By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — On Tuesday morning, the Boston Bruins announced that they had fired head coach Claude Julien.
Julien was the winningest coach in franchise history, compiling a 419-246-94 regular-season record and a 57-40 postseason record since 2008, and he was the NHL’s longest-tenured coach. He accomplished a great deal in his time at the helm of the Bruins, including the deliverance of a Stanley Cup to Boston to end a 39-year drought.
He was and is a tremendous hockey coach, and so there’s bound to be some debate as to whether or not he deserved the ax at this moment in time. While that discussion is sure to persist, it’s best now to focus on the here and now as it relates to the Bruins. Namely, will the team actually improve with Julien out of the picture?
There’s no reason to believe they will.
Sure, some people will point to Pittsburgh last season as an example of a team getting a “jolt” by the installation of a new head coach midseason. But the talent level of a team like the Bruins is just not on par with that of the Penguins.
And that, really, is what has been at the core of the Bruins’ lack of success in recent seasons. Should the team have not collapsed down the stretch the past two years? Absolutely. Did they have enough talent to be the worst team in the Eastern Conference playoff field? Yes.
But is that really the Bruins’ aim? Just make the tournament?
That’s really the issue. To be sure, the Bruins employ some high-end talent in the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci and an up-and-comer like David Pastrnak. But on the blue line, the Bruins just do not employ an NHL-caliber crew of defensemen.
Zdeno Chara remains the most reliable D-man, but he is 39 years old and is not the dominant force he was for so long. After that, there is some talent, but it’s not enough. This is a team that dedicates $5.25 million of cap space (and will continue to do so for the next two seasons) to Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, a roster redundancy who essentially play the role of “intimidator.” Everyone loves a tough guy, but not at that price, and not when they bring little else to the table to actually help the team win.
Again, the Bruins probably were good enough to make the postseason in the past two seasons, when they missed by a combined total of three points. But right now, on the outer edge of the playoff picture, are the Bruins vastly underachieving? Not at all.
They are what they are. They have a handful of elite players, some of whom (Bergeron, Krejci, and lately, Rask) are not having their best seasons. The rest of the roster is indicative of a team that can win some games but should hardly be expected to win every game. The roster is just not that good.
And, considering how highly regarded Julien is in the hockey world for his coaching acumen, there’s more reason to believe that he was getting the most out of this roster than to believe the contrary.
This isn’t to say that a pity party needs to be thrown for Julien. He left his mark on the organization, and he will be remembered for his success. He became a very wealthy man. And he’s sure to have his choice of head coaching jobs when the summer vacancies open up. In the meantime, he can spend his free time talking hockey on television, which brings on a whole lot less stress than coaching an NHL team.
On the Bruins’ website (for now) under the “History” section, this note is shared: “[Former GM Peter] Chiarelli made perhaps his best move at the helm of the franchise in bringing Claude Julien in as the club’s head coach in June, 2007.”
That will be the lasting story of Julien’s time in Boston. Claude’s going to be just fine.
But if the Bruins management — who not-so-subtly released this news just hours before the Patriots would be parading with the Lombardi Trophy through the city of Boston and who will also be holding a press conference in the middle of that parade — wants to reach its low threshold of success by just making the playoffs? They’re in no better position now than they were last week or last month or even September for that matter.
Change for the sake of change isn’t really something that can make a .500 hockey team be anything except a .500 hockey team.