Claude Julien isn't an easy guy to grade. Coaches often aren't. I am willing to bet that nearly every Bruins fan wanted Julien fired at some point last season. For me, that point was after game 2 of the Montreal series, a listless loss that put the Bruins down 2-0 on home ice, surely dooming the B's to yet another exit at the hands of their arch-rivals. After a pride-salvaging game 3 win, the Bruins followed up with a poor opening to game 4. Down 3-1 to Montreal, outshot, outhustled and outplayed, the golf course beckoned invitingly.
Then came The Timeout.
From that point on, the Bruins dominated game 4, pulling out an improbable overtime win, then showing guts and resiliency in pulling out games 5 and 7 in OT. Had Boston lost game 7 of that series, Julien surely would have been fired. But, Nathan Horton (with help from Adam McQuaid and Milan Lucic) saved his job, and when the Bruins destroyed Philadelphia, the Black and Gold juggernaut was rolling.
Julien was far from perfect. The power play was a season-long sore point, and the penalty kill was poor until they brought in Chris Kelly. His vaunted "defensive system" saw Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask face a barrage of shots on a regular basis. His decision to give Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference second-pair ice time in the playoffs bordered on criminal negligence. Blake Wheeler began fulfilling his enormous potential the moment he left Boston. These failures must be laid at Julien's feet.
On the other hand, it seems Julien handled Tyler Seguin perfectly; the kid "got it" by the time the Finals came around. Brad Marchand's impressive development must also serve as a credit to Julien's coaching. Michael Ryder's play was often frustrating, but he turned it on just in time. Most importantly of all, he went with the hot hand early in the season in Tim Thomas, rather than stubbornly sticking with pre-anointed starter Tuukka Rask, in what was probably the biggest decision he made all season.
In the playoffs, for all the talk about how Guy Boucher outcoached him in the conference finals, Andrew Ference's pass was a product of great coaching; Ference spotted the seam in Tampa's 1-3-1 defense and created the scoring chance that won the series. And of course, in the Finals, Julien's bullyboys turned the series into a streetfight, precisely the sort of series the Bruins were best equipped to win, and Vancouver the least.
All in all, Julien wasn't perfect last year, but he was good enough for a B+.