at all; however, this year Pastrnak, Spooner, and Miller are all playing key minutes. Pastrnak is seeing first line time and thriving as he’s put up 13 points in 12 games played. Spooner has seen a slow start to the season, but is embracing a top six role and Julien’s patience with playing him has paid off as he’s developed into an extremely effective playmaker. Colin Miller has had an up and down start, but is seeing a drastic improvement to his playing time.
To most fans, Claude’s biggest faults with these players has been their playing time. Julien has been criticized over the past two years about stuffing Pastrnak and more specifically Spooner into bottom six roles. Some more examples would be questionable power play lines, mostly the second combination, as many people question why players like Matt Beleskey or Jimmy Hayes see as much playing time as they do on the man-advantage and why Brad Marchand, Pastrnak, and Spooner haven’t fortified homes on these units until this year. He has also been ripped on why veterans like Adam McQuaid, John-Michael Liles, and Kevan Miller see the amount of playing time they do. Liles can be effective in offensive situations but is simply too old to be playing between 15 and 20 minutes per game. Furthermore, Adam McQuaid sees top four ice time despite being a third pair talent. However, McQuaid is excellent on the penalty kill and perhaps playing in those situations is what drives up his minutes. Kevan Miller is a whole different story, maybe it’s why he even has a job in the NHL at all as he has proven ineffective in many situations, yet still plays a good amount of minutes.
Julien’s critics have called him out for possibly stifling the offense and creativity of his players at times. For example, the Bruins have historically been mediocre on the power play during a better part of time with the team. Also, younger players who may take a chance and subsequently commit a bad turnover or cost the team a goal proceed to find themselves benched for a few shifts. However, last year the Bruins’ power play was one of the best in the NHL and has seen increased success over the last few campaigns in spite of its incredibly cold start to this season. Moreover, the Bruins have had an incredibly productive offense over the course of the past few years, although it may slump at times. Last year, Julien’s changes to incorporate more offense and to modernize the breakout saw the Bruins have three 30 goal scorers for the first time it what might as well be forever., not to mention the fact that Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand have scored at least 20 goals in three straight seasons. Modernizing the breakout by having the defensemen be mobile with the puck by skating it and moving it up the ice better drastically improved it as the Bruins continue to try to catch up with the modern game where mobile, puck-moving defensemen are absolutely necessary to have.
Another point to be made is that Claude Julien is doing the best he can with the tools that management has given him. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Zdeno Chara is old and in serious decline, and Adam McQuaid is not one’s ideal defensemen for the modern game. John-Michael Liles is excellent at moving the puck the way it needs to be in the modern game, but is simply not talented enough to be a key piece to the puzzle. I am not even going to get into how ineffective Kevan Miller is, but the only thing he is good for is fighting, hitting, and taking dumb penalties. Torey Krug is perhaps the only established player on the roster who fits the quintessential model of a defenseman who can skate very well, lead the rush, move the puck up the ice, and contribute to the offense while playing a solid defensive game. Brandon Carlo, a rookie, also fits this model as the 6’5”, 200 lb, 19 year-old has proven that he has the skill and ability to play a hard-nosed defensive game while being an extremely good skater who can move the puck out of the zone with ease. Carlo’s development and immediate impact seems to have given Zdeno Chara a little bit of the Fountain of Youth as Chara has played solidly to start the year on the top pairing with Carlo. Colin Miller and Joe Morrow have an unbelievable ability to skate, contribute offense, and move the puck well, but occasionally they commit too many turnovers in their own zone to be able to be effective consistently. So, out of eight defenseman on the roster, only a handful are able to play effectively on a regular basis and have the abilities to do what a defenseman must be able to do in this day in age. As a result Claude Julien is left with no other choice but to play the cards he’s dealt. Furthermore, his system emphasizes defense first and offense second, so the defensive lapses come from the talent (or lack thereof in some cases) on the ice.
This is where it gets good for those of you who would love to see Claude Julien fired. Last year, Julien’s strategy adjustments led the Bruins offense to being the fifth most productive in the league, something that is completely unheard of in these parts. Given how productive the team was, if management had given him just one more decent top four defenseman, the Bruins could very well have won the Atlantic Division. Also, the team had virtually nothing on the roster to show for trading Dougie Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk, or Tyler Seguin. As Fluto Shinzawa put it, management expected him to go out and win the Monaco Grand Prix with a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe which he drove to respectability. If he were to be fired, it would be straight up idiotic as there are no good coaches for hire right now, in fact, if he was going to be fired at all, 2015 was the year to do it since Dan Bylsma was available. Bylsma led Pittsburgh to amazing success with deep playoff runs and a Stanley Cup during his tenure, and his now bringing the Buffalo Sabres back to life with the tremendous young talent at his fingertips. As of now, there are no coaches who are available or who will be available that should make anyone feel comfortable if they were to coach this team.
Just like goaltending, Claude Julien has not been the biggest part of the issues with the Boston Bruins by far. The next portion of this series will cover the overall ineffective defense this team displays on a nightly basis.
by Pat Donnelly