Claude Julien can breathe a little easier now.
The coach of the Boston Bruins was informed by general manager Don Sweeney last week he would return behind the bench for the 2015-16 season along with his entire coaching staff. It will be Julien’s ninth season at the helm of the Black and Gold, making him the longest tenured coach in the NHL following Mike Babcock’s departure from Detroit.
He spoke in front of reporters for the first time since the announcement on Wednesday and took a wide array of questions ranging from his conversations with Sweeney to whether he will change his coaching style for next season. Here are some of the highlights from Julien’s meeting with the media.
We Can Work It Out
When asked about his relationship with Boston’s new boss, Julien brushed aside any rumors or controversy surrounding the two.
“I know a lot of speculations have been made…but we’re really committed and determined to take this team and move forward in the right directions. Don and I have had talks and have a very similar outlook on what we want to do. There was never an issue there at all. We seemed to be seeing the same things.”
It is rather curious to hear that both Julien and Sweeney had a “similar outlook” on what needs to change. The general manager wanted “more aggression” in Boston’s game but the coach is known for sitting on leads and playing a passive, defensive style when the Bruins have a lead.
They generated just 56 goals in the final frame (28th in the league) while allowing 66 (second fewest) for a -10 goal differential; their worst in any period. In each of their final three games the Bruins were either tied or trailing heading into the final 20 minutes.
They scored just twice in those three games.
In the three biggest games of their season, Boston did not play the desperate brand of hockey they needed to play to make the playoffs. Julien shoulders part of the blame for that. His style focuses more on defensive zone responsibility. For a coach that has been around the league as long as Julien has, it is tough to see him and Sweeney seeing eye-to-eye on what their vision for next season’s team is.
Will The Style Change?
The biggest question heading into the offseason is whether Julien would make any significant changes to his system. On Wednesday, he offered his response.
“For people to think we’re going to play a run-and-gun game, that’s not happening. The teams that are in the final now, one of them had an even better goals-against average than we did, so this game hasn’t changed. You need good defense and good offense. You need both.”
The Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning have both. The big difference between these two teams and the Bruins is star power. The Hawks have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook among others. The Bolts have Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Anton Stralman among others.
Boston has several “good” players. However, except for Patrice Bergeron, none of them can be considered “great” along the lines of Stamkos, Kane, Keith, Hedman, etc. The Bruins lack a true goal-scorer and two of their top-four defensemen are aging.
In his column on Wednesday, Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald personified Julien’s coaching style in a sentence.
“Fans should be hoping to see smothering, strong team defense, and not worry so much about those high-speed transitions.”
The Bruins have played their fair share of strong team defense and need to exhibit some quicker puck movement. Swift puck movement leads to more offensive chances, which leads to more goals.
Boston was 22nd in the league in goals-per-game this year. It’s safe to say the club needs to generate more scoring chances.
The Bruins do not have the players to use a “run-and-gun” style and do not have the resources to sign anyone who could change that. Julien will have the responsibility to tinker with his style to be more aggressive on offense.
It is a tall order for Claude Julien to stick to his coaching style yet satisfy Sweeney’s desire to be a more offensively aggressive club at the same time. The future of Boston’s head coach may depend on whether he can do both to start the 2015-16 season.