Every now & then, we here at Stanley Cup of Chowder are going to put our high school letter jackets on and make like a debate team. We're going to look at some #hot takes around the Hub, and dissect their validity. We'll try to see - what are the real reasons this opinion is so mildly popular? This is what we call Contrarian Corner.
As you all know by now, the Boston Bruins lost in terrible & terribly predictable fashion on Saturday, getting run out of their own building 6-1 by the Ottawa Senators. After taking a 1-0 lead into the locker room for the 1st intermission, the Bruins let in four unanswered goals in the opening 10 minutes of the 2nd Period, and two empty-netters followed in the 3rd. In all honesty, the Bruins lone goal probably shouldn't even have counted due to David Pastrnak almost definitely being offsides. It was two & a half hours of pain & misery, when everyone in attendance and tuning in was hoping for victory & joy.
With the loss, the Bruins missed out of the postseason for the second consecutive year. Not by a point. But by ROW--the NHL's first tiebreaker, regulation & overtime victories. Boston didn't hit their point total from last year's disappointing season (96), and after leading the Atlantic Division less than a month ago, were only able to muster 7 points over their final 12 games. That's a point percentage of .291, over a span of about 15% of the season. They took just one game into extra time--a shootout loss to Carolina--and were out-scored 42-to-27 over that stretch. They were flat-out terrible to end the year, and if this had been how the season started, Claude would've been dumped before Veteran's Day.
But this is Claude Julien, right? We can't make such emotional, rash decisions just minutes, hours, days after this collapse. This is the man that coached up Patrice Bergeron & David Krejci. The man that helped turn Milan Lucic & Brad Marchand from grinders into superstars. The winningest coach in Boston Bruins history, surpassing Art Ross earlier this year. The best Bruins coach in a generation, with two Cup Finals appearances, a President's Trophy, a Jack Adams award, and one Cup win to his name.
After all, he could only work with the pieces he was given. He brought this team to a virtual tie for a playoff spot with one of the worst defenses in the NHL (22nd in Shots Against, 25th in Fenwick Against, 21st in Corsi Against). He took a team with one, arguably two true Top 4 defensemen, and turned them into one of the Top 10 penalty kills for the majority of the season (they finished 11th by 0.01). He lost Johnny Boychuk & Dougie Hamilton, neither of whom were replaced, and changed his coaching style to turn the Bruins into the 5th-best offensive team in the NHL, with three 30-goal scorers in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Loui Eriksson.
So why are people calling for his head? Well, along with the positives listed above, there were plenty of missteps along the way for Julien. No one is immune to making mistakes. But there are several reasons--in his good years & bad--that Claude's time in Boston could be justified as being over.
Two Postseason Misses
Not many coaches can take a team with elite players in their prime years and miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs without repercussion. Alain Vigneault, current coach of the New York Rangers, was fired in 2013 from the Vancouver Canucks. This was immediately after a Cup Finals appearance (2011), a President's Trophy win (2012), and a Playoff appearance (2013). John Tortorella, Vigneault's replacement, was fired from the Rangers in 2013 after a 2nd-round exit. He was then fired from the Canucks the following season after they under-performed & missed the postseason.
Dale Hunter--horrible person, worse coach--was speculated to be fired after the 2012 season in which he took the Capitals to Game 7 of the 2nd round. He was not directly confronted with an extension following his interim coaching stint, and resigned shortly after. Guy Boucher, the Bond-villanesque coach who brought the Lightning to Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, was fired mid-way through the 2012-'13 shortened season despite an Art Ross season by Martin St. Louis, mostly due to porous goaltending on the backend.
Many coaches don't survive one postseason miss, nevermind two. This is on top of the under-performance in the 2014 Playoffs. Which, speaking of...
A Presidential Underachievement
The 2013-14 Boston Bruins saw the signing of Jarome Iginla, and one of the most productive offensive lines in recent Bruins history. Defensively, the team also had much of its core from the 2011 Cup Finals intact, and they finished with the 2nd-fewest Goals Against in the NHL, good enough to earn Tuukka Rask a Vezina win. But all of this regular season success was for naught, when P.K. Subban and the Montreal Canadiens defeated Shawn Thornton's and the water-bottle-wielding Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The truth is going into the playoffs that year, the Bruins had a very similar slump. Boston lost 5 of their final 7 games before facing Detroit in the opening round. The team was stacked with talent, but some of their core started to become a larger locker room presence than Coach Julien. Shawn Thornton had the Orpik & Subban incidents, Milan Lucic couldn't handle battling Dale Weise, Brad Marchand hit an epic goalless slump. The law of averages shows the team hitting a terrible slump, at a terrible time. But with this year being the 3rd in a row with a Spring-time scoring slump, some blame needs to be put on the Coach for not holding the room together.
