Recent Firings of NHL Coaches a Reminder That Bruins’ Patience With Claude Julien Paid Off


Recent Firings of NHL Coaches a Reminder That Bruins' Patience With Claude Julien Paid OffWILMINGTON, Mass. — The axe has swung again.

On Monday morning, two more NHL coaches joined the unemployed ranks when Washington fired Bruce Boudreau and Carolina canned Paul Maurice. They join St. Louis' Davis Payne and Montreal assistant Perry Pearn in being dismissed so far in a season barely at the quarter pole.

That's nothing new. With Boudreau and Maurice ousted, Tampa Bay's Guy Boucher is now the longest-tenured head coach in the Southeast Division. He was hired 17 months ago.

There are a lot of benefits to coaching an NHL team. Job security isn't one of them.

"It's a not fun thing for those guys," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after his club's practice Monday at Ristuccia Arena. "It's a tough job. Again, anybody who sees the situation sometimes understands it's probably the easiest thing to do, but not necessarily the main reason for the issues. Those people are just like anybody else. They have families. They have responsibilities. And sometimes they're easy targets."

Julien has been in the crosshairs himself. He was fired by the Canadiens during the 2005-06 season and again by the Devils in 2006-07, the latter move coming with three games left in the regular season and New Jersey in first place.

After three straight Game 7 losses in his first three seasons behind the Boston bench, including a historic collapse against the Flyers in 2010, there were plenty of calls for the Bruins to dismiss him as well.

Arguably the best move Peter Chiarelli made last year was refusing to bow to that public pressure and sticking with Julien. He was rewarded with the franchise's first championship in 39 years, and Julien played a pivotal role in that Cup run with his steady guidance after falling behind 2-0 in both the opening round and the Cup Final.

Yet had the Bruins not escaped from that first-round hole and beaten Montreal in overtime in Game 7, there's a good chance Julien would have gotten his walking papers as well, despite the complete faith and trust his players have always had in him.

"Claude has always been a guy that the guys listen to," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "He always puts on the ice what he's trying to teach. As long as we do it, there's no reason to even think about [Julien being fired]. Even last year, it's crazy to think that after the first round if we had lost there may have been some changes. We ended up winning and nobody talks about it anymore. It's always a thin line between success and failure, so you have to be careful with your moves."

But few of Chiarelli's counterparts seem to have his patience, and the coaching carousel continues every year. It's usually the easiest move to make. Coaches are expendable. Players with no-trade clauses and massive salary cap hits are tougher to get rid of, no matter how much they may be underachieving.

Boudreau was the fastest coach in NHL history to reach 200 wins, but he couldn't win the war with Washington's enigmatic stars. And dumping Boudreau is a lot easier than giving up on the face of the franchise Alex Ovechkin, who signed a 13-year, $124 million deal back in 2008. For that $9.54 million cap hit, which lasts through 2020-21, the Caps have gotten 8-9-17 totals and a minus-7 from Ovechkin through 22 games. Alexander Semin is even worse, at 5-5-10 and a minus-3 in 21 games for the bargain rate of a $6.7 million cap hit.

Boudreau butted heads with both, benching each at different points in recent weeks as Washington's tailspin accelerated. Something had to change, and it wasn't going to be the $100 million marketing machine. So on Monday, Boudreau's tenure in Washington came to a close.

It's not that there weren't justifiable reasons to dismiss Boudreau. The Caps were bottoming out this season with losses in six of their last eight games, and despite all the talent at his disposal, Boudreau never got past the second round of the playoffs. Of course, prior to last spring, Julien had never advanced past the second round either. 

Julien got his reprieve last year and made the most of it. Boudreau never was able to get over the hump, while Maurice could barely see the hump. He rallied Carolina to the conference finals after taking over for Peter Laviolette during the 2008-09 season, upsetting top-seeded Boston along the way. But the last two years, the Hurricanes have failed to even make the playoffs, and this season they sit 14th in the East at 8-13-4. Julien never fell to those depths, and not even Chiarelli may have had the patience to stick with Maurice any longer.

"I don't think we ever got to the point where we were in as bad a shape as Carolina," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said. "And in Washington, [Boudreau's situation] is an accumulation over the past couple years of having had real bad long stretches. Carolina is just not getting the job done and they're way behind the eight ball. I don't think that was ever the case here in Boston. So it's pretty hard to compare the two."

There certainly is no comparison now. Julien was given the chance to turn things around after a devastating playoff loss, and responded by bringing the Cup back to Boston.

Boudreau and Maurice won't get that chance now, but Julien fully expects to be coaching against both again at some point.

"I feel for them," Julien said, "but the one thing I know is they're both pretty good coaches and I don't doubt that we'll see them back in the league soon."

That's probably true. After all, there are sure to be teams looking for coaches soon after the next inevitable round of firings.

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