On Tuesday morning, the Boston Bruins announced the firing of long-time coach Claude Julien. Following an uninspiring loss to rival and fellow playoff bubble team Toronto on Saturday, the Bruins finally pressed the eject button on Julien. Few fans noticed the loss, considering most were preparing to watch the Patriots in the Super Bowl the following day, but when the team fired Julien the morning of the Super Bowl parade, it sent Bruins fans and media into an uproar. While many stood divided about whether or not to fire Claude Julien, they all agreed that announcing the move the morning of the Patriots parade was in poor taste. During GM Don Sweeney’s press conference, he blamed his PR staff instead of taking ownership for the decision himself. Unfortunately for Sweeney, every media member and hardcore fan saw through this weak excuse, especially after seeing the Red Sox perfect the art of the “Friday News Dump." While it didn’t happen on a Friday, many viewed Sweeney’s decision to announce the firing during the Patriots parade as disrespectful; considering the fact that the Bruins and Patriots share a fan base and it was taken by most as an obvious attempt to avoid media scrutiny during the happiest of events in Boston. Why would any fan pay attention to the Bruins when they could be watching this (from NESN)
and this (from CBS Boston)
and this (from the Boston Herald)
The only weaker choice would have been to announce the firing when James White crossed the plane of the end zone to win Super Bowl LI. Regardless of whether or not Don Sweeney, Cam Neely, the Jacobs family or Deb from PR made the decision, Claude Julien will no longer stand behind the bench for the Boston Bruins, and that may be beneficial. Recent Struggles As I mentioned previously, Claude Julian had a legendary impact in Boston and along with Doc Rivers, Terry Francona and obviously Bill Belichick helped bring joy to the sports fans of Boston. Unfortunately, for the previous two seasons, the Bruins were a middling team, unable to secure one final win to earn a playoff spot. Much of the blame falls on former GM Peter Chiarelli and now Don Sweeney, but mediocre finishes out of the playoffs are the worst possible scenario and I blame Claude Julien, especially his shootout choices, for the team’s inability to win a couple more games each season and qualify for the playoffs. The Bruins have lost multiple games in shootouts over the past few seasons when Claude declined to utilize his top scorers. These squandered points weigh heavily considering that the team has missed the playoffs by two to three points each of the past two seasons. The Bruins will now be lead by Bruce Cassidy, who has coached in the NHL before but found success as the coach of the AHL’s Providence Bruins.
Trade Deadline The next vital decision for the Bruins to make will be to decide if they are buyers or sellers at the approaching trade deadline. By March 1, the day of the NHL trade deadline, NHL teams will be closer in games played. As it stands now, the Bruins have still played as many as five games more than a team close to them in points. The Bruins only sit two points below Ottawa, but having played five more games than the Senators, the Bruins spot in the standings is deceptive. When the trade deadline occurs, the Bruins will have played 63 games, two more than Detroit and Ottawa, one more than Toronto and Florida. This will make it easier to assess where they actually stand than the current standings are. The Bruins have been rumored to be buyers at the trade deadline. As it currently stands, the Bruins sit one point out of the final playoff spot in their conference. Unfortunately, with all of the games they’ve played the Bruins could realistically fall to six points out of the playoffs or more. If the team has the future in mind, rather than playoff revenue for the current season, they will be sellers. Zdeno Chara is under contract for this season and next but could be an attractive target for a contender looking to beef up their blue line. Chara still plays huge minutes in Boston and it’s clear he’s worn down as well. Chara’s value could increase dramatically as a second or even third pair defenseman. A decrease in playing time could save his legs and increase his effectiveness deeper into his career. Although he does have a no-movement clause, one would think that Chara would allow a trade to a team like the New York Rangers, Pittsburg Penguins or even San Jose Sharks (Burns and Chara on the same team, yikes). The Bruins could earn themselves a young player or draft pick to revitalize their blue line in the next few seasons. David Krejči, whose playmaking ability makes him attractive, also could garner the Bruins some prospects. Although stripping their own team of these talented players would likely make them plummet in the standings, accepting their identity as a “seller” could help them in the draft, both with draft picks traded for, and their own draft position, which they could significantly improve with a terrible finish to the season. Draft The Bruins are in desperate need of a defensive boost. While I don’t deny that the Bruins need a center to compliment Patrice Bergeron, especially if they trade David Krecji, their goalie and their defensive core need far more help. Combined with his massive overuse during the past three seasons, I believe Tuukka Rask is a better goaltender when his defensemen compliment his game. Unlike Tim Thomas, whose acrobatic saves often bailed out a poor defensive play, Tuukka Rask is a technically sound goaltender who thrives behind a strong defense. One only needs to look at Tuukka’s decline to match it with the team’s defensive decline overall. As soon as Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg started to show their age, and the team traded Johnny Boychuk, Tuukka’s performance has dropped off a cliff. As you can see from this ESPN graphic, Tuukka's stats have been in decline, while his games played have risen during the seasons the Bruins have missed the playoffs.
I believe that if the team strengthens their defensive core, they will reinvigorate their highly paid goaltender who still has more than four more years left on his contract, which is why the Bruins must draft another defenseman in the first round of the draft like they did last year with Charlie McAvoy. According to Bob Mckenzie and TSN, there are only three potential defensemen who might be chosen in the first half of the first round. Timothy Liljegren, Miro Heiskanen, and Cale Makar are the only three defensemen in the discussion for early first round talent defensemen. This makes it all the more important that the Bruins try to attain a higher draft pick. The consensus among the media is that this draft is not as deep as the previous two, so a higher draft pick holds even more importance. Once the draft approaches the middle of the first round, teams may be drafting players who would have been second rounders in previous drafts. Even though Claude Julien cemented himself as the best coach in Bruins history, the current situation was untenable. Now that he Claude Julien, if the Bruins end up tanking and earning themselves a higher draft pick, I believe their future is brighter.