By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Like the rest of us, Claude Julien watched some of the Bruins’ three-game winning streak from afar and was impressed by what his old team was able to accomplish under his replacement, Bruce Cassidy, leading up to Boston’s week off.
Julien, however, had a unique perspective because there was a chance that Boston would’ve performed equally well with him behind the bench. Before the Bruins lost their last two games under Julien, they had won three in a row, including an impressive win against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bruins averaged four goals a game in Julien’s last five games.
In a press conference to discuss his new job as coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Julien expressed disappointment that he didn’t get to finish out the season and have a chance to get the Bruins on a roll. He understood general manager Don Sweeney’s motives, but there was a feeling of unfinished business when he was first let go.
“At the same time, I think when we look at the things that we did well, puck possession and defensively, we were first in almost all categories and spent less time in our own end and gave up a less amount of shots from the slot,” Julien said. “We did a lot of good things. But at times it didn’t seem like we could get it together on certain nights. We were starting to score. We had already started to score quite a bit. I felt it was close but we can predict whatever we want, right now I think the Bruins are obviously on a pretty good roll there and so for me it’s just time to move on.”
Julien is moving on to the place almost every Bruins fan didn’t want him to go. No one can blame Julien, though. He admitted he was ready to wait out the rest of the season and make a decision in the spring or summer about his next place of employment. He said he even told his wife, as they took an already-planned vacation in Vermont, that he was going to take time off “unless something comes along that I can’t turn down.”
Well Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin made Julien the proverbial “Godfather” offer. Even if you’re one to believe Bergevin was going to fire Michel Therrien if Julien wasn’t available, it was fortunate timing for the slumping Canadiens, who were destroyed 4-0 by the Bruins in their last game Sunday. With competition for Julien’s services certain to heat up, Bergevin had to act fast. And he had to know that Julien, who grew up in Ottawa as a Canadiens fan, would probably only give up the fun of paid time off for one job.
So Julien’s now coaching the Bruins’ archrival, 10 years after he first came to Boston and six years after he led Boston to its only Stanley Cup championship in the past 54 years. Some in the public are begrudging the coach’s decision to switch back his allegiance to Montreal, but that’s ridiculous. Who among us wouldn’t jump at any chance to coach his or her childhood team? Who among us wouldn’t want to coach an Original Six team in any of those cities? And while he’s at it, Julien gets to take over a team that, for all its flaws, is in first place in the Atlantic Division and has the one thing that could mask all those faults and help it make a deep run in the playoffs — a world-class goaltender named Carey Price.
Bergevin had to ask for permission from the Bruins to talk to Julien, and some in the public are begrudging the Boston organization for doing that, considering the hatred between the Bruins and Canadiens and the stiff competition in the playoff picture — both currently and possibly in the future. But for once, the Bruins aren’t to blame. Nothing positive could come out of blocking Julien, even if all the Bruins did was wait until spring to grant permission.
If there are two rules among front-office types in the NHL, they’re “don’t do stupid stuff” and “what goes around comes around.” The Bruins decided Julien wasn’t the coach for their plans, so they let him walk. If you believe Sweeney, there’s going to be a search for a full-time replacement in the offseason. The Bruins don’t want to be blocked from talking to guys under contract any more than other teams want to be blocked. They want to keep things somewhat classy (their decision to fire Julien during the Patriots parade, and their decision to let Julien work on a team off day one day before firing him aside) and show professionalism both to potential coaches and free agents.
Not to mention, for whatever difference Julien is going to make immediately in Montreal, the Bruins and Canadiens are rivals right now based on history and divisional grouping. The two franchises are not competing at the same points in their organizational process right now. The Canadiens are going for it all and thinking about winning the Cup this season. The Bruins are rebuilding and will need luck, based on all the games in hand their stiffest competition holds, just to make the playoffs.
Sorry, but if the Canadiens were to win the Cup under Julien this season, that wouldn’t harm the Bruins or make their decision to fire Julien look worse. It would just hurt your Bruins-backing heart.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.