BOSTON — Claude Julien came to Boston five years ago with some question marks on his resume. Since his arrival, he's provided the right answers to help lead the Bruins back to a level of prominence in the NHL and on the city's sports landscape that they have not enjoyed in decades.
For that reason, signing Julien to the multiyear extension formally announced on Tuesday stands as one of the easiest, and wisest, moves the club has made in an otherwise relatively quiet offseason.
Bringing him to Boston in the first place was a bit of a gamble. Despite apparent success, he had been fired from his previous two NHL posts. Julien was let go in Montreal in 2006 even though the Canadiens had a winning record at the time and he had engineered an upset of the second-seeded Bruins in the previous postseason. He was dismissed again in New Jersey in 2007 in the final week of the regular season despite guiding the Devils to first place in their division.
But if there were any doubts about his ability to run a bench, manage a locker room or lead a team to postseason success, Julien has erased them in his first five seasons in Boston. Those five seasons have included five straight playoff appearances, three division titles and the franchise's first Stanley Cup in 39 years. Julien will now have a few more years to add to his impressive legacy in Boston, and he intends to do just that.
"I think the one thing that I said when I first came here was my goal was to try and win a Stanley Cup here in Boston," Julien said Tuesday at the Garden. "We've accomplished that. Now my goal is to win another Cup for this Boston franchise. I remain hungry. I think I remain committed and dedicated to understanding that the expectations here in Boston are always very high and I love that kind of standard because that's what makes you a better coach. That's what makes you a better team."
What has made Julien a better coach in his third chance behind an NHL bench has been his ability to adapt and change as his team's personnel and the very game itself has changed. It's an evolution that's made him into one of the game's premier coaches, a fact evidenced by the Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's coach of year he won in 2008-09 and reinforced with the engraving of his name on the Cup two years later.
"Over his tenure here he's shown the ability to adapt," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said. "He has a very, very disciplined team, and that's again a testament to his coaching. Yet at the same time his team is a very tough team, and that's a very difficult balance to maintain and he's been able to do that with success. Technically he's one of the best, if not the best, coaches in the league."
Chiarelli cited how Julien adjusted the way the club transitioned from offense to defense, improving team speed during the Bruins' championship season, as an example of his ability to adapt to changing needs and conditions.
"Sometimes it's hard to just go out and get team speed as a manager and he changed his neutral zone breakout and we had more team speed and that helped us jump start us into winning the Cup," Chiarelli recalled.
Julien came to Boston with a reputation as a rigid, defensive-minded coach. But while the Bruins have been among the stingiest defensive teams in the NHL throughout his tenure, they've also ranked among the highest scoring teams the majority of the time with three top five finishes in goals per game in Julien's five seasons in Boston.
Despite lengthy injury absences to the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard and Nathan Horton, and the departure of players like Phil Kessel and Michael Ryder, Julien has found a way to keep the offense productive without sacrificing sound defensive play.
He's done that by continually evolving as a coach and showing a willingness to change and try new things without abandoning his core philosophy.
"I think you evolve every year you coach and I'm one of those guys that always said that the minute you feel that you know it all, that is when you've got to retire," Julien said. "Most of the guys that know it all are retired, right? But I keep trying to improve every year.
"I think I've had that opportunity with being here five years to grow immensely as a coach," Julien added. "My philosophy, or my approach to the game, hasn't changed, although I've tweaked certain areas to make ourselves better. But you go in with a certain personality and a certain belief and you stick with that. And having said that, it doesn't mean you don't change things but you stick with your philosophy. And I believe that a well-balanced team is a good team."
It also helps that while Julien has faced far more than his fair share of critics outside of the team throughout his tenure in Boston, his players have never wavered in their belief in his system and trust in his leadership.
"To have players respect what he stands for, and to then be able to deliver that message in a way that engages them, that's what I see as leadership and that's what Claude has," Chiarelli said. "And part of that leadership – a large part of that leadership – is character."
Character has been a central ingredient in the Bruins' success in recent years. That character was reflected in the camaraderie and chemistry that keyed their Cup run. And it's that character and leadership that Chiarelli has tried to maintain by keeping the core of that team together with the re-signing of veterans like Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
Julien is the latest of those core figures to be locked up with an extension, and one of the most important.
"We're keeping this core together," Chiarelli said. "I feel strongly in this core. I feel strongly in Claude. We will continue to improve, and we will continue to look at all facets of our game to improve. That's our mandate, and that's my mandate and we will continue to do that and we're happy to have Claude along for the ride."
Julien has been more than along for the ride. He's been one of the driving forces, guiding the club through all of its trials and triumphs over the past five years. And the Bruins can take comfort in knowing that steady hand will remain on the helm in the years to come.
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