BOSTON — Claude Julien’s Bruins tenure came to an unceremonious end Tuesday, as the Bruins dismissed their head coach in his 10th season with the club.
In the coming days, weeks and even months, Julien’s time with the Bruins mostly will be remembered for how it ended — two straight seasons of missing the playoffs and a dismissal through what looks to be yet another lost campaign.
But over time, the lasting feeling regarding Julien’s Boston tenure will be largely positive — as it should be. He’s one of the best coaches in Bruins history, which is saying a lot given the team’s standing as one of the NHL’s most successful franchises and the club’s long line of standout coaches.
Julien departs as the franchise’s all-time leader in wins behind the bench with 759, and he helped return the Stanley Cup to Boston for the first time in nearly 40 years when he led the B’s to a championship in 2011. Tim Thomas gets the lion’s share of the credit for that Cup run, but Julien pushed all the right buttons that spring, especially in the Stanley Cup Final, whether it was benching rookie Tyler Seguin (Boston won the next game 8-1) or leaning on the fourth line to set the tone early in Game 7.
The Bruins returned to the Cup Final in 2013 but ran into the Chicago Blackhawks, likely the closest thing we’ll see to a hockey dynasty in the salary cap era.
History also will remember Julien for being saddled with a roster that just wasn’t good enough to consistently win in the NHL, especially toward the end of his tenure. It wasn’t necessarily Julien’s fault the Bruins slipped out playoff contention, but the Bruins’ brain trust — primarily general manager Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely — ran out of options. Expectations weren’t met, and that’s hardly Julien’s fault alone, but someone had to answer for their struggles. There aren’t any quick roster fixes, especially with a seemingly dormant trade market and/or the Bruins’ unwillingness to trade young pieces in order to make a splash.
That’s not to say Julien was completely void of guilt. At times, he seemed unable or unwilling to adapt to an evolving NHL. Again, that was in part because of the roster the Bruins handed him, but Julien stuck to his system through his final days. There also was the matter of young players, namely the perception that he struggled to help younger players develop. In some ways that was a legitimate criticism, but the evolution of players like Brad Marchand, Torey Krug, and David Pastrnak seem to indicate that gripe wasn’t always legitimate.
But there were other flaws, too — shortcomings far too damning to ignore. It’s hard to imagine the Bruins had a good case for firing Julien nearly seven years ago after his club blew not only a 3-0 series lead against the Philadelphia Flyers but a 3-0 lead on the scoreboard in Game 7. That’s borderline inconceivable. He obviously bought himself plenty of time with the Cup win in 2011, but the inability to finish still haunted him and his team over the duration of his tenure. The Bruins were 76 seconds from forcing a Game 7 in the Cup Final vs. Chicago, only to watch the Blackhawks score twice in 17 seconds to win the title.
Two years later, the Bruins missed the playoffs completely, despite holding a three-point cushion with three games to play. They lost all three games. The following season, they had a chance to clinch a playoff spot on the final day against an Ottawa team with nothing to play for — and lost 6-1.
But again, Julien is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and he showed what he could do with talented rosters. As the talent started to dwindle — with players like Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton and Loui Eriksson no longer on the roster — so too did the Bruins’ success. Ultimately, Julien had to pay for that, which may not seem fair, but he’s not the first and won’t be the last coach in professional sports to go through a similar experience.
As the cliché goes, professional sports are a business, and the business is most affected by wins and losses. The Bruins failed to win at a consistent enough basis, and it ultimately cost Julien his job. The end of the line arrives for just about every head coach, apparently including Julien, the NHL’s longest-tenured head coach at the time of his firing. The list of coaches pushed out the door far exceeds the list of those who gracefully exit on their own terms. It’s the nature of the job.
Julien eventually will land on his feet, and there’s a good chance — whether it’s in Las Vegas or Montreal or somewhere in between — he’ll again find success at the NHL level. And in due time, he’ll be remembered in Boston for what he was: one of the best coaches in Bruins history.
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