Jack Edwards Mailbag: Claude Julien Must ‘Stay the Course’ As His System Has Proven to Be Effective

Jack Edwards Mailbag: Claude Julien Must 'Stay the Course' As His System Has Proven to Be EffectiveThe month of Februrary hasn't been kind to the Bruins, and last Sunday's effort against the Minnesota Wild has been a continuation of some recent struggles for the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The B's were shut out for the fourth time this month in a 2-0 loss in Minnesota, and fans are wondering what it will take to get the Bruins back on track.

NESN's own Jack Edwards has taken the time to answer your questions about the state of the Bruins, the trade deadline and other subjects in his weekly mailbag.

Check out this week's version below.

If you were Claude Julien, how would you go about getting your boys out of this slump? 
–Pete, Swansea

If Claude Julien were calling play-by-play, how would he do that? It's really easy for me (or any commentator) to suggest what the coach should do to snap his team out of any slump. Re-rack some of the clips of talk radio from early in last spring's Montreal series if you want to have a good laugh! General manager Peter Chiarelli is gone because he gives too many long-term deals, Julien is gone because he's too soft on his players and resistant to changing his lines during games, most of the forwards stink, etc.

If I were Claude Julien, I would stay the course. It's agonizing to go through mediocre stretches, especially those (such as this one) that last more than a quarter of the season. But if you're getting 91 shots attempted as you did against Minnesota (48 on goal, 24 blocked, 19 off target) it's hard not to see progress. This team is capable of greatness and probably will get a tweak or two, but the fundamentals of Claude Julien's hockey philosophy are sound and proven. If we see a lack of hunger against St. Louis in what should be a very physical game then there are personnel issues that only can be solved through a shake-up, but I think it's much more on the players than the coach right now.

Do you think the absence of Nathan Horton is affecting the Bruins? and what can they do to turn their game around before the playoffs?
–Evan, Ware, Mass.

No doubt. David Krejci likes to carry and handle the puck. When his monster bookends, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, are wreaking havoc on his wings, Krejci neither has linemates who are needing their share of puck-carrying to raise their effectiveness, nor does he have opposing defensemen in his face because they are pre-occupied with self-preservation in board battles with Boston's big boys. As good as Rich Peverley is, he's a completely different player than Horton and needs the puck more in order to maximize his effectiveness as a player (and now he's gone, as well). Remove the combination of goal scoring and physicality that Horton brings and Krejci becomes much less of a player.

Now, it's on him to find a different way to be just as effective, and that's one of the differences between a very good player and a great one. The great one, no matter his circumstance, finds within himself a way to make any combination of players around him better. If Krejci wants to be thought of as a truly elite center, he needs to find a way. That principle extends to every member of the roster — if they want to turn things around before the playoffs, they need to find something within themselves to be successful on every shift, no matter the circumstances. Julien has created an effort-based system. If they put in the full effort, they will reap the rewards.

Mike Milbury said the Bruins are playing "excuse me" hockey, not playing tough, finishing checks and just not playing Bruins hockey like they were in November. Is this the REAL problem or do the Bruins panic and go to the trade block?
–Frank Arcidiacono from Facebook

In general, Milbury's point is correct. For the most part, the Bruins have not been winning enough puck battles. Did the 21-2-1 rip make them overripe as they virtually assured themselves of a playoff spot before Christmas? Did they just play an at unsustainable level? Was it a confluence of greatness that every player on a healthy roster reached at once that never will happen again? Whatever it is, the players need to find the solution within themselves. Unless Chiarelli spirits a Weber or Suter out of Nashville or gets some unsung hero-in-waiting to go on a John Druce-like streak, the Bruins can't rely upon a trade to fix the problem. The cap may go down because even though there is another record revenue season in progress, the owners may demand a giveback in the coming negotiations. Therefore, shortsightedness (going all out to win it again this spring) could easily blow up "The Plan."

