Bravo, Bruins: Julien to return behind bench next season
This was the moment when it all could have gone off the tracks. When frustration and the urge to scapegoat could have cost the organization one of its most valuable assets.
Instead, general manager Don Sweeney took a deep breath and made the sensible call, confirming that coach Claude Julien will be back behind Boston's bench in 2016-17.
"I emphatically believe that Claude is a coach that can take us through what I describe as a bumpy transition period ahead of us,” Sweeney said of his decision at a press conference on Thursday. “I believe in Claude as a coach. Our core principles align very well on the defensive structure of the team and what we've seen in individual players."
It's silly that Julien's continued employment was ever called into question. The man is universally regarded as one of the finest motivators and tacticians in the game today. He's the franchise leader in wins, and a constant member of Team Canada's coaching staff at major international events, including this summer's World Cup of Hockey.
Sure, Sweeney could have made a change. But where would he find an upgrade for a guy like that?
Even so, many believed that Julien's fate was sealed after the team fumbled away a playoff berth for the second straight year. The cone of silence that descended on the organization following Saturday's season-ending 6–1 loss to the Senators made it seem even more likely that he would pay the price for the team's failure.
But when the cone finally lifted on Thursday, Sweeney took care of business by addressing Julien's future. And then he took the blame for the flawed construction of the Bruins that led to the DNQ.
"It's not on anyone else for us to continue to improve our roster," he said. "That's on me."
Acknowledging a problem is one thing. Fixing it is something else. But now that Sweeney has one strong decision in his offseason ledger, maybe there's a chance to build on it.
That would require dropping the "soft rebuild" facade and embracing change. Especially on a blue line that simply isn't up to the challenge of an 82-game grind.
It won't be bloodless. It most likely will cost the organization some popular veterans (Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg) and maybe even some promising prospects (Jeremy Lauzon, Frankie Vatrano). And it will take time to acquire the proper pieces. This won't happen over the course of one off-season.
But when it does, when the Bruins commit to building a younger, smarter, faster defense, they'll have a coach in place who has a system that can make the most of those skills. And, reputation to the contrary, a coach who has proved to be an adept manager of blossoming talent. One of the very best.
Sweeney's off to a good start here, but he's got a long way to go to get this team back on course. Let's see what he does next.