BOSTON — The first question Bruins general manager Don Sweeney fielded at his season-ending news conference Thursday was the one that fans had been asking ever since their team was unceremoniously dismissed from the Stanley Cup playoff race last weekend: Will Claude Julien return for a 10th season as B’s head coach?
“Absolutely,” Sweeney responded. “I emphatically believe that Claude’s the coach that can take us through what I’ll describe has been a bumpy transition period this year, and we’ve got work to do. I have work to do. There’s no question that we have areas that we want to address.”
For the Bruins, this without a doubt was the correct decision.
Yes, Boston now has sat out consecutive postseasons after being a playoff team for the first seven years of the Julien era. In a sports-crazed city like this, those sort of finishes are not tolerated, especially when several of the key members of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship team still patrol the ice at TD Garden.
But the fact of the matter is this: Although names such as Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask dotted their roster, the Bruins iced a severely flawed team this season. From a defensive corps that, outside of Chara, consisted largely of players who were inexperienced or overmatched, to a shortage of production from right wings and bottom-six forwards that persisted throughout the season, Boston was a top-heavy squad that ran out of gas when the schedule least allowed for it.
Few, if any, coaches could have the success Julien did — missing the playoffs by a mere one point — with the players he had. And none of those guys will be looking for work this summer.
Sure, the Bruins could have followed the route their Garden roommates, the Celtics, took and plucked someone like Providence’s Nate Leaman from the college ranks, or they could have offered a promotion to P-Bruins boss Bruce Cassidy, who’s very familiar with Boston’s sizable crew of young players. But why take a chance on an unproven coach when you already have one of the best the NHL has to offer?
The Bruins’ focus this summer should be — and, now that Julien’s job status is solidified, will be — on improving the on-ice product. Sweeney said near the start of Thursday’s presser that he does not expect a “major overhaul” of the roster but later shied away from saying any player outside of Bergeron was untouchable.
That’s not to say Julien is completely blameless for Boston’s second late-season collapse in two years. He’s not. The coach and players alike should be held accountable for the fact the team was outscored by a combined 20-4 in the NHL Winter Classic, Milan Lucic’s return to Boston and the season finale against the Senators, exemplifying a failure to perform when the spotlight was brightest.
There might come a time, maybe even within the next year or two, when Claude Julien no longer is the best option to lead the Boston Bruins. But that time is not now, and the organization was wise to recognize that.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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