By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The message from Claude Julien to Brad Marchand was simple during their eight seasons together.
“When I stop talking to you, that’s when you should be concerned,” Marchand recalled Julien telling him.
Julien was maybe a little tougher on the speedy left wing than other players, but Marchand came to realize what Julien was trying to accomplish. Julien believed Marchand could be more than a fourth-liner, more than a punk with a big mouth, more than someone who might eventually go on to a journeyman career.
“I learned a lot,” Marchand said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday. “You go through a lot of different things but I think the biggest thing he preached to me was how to be a good pro and how to be consistent. That’s one thing he talked about a lot was consistency. And if you want to be in this league a long time you have to be able to play and bring your best game every night, or close to it.”
Marchand’s success story – he has 94 goals in 191 games since the start of the 2015-16 season and will be an All-Star this season – is one example of how Julien’s tutelage brought the Bruins from the doldrums to the 2011 Stanley Cup title, the 2013 Eastern Conference title and 419 regular-season wins (the most in Bruins history).
It’s also an example of how Julien, who will make his return to TD Garden as coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday for the first time since he was fired by the Bruins last Feb. 7, continues to affect the Bruins even while shepherding their most hated rival.
Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Torey Krug … they all learned how to play the sport the right way and become not just regulars in the lineup but high-end stars. Bruce Cassidy, who replaced Julien on an interim basis and then returned this season as the full-time coach, has done a masterful job of continuing the improvement of the veteran players and finding new ways for them to approach the game and have more success in a different NHL environment. And, of course, Cassidy has integrated younger players into the lineup with near flawless execution, sometimes having as many as six or seven rookies dressed for a game.
But many of the players that have surprisingly driven the Bruins to sixth in the overall NHL standings this season got their start with Julien and had the seeds planted for their eventual improvement by the man from Blind River, Ontario.
Even the current Bruins player most associated with Julien’s distrust of younger players and a poster child for why general manager Don Sweeney decided to move forward with a new coach, Ryan Spooner, understands what Julien’s motivation was in being a little tougher on the lightning quick center.
“I just think that he saw some skill in me and maybe he got frustrated at times because I wasn’t really playing to the best that I can be,” Spooner said. “Sometimes it’s kind of easy as a player to look back on it and say he didn’t like me, but I don’t think that was the case. I think that it was a coach that saw some potential in me and maybe he was just frustrated that I wasn’t playing quite how he wanted me to. So that’s on me.”
You can throw Milan Lucic and Johnny Boychuk into the above-mentioned list of players Julien nurtured, and you can see that the Bruins’ success wasn’t predicated on the front office just giving Julien ready-made, veteran NHLers. There was development. Sometimes it took tough love and maybe a benching for Marchand here or a healthy scratch for Lucic there.
Cassidy’s stint behind Boston’s bench hasn’t lacked for those types of scenarios. Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork can tell you about getting scratched, and even Pastrnak can tell you about losing third-period ice time when his competitive level wasn’t where the Bruins needed it. Spooner can tell you about Cassidy’s decision to scratch him in the playoffs.
There’s no doubt the Bruins needed Cassidy’s offensive mind to help them take the next step in their rebooting process. The game has changed and Julien was a little to set in his ways. Cassidy will be the first to admit, however, that a lot of what the Bruins do defensively hasn’t changed since the Julien days. Players continue to add to their game (Julien might be shocked to see Spooner actually hitting opponents and Pastrnak managing the puck better) but their growth wasn’t stunted during Julien’s reign.
Just as the 2011 Cup winners owed a lot to the work of former general manager Mike O’Connell and his staff for some of the players they put in pace, some of the Bruins’ current success owes a debt of gratitude to Julien. He’s left the Bruins and gone to probably the worst place anyone who wants a little love from Boston could go, but his message still resonates with the Bruins.
His fingerprints are still visible on the players he helped make what they are today.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.