These are nervy days for Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
The firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli was the first major organizational shakeup after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Julien was hired by Chiarelli in the summer of 2007 and has led the club to a 351-192-79 record since then.
The former Montreal Canadiens coach was signed earlier this season to a multi-year contract extension by Chiarelli, who sung his praises at the time.
“Coaching is a difficult profession at the best of times and what Claude does in implementing structure in his systems…is no easy task. During his time with the Bruins, he has excelled in maintaining this difficult balance, and his longevity here speaks volumes.”
Julien is the second-longest tenured head coach in the NHL behind Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings.
That streak will be put to the test this summer.
Achievements in Boston
Boston’s bench boss has been at the helm of their resurgence. The season before Julien was hired, the club finished with the fifth-worst record in the league and allowed the second-most goals-per-game (3.48) under Dave Lewis.
The soon-to-be 55-year-old implemented his defensive system to great effect in 2007-08 as the club improved to 11th in goals allowed/game (2.62). They also qualified for the postseason for the first time since the 2004-05 lockout. The underdog Bruins forced a seventh game against the heavily favored Canadiens, only to run out of steam losing 5-0.
Julien’s efforts since 2008 culminated in a Stanley Cup championship in 2011. Riding the hot hand of goaltender Tim Thomas, clutch goals from Nathan Horton, and the best defense in the postseason (2.12 goals allowed/game), Boston won their first Cup since the days of Bobby Orr in 1972.
It is amazing to think that he may have been out of a job had it not been for Horton’s overtime goal in game seven against the Canadiens in the first round. Nevertheless, Julien triumphantly led his team past the Philadelphia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Presidents Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks to capture hockey’s ultimate prize in June 2011.
Two years later, the Bruins found themselves in the Cup Finals again under the guidance of Julien. The result would be different this time as the Chicago Blackhawks claimed the Cup in six tough games.
Julien has taken his fair share of criticism for the disappointments of the past two seasons. In 2013-14, the Bruins won the Presidents Trophy emblematic of regular season supremacy, collecting 117 points. They carried a 3-2 series lead against Montreal to the Bell Centre with a chance to eliminate their fiercest rivals on home ice in the playoffs. Boston came out with mediocre performances in games six and seven, going out of the postseason with a whimper.
A major criticism of Julien during his tenure has been his unwillingness to mix-and-match his lines. This season, he overcompensated for his failure to switch things up in the past by pulling line combinations out of a hat of some nights. Julien’s over commitment to the fourth line (specifically Gregory Campbell) in critical situations had many pulling their hair out, cursing at their televisions, or finding another way to voice their frustration in times when Boston’s more skilled forwards could have been utilized.
— Frank Pimentel (@FrankBostonTank) April 10, 2015
Towards the end of the season, Julien also took a few shots at Chiarelli by indirectly criticizing the former GM. It revealed the nature of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between two men that had been together through the (mostly) good times and bad.
Furthermore, the offense had failed to materialize for much of the season. Boston finished in the bottom-third in goals/game while their top scorer had 24 goals (Brad Marchand), good for 56th overall. They failed to find a replacement for 30-goal man Jarome Iginla after his departure via free agency while Julien was too conservative in playing rookie David Pastrnak and Ryan Spooner in the second-half of the season.
Chiarelli’s firing means that team president Cam Neely and CEO Charlie Jacobs will be on the hunt in the coming weeks for a new general manager. In their Wednesday press conference, Neely was very clear that he would not decide Julien’s fate.
“We met with Claude (Wednesday morning), Charlie and I, we told him we really believe that once we go through the exhaustive search for the next general manager, we will leave it up to that GM to decide what he wants to do with our coaching staff.”
Rumblings about potential successors to Julien are starting to surface in earnest, adding more fuel to the fire.
The dismissal of Chiarelli was the first shoe to drop in Boston’s offseason to-do list.
Will Claude Julien be soon following him out the door?
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW