Job security, it’s a quality almost everyone keeps in mind when looking for employment. Well, to all the hopeful future NHL coaches out there, if you want job security look no further than Boston. That is, if the Bruins ever pry head coach Claude Julien out from behind the bench. If you were to ask most Bruins fans, Claude Julien’s tenure with the team has been a success.
He won Boston’s first Stanley Cup in thirty-nine years, lead the team to another Stanley Cup final two seasons later, and has a Bruins career record of 515-284-94. Claude Julien is the longest tenured head coach in Boston Bruins history. Unfortunately, all great reigns must come to an end, and Julien’s ended about 10 months ago with a pathetic five-goal loss to the Ottawa Senators when a win would’ve clinched a playoff spot. After two springs devoid of hockey in Boston, the Bruins are in jeopardy of suffering the same fate this season. It is patently obvious that although the players are largely to blame, Claude Julien’s voice no longer resonates with the team and the Bruins need to replace him.
When I mentioned job security, I did it with a purpose. Claude Julien has enjoyed unrivaled job security in a league where Stanley Cup winning coaches fall like dominoes. In recent NHL history, four men have coached their teams for five years or more and won a Stanley Cup. None of them lasted following more than two seasons of missing the playoffs and most lost their jobs much sooner. Most recently, Dan Bylsma, formerly the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won a Stanley Cup with the team in 2009, lost his job after losing in the second round of the 2013-2014 playoffs. Granted, the Penguins were stacked with talented players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Chris Letang and clearly underachieved. However, the Bruins also have a strong core of players, one that could benefit from a change in leadership, much like the Penguins did, winning the Stanley Cup under a new coach last year. Randy Carlyle coached the Anaheim Ducks to their first Stanley Cup in 2006-2007. During his seven seasons as the Ducks head coach, he missed the playoffs only one time. They fired him 24 games into his seventh season after the team started 7-13-4. Both Peter Laviolette and John Tortorella also won their franchise’s first Stanley Cups and were fired after missing the playoffs once after their Stanley Cup winning season. By comparison, the Bruins under Julien have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and are flirting with their third season on the outside, looking in. Additionally, during the last season they did make the playoffs, the team won the President’s trophy for the league’s best regular season record, only to lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs to the rival Montreal Canadians. Some GMs and owners would consider this alone a fireable offense. In fact, after the 1991-1992 season, then-Bruins coach Rick Bowness swept the Canadians in the second round of the playoffs, only to lose in the conference finals. The Bruins fired him barely two weeks after their elimination.
What have you done for me lately?
Claude Julien deserves respect for what he has achieved as the Bruins coach, but professional sports teams should always ask their coaches, “What have you done for me lately?” Claude Julien would have to answer “Not much.” If the Bruins inability to qualify for the playoffs wasn’t reason enough, one only needs to look at the Bruins team statistics during Julien’s time as coach to notice a disturbing trend. The defense, which has been Julien’s calling card since he took over as head coach, has struggled mightily in the past few season. The amount of goals that the Bruins have given up has increased markedly from their playoff seasons. From 2010-2011 (their Stanley Cup winning season) through 2013-2014 (their last playoff season) the Bruins never gave up more than 202 goals. In 2012-2013, when the NHL season only consisted of 48 games due to a lockout, the Bruins were on pace to give up 189 goals. In the two seasons that they’ve missed the playoffs, the Bruins have given up 211 goals and 230 goals. Both seasons resulted in the Bruins narrowly missing the playoffs. While much of the blame lies with former GM Peter Chiarelli, who traded Johnny Boychuk, a key piece of the Bruins defense, and failed to monitor his aging defensive stars, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, a coach with Julien’s defensive pedigree should be able to coach his team up to secure the required two or three more points to make the playoffs. These losses display how little the team responds to Julien. In fact, during the two missed playoff seasons, the Bruins needed only one or two more key wins to clinch a playoff spot. In 2014-2015, the Bruins missed the playoffs by two points and a tiebreaker. In their last four regular season games that year, they went 0-2-2 and were outscored 12-5. The team failed to perform when it mattered most, and much of that lies on their main motivator, the coach. This season, while the Bruins are still in position to make the playoffs they have played more games than any team in their conference. Additionally, they have a goal differential of -4 and are currently on pace to allow 213 goals for the season. All signs point to another hockey-free spring in Boston. The team has suffered terrible losses to the struggling New York Islanders, the Detroit Red Wings, who overcame multiple three-goal deficits to win in overtime, and the Penguins, who blew them out 5-1. Although they have strung together a few victories in a row, they still project to be a bubble team, and that hasn’t meant good things for them the past few seasons. As sure as they can win a few games in a row, they can certainly lose them. It is clearly time for the Claude to go. In a recent article, Bruins beat writer Fluto Shinzawa tries to preach patience. He claims that Julien is doing well consider the talent of the team and that his young players are developing. He argues that the Bruins need a rejuvenating influx of talented young players and that firing Julien may provide a momentary boost, but does not help the team in the long term. DJ Bean, another writer has also claimed that the Bruins need to look to their future.
Although neither writer explicitly mentions it, both writers seem to support keeping Claude due to his ability to develop young players to replace the team's current lack of talent. Unfortunately, missing the playoffs by a couple points just to keep a historically successful coach that has developed young players, is not necessarily helpful in the long term. With repeated “middle of the pack” finishes, the team will continue to draft in the middle of the first round of the draft, instead of inside the top ten.
If it sounds like I am advocating tanking for one season (or half of a season) I am. It is clear that this team lacks the ability to play past the first round in the playoffs should they make it. The only solace of missing the playoffs is a higher draft pick, the fact that the draft lottery is based on a weighted percentage according to where in the standings the team finished, missing the playoffs by one spot is far less helpful in the future than missing the playoffs by a mile. This argument may contradict itself, but my main point is S#$% or get off the pot. Either make a coaching change that may inspire a couple more victories, which has been the difference between making the playoffs or not in the past couple season, or tank for a higher draft pick. Living in no-mans land isn’t helping anyone. If we are speaking about developing the team for the future, than young players gaining playoff experience could help. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, the time has come for the Bruins to cut Claude Julien loose. It seems as if his message has fallen on deaf ears, and a middling finish to the season will not do the team any favors in the future. Now that the Blues have fired Ken Hitchcock, the fear that there are no other strong coaching candidates available has come to an end. The Bruins need to get rid of Claude as soon as possible.