by Pat Donnelly
Horrendous, atrocious, embarrassing, heartbreaking, sickening, shameful; I could go on for days. Words like those are all microcosms of the way the Boston Bruins are currently being run by management.
Coward, sheep, putz, worthless, scum: all words that can describe either Cam Neely or my fella Donnie Sweeney, they’re interchangeable at this point.
Avoidable, adjective, meaning: able to be avoided or prevented. Why this word? Well, ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t figured it out by now, that’s exactly what firing Claude Julien was, avoidable. Are there things Claude could have done differently? Perhaps things like having more patience with younger players or working in a more offensive system? Yes, of course; however, you could also just as easily point to the composition of the roster and say there are many things the team’s president (Neely) and general manager (Sweeney) could have done differently.
Claude Julien’s tenure was certainly a rollercoaster with very few downs apart from the last few years. Let’s start at the very beginning:
The date is June 22, 2007; Claude Julien is named the 28th head coach of the Boston Bruins. Claude’s impact on the team is immediately seen as the team finishes with a 41-29-12. Though the team struggles with consistency during the regular season, it ultimately returns to the playoffs for the first time in two seasons. The Julien-led Bruins end up being eliminated in the first round at the hands of the hated Montreal Canadiens.
Year two, Boston has its best regular season since the 1992-93 season, finishing with a sparkling 53-19-10 record, good enough to lead the Northeast Division and the entire Eastern Conference. Poised to make a deep playoff run, Julien and the B’s march passed the Habs, a first round sweep. Is this finally the year? Then come the sixth-seeded Hurricanes, a pesky team that pushes a game seven and eventually upsets the heavily favored Bruins. After having a great season behind the bench, Claude is awarded the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year.
Here we are in year three. The Bruins have a largely mediocre season, but are able to take advantage of a somewhat week division and conference, finishing with a record of 39-30-13 and qualifying for the playoffs. Oh the 2010 playoffs, what a bittersweet few weeks (emphasis on the bitter part). After defeating the Buffalo Sabres in a thrilling six game series, the Bruins find themselves facing the Flyers; remember that team. Most of us know how this part of the story ends, with home ice advantage, the Bruins storm out to a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. Long story short, the Bruins utterly collapse, falling in game seven even after holding a 3-0 lead during that game too. Well, life goes on I guess, right?
Currently in year four, Tyler Seguin’s rookie year, all of us know how this chapter ends too. Julien leads the exciting Bruins to a 46-25-11 record after a thrilling regular season full of many milestones. Hoping to send the then 43 year-old Mark Recchi off into retirement in style with a third Stanley Cup ring, the Bruins are a team on a mission heading into the postseason. With expectations sky high, many are calling for Julien’s head if the Bruins get eliminated in the first round by the Habs. After falling behind in the series, David conquered Goliath in an amazing game seven overtime victory. Remember the Flyers? Yeah, the Bruins sweep them in the second round. Next come the thundering Lightning, see what I did there? This series comes down to a game seven, which was easily the most entertaining game in franchise history. After winning game seven, the Bruins advance to the Cup Finals against the Canucks. In another David versus Goliath story, the Bruins come out on top in seven games as the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions.
Year five, expectations are higher than ever before. The Bruins are a force to be reckoned with in the regular season, going 49-29-4. Claude Julien leads his team into the playoffs for a fifth straight year with a repeat of last season in mind. Plagued by streaky goaltending, injuries, as well as streaky goal scoring, the Bruins are upset by the the red-hot Washington Capitals in game seven of the first round.