You used the correct word in your question — "panic" — which is what the Bruins must not do. The players need to get it in "playoff" gear right now, on this trip, as the Gretzky/Messier/Lowe Edmonton teams did around this time of year — tighten up in the defensive zone, make their opponents pay a price for every inch of ice gained and concentrate on winning every shift. It begins with those battles along the boards and never even thinking about saying, "Excuse me."

Would you trade Rask as part of a deal for Nash? With Horton and Peverley out for an extended time, the team could use an elite scorer.
–Paul Mohnkern from Facebook

Rask is untouchable as far as I am concerned. He's in the same draft class as Carey Price, Jonathan Quick, Ondrej Pavelec and Ben Bishop — and has the potential to be the best of the 2005 entry-draft lot. How many more good or great seasons can you plan on getting out of Tim Thomas? If you have elite goalies (or potentially elite, as Rask has had only one very good season), it's wise to hang onto them. Philadelphia has a fatal flaw, and the Flyers have him for another eight years.

Speaking of long term, Nash's $7.8 million cap hit through 2018 is poison for this Boston team. Lucic (restricted free agent) and Horton (unrestricted) are up next year. Patrice Bergeron (UFA) and Tyler Seguin (RFA) are up in 2014. Is Nash ready to "buy in" and play conscientious defense in Julien's Cup-winning system? What if any (or all) of the above outperform Nash? What would you ask for if you were their agents?  At the very least, their agents can say, "My guy's name is on the Cup. I don't see Nash's there," unless the huge gamble pays off.

Nash hasn't exactly been a building block in Columbus, has he? Yes, the Bruins could use an elite scorer, but they are suffering the slings and arrows of the salary cap — forced to wait for injured players to return (and play to form) unless they want to juggle baggies of nitroglycerin with their future. The chance that a Nash deal blows up the next decade is far greater than the chance that it works out well for this year, next year and beyond.

If the Bruins were to get any player on the market, who would you like to see them get?
–Zach, North Attelboro

Is everything for sale at a certain price?  First, we know better the small subset of players who are NOT available than the ones who publicly ARE available. That confuses the understanding of "any player on the market." It's bewilderingly frustrating to have to ride this injury and lack-of-checking thing out, but in the long view (something almost never considered in the 10-minute news cycle of North American media) the question should be not, "Who would you like to see them get?" as much as, "Who are you willing to give up?"

This Bruins team has the potential to challenge for the Stanley Cup for another two or three years, at least — as long as the players continue to buy in and Chiarelli keeps the signings within the context of a manageable cap. The nucleus, to me, is Thomas/Rask, Seguin, Bergeron, Lucic, Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara. If you mess with the core, you destabilize the foundation on which the Julien philosophy functions. These are the premium players who will bring premium returns. Add Dougie Hamilton (anyone out there see the Bruins selecting No. 9 overall and getting a Rob Blake-projecting D-man in the next few years? I don't, so he's a once-this-generation talent), Ryan Spooner and Jared Knight as attractive deal-facilitating factors and you're talking about the players who might — might — bring you the stud you desire to help this team make another run right now.  

Ray Whitney is a terrific veteran who knows how to get there. If Mike Knuble has the wheels (in the judgment of Bruins' scouts — see last week's mailbag), he's worth a low-payout trade. Hal Gill did OK in 2009 with Pittsburgh, didn't he? Too bad the Bruins didn't have some Canadiens grandson in the organization to wheel. But you get the point here — blockbusters are going to be prohibitively expensive. If you believe, as I do, that the Bruins were, are and can continue to be in the Stanley Cup hunt, it's best to add without subtracting — which means helping the perimeter while keeping the core intact.  

Good questions again this week, Bruins fans. It's darned near impossible to be patient, but that's the prudent course. There are almost seven weeks left in the regular season. This team can fix its own problems without jeopardizing the future.

We're with you on game nights on Twitter, @RealJackEdwards, if the technology is working in the rinks — I try to tweet during the breaks in play. Keep the questions coming and we'll check in with you at NESN.com again next week.

Have a question for Jack Edwards? Send it to him via Twitter at @RealJackEdwards or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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