The Curious Case of
A much-debated topic regarding pretty much everyone in the Bruins organization, Tyler Seguin was traded in the summer of 2013 for Loui Eriksson and a handful of (at the time) fringe NHL players like Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow, and Matt Fraser. But before the trade, Seguin played three seasons for the Bruins, totaling 121 points over 203 games. He nearly had a 30-goal season in 2011-12, leading the team in points, and finished 3rd on the team in 2012-13. But poor playoff performances two years in a row, plus off-ice issues, lead to Peter Chiarelli pulling the trigger.
But Julien was never Seguin's biggest fan. After skating him on the 3rd & 4th line during his rookie year--a season in which he only posted 22 points in 74 games--Claude put Seguin on the wing with Patrice Bergeron & Brad Marchand to replace Mark Recchi. Only when injuries arose did Julien play Seguin at his natural position of center, since David Krejci & Bergeron were stapled as the leading centers on the team, and Kelly & Campbell were stubbornly glued to the middle of the bottom six. Seguin also saw significantly less powerplay time during the season. And when the playoffs came around, Seguin was demoted for Jaromir Jagr, and played on the 3rd line wing next to Kelly & Rich Peverley, despite Jagr only scoring one goal during his time with Boston, and neither Kelly nor Peverley being playmakers skilled enough to help Seguin.
Yes, Chiarelli pulled the trigger on trading Seguin. But it can be argued that Julien didn't utilize the player correctly, and the production woes that led him being traded are in line with how the coach handled the situation.
4th Line Reliance
Let me paint a picture for you. The Bruins are down a goal. It's late in the 3rd period. Boston just maintained possession in the offensive zone for a decent stretch, created a couple scoring chances, got the opposition on their heels, and forced them to ice the puck. Time to tie the game, right? Except out comes Gregory Campbell. Or Craig Cunningham. Or Max Talbot. Dan Paille. Joonas Kemppainen. Tyler Randell. Noel Acciari. Shawn Thornton.
Even if the faceoff is won by Boston, the puck remains in the offensive zone for no more than 10 more seconds.
This was all too common for Bruins fans. The gameplan of grind & pound the opponent into submission might've worked in 2010 & 2011. It might've had some effect in 2013. But over the last three years, the Simon Gagnes and Gregory Campbells and Jordan Carons haven't been nearly as effective, and were more like the kill momentum than create it. This team doesn't have the Islanders' energy line. It doesn't have Chicago's shut-down line. It doesn't have Dallas' scoring line. The fourth line for the Bruins--while not bad in terms of puck possession by the end of 2016--has not had an effective line since 2013 at best. Yet, Claude still rolls them out there in key situations. In the offensive zone. Following an opponent's icing. We need to admit after seeing this time & time again, that it's a bad coaching decision. And over the last couple years, managing games like this could very well have cost the team a couple of points, and therefore playoff spots.
No Coach is Immortal
Claude Julien is the longest active coach in the NHL, coming on with the Boston Bruins back in 2007. Prior to last season, he had made the playoffs every year he was in town, starting with the blue-collar underdog team that grabbed the 8th seed in 2008. As stated previously, his track record is fantastic, and he's likely one of the best coaches the organization has ever had. But times do change. And familiar voices lose locker rooms in every sport.
Randy Carlyle got the Ducks their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2007. He took the team back to the playoffs 3 of the next 4 seasons, finishing 2nd in the division each time. And then he was canned early on in 2012. Peter Laviolette brought the Philadelphia Flyers back from an 0-3 series deficit, and an 0-3 hole in Game 7 of the 2010 Conference Semifinals, and led the team to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup in his first year with the team. He made the playoffs the following two seasons as well, winning a round each time. He was subsequently let go three games into the following season.
These things happen. Good coaches fall off at some point. They don't become terrible coaches, but they stop being the right coach for that team. Carlyle brought the Leafs to the playoffs the year after getting fired. Same with Laviolette and the Predators. And Claude Julien will likely have great success with his next team. We have to accept that as fact when making this decision. But at some point, you have to admit that not everyone can be Al Arbour.
Do I want Claude Julien as the coach of the 2016-17 Boston Bruins? Until a logical, tangible, and worthy replacement is brought up as a possibility, then yes. Despite the reasons above, Julien is more likely than not still the best man for the job. The team has serious issues defensively, and he's got the mindset & defensive ability to polish the turd that is this team's blue line situation.
But do I understand why they let him go, if and when they do? Absolutely. I just hope when they do it, they make the move to improve the team, and not to place blame on a scapegoat. I would love Ken Hitchcock or Bruce Boudreau behind the bench. Even give me highly-regarded assistant coaches, like Mike Kitchen, Kevin Dineen, or John Stevens. Honestly, choose whoever you feel has the best ability to improve this team. But before firing anyone, have a fraction of a plan. This team whiffed on Noah Hanifin in the draft. I don't want to see the coaching equivalent of Zachary Senyshyn behind the bench next season.