As you decipher the news that the Boston Bruins have fired coach Claude Julien after almost 10 seasons, there are a few of things you need to consider.
--The Bruins once had Dougie Hamilton and Tyler Seguin on their roster, courtesy the Toronto Maple Leafs, and all they have currently to show on their roster for those two players is Jimmy Hayes, who has two goals in 40 games.
--By almost every measurement, the Bruins are the best possession team in the league.
--They’re also the worst at creating offense, with a shooting percentage of just 6.0 percent.
--Three of their four centers are over 30 and all three are undoubtedly in decline.
--Their top defenseman will be 40 years old before the season ends.
--Julien saw this coming. A couple of weeks ago, he threw down the gauntlet with management, saying, “This team doesn’t have enough talent to think we can get away with a mediocre game.” The next day he said, “I’m willing to go through the hard times and I said that at the end of last year. If it’s deemed my fault, I shouldn’t be here.”
--The Bruins made the move just hours before the New England Patriots championship parade. And there’s no better way to avoid immediate criticism and scrutiny than to pull that fast one.
--The Bruins have replaced Julien on an interim basis with Bruce Cassidy. With the exception of one year in the ECHL, Cassidy’s teams have never advanced past the second round and the last and only time he was behind an NHL bench, with the Washington Capitals more than a decade ago, he might have been the most ill-prepared coach in the history of the NHL.
--Julien has the rest of this year and all of next year on his contract, so we should not spend too much time mourning. He’ll be hugely in demand this off-season and if the expansion Vegas Golden Knights are looking for instant legitimacy and credibility, GM George McPhee might want to place a call to Don Sweeney.
There is absolutely no dispute that Julien is a very good NHL coach, one of the best in fact. It’s also pretty difficult to fathom that much of the decline of the Bruins is his fault. Over time, the Bruins have become old and slow and have allowed some of their best young players to leave without adequately replacing them. Nothing against David Backes, but signing 30-something players to big-money, long-term deals went out with the Macarena. And signing Matt Beleskey to that deal after a career year with a very good team? Well, that’s just flawed player evaluation.
So did Julien get hosed by the Bruins? Yeah, but not nearly as badly as he did by the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils when they let him go. Julien had a great run in Boston and when you think of it, this actually could have happened six years ago. If the Bruins lose to the Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs in 2011 after going down 2-0, Julien was as good as gone. Instead, the Bruins came back and won that series and the Stanley Cup and Julien’s status was secure. And Julien most certainly isn’t the first coach, nor will he be the last, to take the fall for management’s shortcomings. Just look at the four guys who have been fired so far this season – Julien, Gerard Gallant in Florida, Jack Capuano with the Islanders and Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis – and you could easily make the argument that far more of the culpability for the teams’ woes lies at the feet of management than the coach.
So here’s the thing. The Bruins did Julien a favor by firing him. As we mentioned, he still has millions of guaranteed dollars coming his way. And the Bruins are a franchise in decline. None of David Krecji, Patrice Bergeron or Zdeno Chara is going to be able to stop the aging process and the ugliness that comes with it. And while there is some promise on the Bruins roster in the form of David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo, Julien was bang-on in his assessment of the team when he said it doesn’t have enough talent. All you need to do is consider that the Bruins are the best team in the NHL in puck possession, which is a hallmark of good coaching, and are the worst in shooting percentage, which is almost exclusively a measure of talent. Once all the teams catch up to the Bruins in the games played department, they’ll almost certainly fall back into the pack of teams looking outside the playoff tournament.
Julien will find work again. How quickly that happens will probably depend on how much time he needs to decompress before finding the energy to start over again. If it’s Vegas, there will be lean times, but at least everyone involved will recognize the situation for what it is. There will be no pretending the team is better than it is. That’s not the case in Boston these days.