The lockout shortens year six to a mere 48 games, but that doesn’t worry Claude and the B’s. Led by David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and rookie d-man Dougie Hamilton, they roll to a dominant 28-14-6 during the regular season. First up in the playoffs are the Maple Leafs, easy enough right? Not so fast. The Leafs push a game seven and jump out to a commanding 4-1 lead; Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic put the team on their backs and become the Leafs’ fathers, coming back to win in overtime. The Bruins and Torey Krug cruise past the Rangers in five games and proceed to show Jarome Iginla that Pittsburgh was the wrong choice, sweeping the Pens in the conference finals. The always great Blackhawks are up next. An exciting series, the Bruins force game six in Boston. Late in the game, the Blackhawks score twice in 17 seconds off of two crazy bounces to take the lead and the Stanley Cup, ripping the hearts out of Bruins fans everywhere.
Tyler Seguin, Nathan Horton: out. Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith: in. Claude Julien and the Bruins once again tear it up in the regular season with a President’s Trophy winning record of 54-19-9. Tuukka Rask puts in a Vezina Trophy-winning campaign which was complimented by his sensational backup in Chad Johnson. The team cruises past Detroit in five games, then come the Habs. The second round could be described as a clank fest, as the clank of pucks hitting the iron will haunt the dreams of Bruins players and fans for months to come. With goals hard to come by, the Bruins fall to the Habs in game seven after having a chance in game six to close the series. Another disappointing year on Causeway Street.
Jarome Iginla, Johnny Boychuk, Chad Johnson: gone. Niklas Svedberg: in. Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely’s mismanagement of the salary cap as well as a deteriorating defensive core have caught up with the team. With the lackluster play of backup Niklas Svedberg, Julien must lean Tuukka Rask, who will end up carding in a wild 70 games played. Out of gas, Rask and the Bruins collapse in the final week of the regular season, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. People immediately call for Claude’s job. With the likes of Dan Bylsma on the market and anticipation mounting, management sees the light and fires Peter Chiarelli for his mismanagement, retaining Claude Julien for another year. The search is on for a new general manger; with internal and external options the organization opts to promote Don Sweeney from his position of assistant general manager, remember that decision.
Welcome Jonas Gustavsson, goodbye to another year steady backup goaltending. Claude implements strategy adjustments for the breakout as well as the transition in the neutral zone, such adjustments see the Bruins have three 30 goal scorers for the first time in eons. The power play is dominant, but the defense kills the momentum yet again. More lackluster play from the backup leaves Tuukka Rask tired and underperforming. In the midst of an up and down season, Claude earns his 500th win as a coach and becomes the winningest coach in Boston Bruins history. The Bruins put themselves in playoff contention, but an utter collapse on the last day of the season seals the coffin on the hopes and dreams of playoff hockey in Boston for the second year in a row.
Here we are in the current season. The story stays the same at this point: poor backup play, lackluster defense, and inconsistency from the offense. Claude does what he can with the rusty old clunker that management and ownership expects him to win a Formula 1 race with. Claude drives it to respectability, in contention for a playoff spot. However, management wants more, it wants the “spark” that this team so desperately needs. Claude is fired on the same morning of the Patriots’ parade, Sweeney holds his press conference during the parade. Ownership was looking for the firing to go under the radar, but the city picks up on their efforts and exposes Sweeney, Neely, and the Jacobs family for the sheep that they are.
Time for a little commentary:
Granted, there are numerous grievances with how Claude Julien coached this team. One of these would be how he uses young players, just look to Ryan Spooner, Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin, and David Pastrnak. Fans point to his defense-first system as the root of some of this team’s offensive struggles. Claude made strategy adjustment after strategy adjustment and lineup change after lineup change, but none of those were enough to polish the turd he was given by management.
There are too many grievances with this management group to get into right now, those will be saved for another day. I will admit that the coaching change would have been needed at some point because change is always needed and all good things must come to an end. However, relieving Claude Julien of his duties would have been far better suited for this coming offseason.
The beginning of the Bruce Cassidy era has widely exceeded expectations in some areas. The offense is on fire and the transition game in the neutral zone is much improved; however the breakout and the defensive zone is still a hot mess. The coaching change will be a tenure-defining decision for Sweeney and Neely, and probably not in a good way. Only time will tell.