One was that the hosts were actually talking about the Bruins. The other is that many hosts and callers were suggesting that the Bruins fire head coach Claude Julien.
In his first two seasons as head coach, Julien led the Bruins to the playoffs twice, to their first playoff series win since 1999 and to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference in the regular season — plus he won the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year. Some callers not only thought that Julien should be canned, but that the Bruins should consider trading backup goaltender Tuukka Rask to obtain Thrashers sniper Ilya Kovalchuk as a rental for the rest of the season.
Julien should not be the sacrificial lamb for an underachieving Bruins team's failures this season. Yes, the Bruins are reeling — they have lost five straight and have gone 1-8-1 in their last 10 games, subsequently falling out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
Yes, Julien has tried different approaches, from calling out players as he did with the struggling Dennis Wideman last week, to giving his team the odd day off. Yes, he has questioned their dedication and implored them to focus on doing their jobs.
Yes, he has acknowledged the fact that his team has been banged up all season and his lineup has become a revolving door of bona fide NHLers and AHL stopgaps.
But either on the record or off, not one player is blaming Julien for what was once a season of high hopes.
Following Monday's practice, players were constantly being asked if Julien's message is still getting across. Each player said yes but quickly jumped to the next question. Some players quietly but incredulously wondered why so many reporters seemed to be questioning Julien's effectiveness — but one player had no problem clearing that up on the record. Patrice Bergeron wasn't shy at all when asked what he thought of his coach.
“It's not his fault,” Bergeron said. “He led us to a playoff spot in his first year when no one else thought we could do it, then last year to first in the Eastern Conference and it's been awesome since he's been here. So it's not him. We have to pick it up.”
Bergeron went on to blame himself and his teammates before issuing a call to action.
“We need to learn from the last game and the weekend and do something about it,” Bergeron said. “There's not much more we can say; it's about doing something about it. It's frustrating, but we need to make something out of it and we can't feel sorry for ourselves because no one does in this league. It's about us in [the locker room] to find a way to get back to what was giving us success.”
When asked if he thinks the management should bring in additional help to right the ship, Bergeron once again called on the Bruins' current roster. The answers are already wearing Black and Gold, he suggested, and it's time he and his teammates focused on figuring out how to produce.
“I think the answers are here and they have been here all year,” Bergeron said. “It's matter of us going out and doing it, like I said. Enough of the talking about it; it's different when you do something about it. Obviously, [trades and changes] are part of the business, but that's not our decision. We can't concentrate on that. We need to find a way ourselves. It's not fun and no one wants to come to the rink feeling like this. We need to change that.”
Julien and his staff have done their jobs coaching a capable team, and the players that have consistently ignored Julien's messages are the ones whose jobs should be called into question. Obviously, in this business, you can't fire the whole team, and coaches always seem to pay the price for the sins of the players. Sometimes that works, as it did with the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins last season, when they fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Dan Bylsma, who went on to lead Pittsburgh to its first championship since 1992.
But this team, even when healthy, does not have the skill of that Penguins team, and the situation in Pittsburgh was drastically different from the one in the Bruins dressing room. The Penguins players were still looking for the answers at this time last season, unlike this Bruins team, which already has them but either doesn't know what to do with them or refuses to use them.
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has done an amazing job of reconstructing this franchise and has it on the right path. Is it likely that some changes are needed to keep the Bruins on the right path? Probably.
But one of those changes shouldn't be firing the coach. For once, maybe the players on the ice should be held accountable.
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