The Bruins and GM Peter Chiarelli continue to do something that Claude Julien’s former bosses should have done. Chiarelli once again reaffirmed his strong belief and confidence in Julien with a multiyear contract extension on Friday, making sure the head coach didn’t go into the season with lame-duck status.
“Claude has shown a tremendous propensity to get the maximum results out of our team,” Chiarelli said. “To me, he’s a guy who can connect. He’s a roll-up-your-sleeves type of guy that connects with the players. He commands the respect that a coach needs to get to be successful while maintaining a common-sense, humble approach.”
When Chiarelli was given his own extension earlier this summer, he told the media that one of his first priorities was to do the same for Julien.
“You definitely want to get it done, but it wasn’t so much about that as it was about showing our appreciation of the job Claude has done for us,” Chiarelli said.
Julien wouldn’t have had trouble finding a new job if the Bruins let him get to next summer without a new deal in place, but the sense of security Chiarelli gave him with this deal had to be just as sweet as the feeling Julien had in June, when he won the Jack Adams Award as the 2008-09 coach of the year. But Julien, in his usual first-class manner, took the high road with sincerity.
“It is important in the way that I’m feeling the confidence of the people that are behind me,” Julien said. “I think that’s important and it gives you the opportunity to work knowing that you’ve got that support.
“Had it gone the other way, that’s part of coaching — you go there, and you still do your job. There are players that go into the last year of their contracts, and they have to deal with it. I would’ve done the same thing. But there’s no doubt, to be able to feel the confidence of those people means a lot to me.”
Deep inside, Julien had to be feeling relieved and proud with a strong sense of redemption. After all, he has twice gotten what many believed to be “raw deals.” On Jan. 14, 2006, the Montreal Canadiens fired Julien from his first NHL head coaching job. The Canadiens got off to a strong 12-3 start under Julien that season, before winning just seven of their next 25 games.
“The team needed something,” former Habs defenseman Craig Rivet told the media at the time. “I think we’re slowly sliding in the wrong direction.”
Then, captain Saku Koivu gave the typical “you can’t blame the whole team, so the coach pays” response.
“The coach is our boss, and he makes everyone accountable, and if it doesn’t happen, like in any job, the guy in charge pays the price,” Koivu said. “But it’s always unfortunate when it happens.”
But if you ask most players from that Canadiens squad — or any players who played under Julien — the team’s struggles were more a result of the players on the roster and the culture that dominated the Habs’ dressing room for the next three seasons.
Is it any wonder that Bob Gainey had to fire his next head coach, Guy Carbonneau, and take over again to reassess that culture and what ailed his team? Thankfully for new head coach Jacques Martin, Gainey has cleaned house this past summer and brought in new players and personalities to the dressing room.
Julien left Montreal with a 72-62-10-5 record and seemed to do an even better job with his next team, the New Jersey Devils. But on April 3, 2007, with his team 47-24-8, holding onto first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference, Julien shockingly was fired again, with only a week to go in the regular season.
This time, Devils GM Lou Lamoriello made Julien the fall guy and replaced him just as Gainey did. Lamoriello was hoping to catch the magic he had after giving Robbie Ftorek the axe near the end of the 1999-2000 season and then winning the Stanley Cup.
“I don’t think we’re at a point of being ready both mentally and [physically] to play the way that is necessary going into the playoffs,” Lamoriello said then. “I am not saying that is going to change. But I think there has to be better focus going forward.”
The Devils were eliminated in the second round of the 2007 playoffs, however, and many sources claim the move was made partly because of major differences between Julien and goaltender Martin Brodeur. Brodeur was already the backbone and face of the franchise before Julien came on board and obviously held plenty of clout with management. That is all hearsay, though, and Julien and Brodeur have both denied such accusations.
Fast-forward to this past season — specifically a stretch of games between Feb. 7 and March 19, when the Bruins went 6-9-4 and almost lost their hold on the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Due to Julien’s last two coaching stints, some in the press box started to actually wonder whether the Bruins’ coach was about to experience a case of déjà vu. But when asked by one reporter who apparently was wondering if that was the case, Chiarelli gave an emphatic “No!”
Bruins players also laughed off such thoughts, went out and destroyed the Devils 4-1 in the next game, and finished the season on an 8-2 run, before advancing all the way to Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs.
“I don’t know what really happened surrounding his last two jobs, so I can’t comment on that,” Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said Friday. “But I will tell you that none of us in this dressing room last season lost confidence in him or doubted him. Claude always comes prepared and has his systems in place. He’s a great coach that is always there for his players, and we appreciate that.”
The Jack Adams Award is awarded “to the head coach who has contributed the most to his team’s success.” That is exactly what Julien has done wherever he has coached. He was robbed of that award in 2007-08, when he probably did an even better job than this past season, but it is clear the Bruins truly recognize his value and know what they have in this humble yet commanding head coach.