Was Claude Julien Really The Problem For The Boston Bruins?
By: Matt Giusti
The time that Claude Julien spent with the Boston Bruins as head coach had the ultimate highs and some lows. But if you look at the overall picture, Julien transformed a Bruins team that struggled to make the playoffs into an Eastern Conference powerhouse. In 704 games in which he coached the Bruins over 9 seasons, Julien put together a record of 393-223-88, won 4 division titles and led the Bruins to 2 Stanley Cup Finals appearances, winning won in 2011 against the Vancouver Canucks. The Stanley Cup victory in 2011 was something the Bruins franchise hadn’t won since the 1971-72 season. Claude Julien and his Bruins brought back the winning pride that was missing for awhile in the hockey crazed city of Boston, where success is expected.
But there were also some terrible disappointments under Julien. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, Julien guided the Bruins to a 2nd place finish in the Eastern Conference and a first round playoff matchup with the 7th seeded Washington Capitals. Four games out of the seven games played would to go to overtime, including the 7th and deciding game at TD Garden. Caps forward Joel Ward would end any thoughts of a Bruins repeat at 2:57 of the 1st overtime. The Bruins did return to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in heartbreaking fashion in the 6th game. The one that may stand out above the rest and what might have contributed to the Bruins downfall, is the result of the 2013-14 playoffs. The Bruins blasted through that season, finishing with a 54-19-9 record and winning the Presidents Trophy for the best record in the NHL. After dispatching the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games in the 1st round of the playoffs, the Bruins were to take on their most hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins would drop 2 of the first 3 games of the series, but would rebound to take a 3-2 lead in the series. The Bruins would get blown out 4-0 in Game 6, thus setting up a 7th game in Boston. The Habs jumped out to a 2-0 and would never look back, winning Game 7 3-1. The result was just unacceptable, losing a 7th game at home is one thing, but to top it off it was to your most hated rival. After that, the Bruins have missed the playoffs the past two years, including last years mid-season collapse that cost them a playoff berth. As a result of that, Claude Julien was relieved of his coaching duties on February 7, 2017, ending an overall great tenure with the Boston Bruins.
But was any of the past two years really the fault of Julien? To an extent I do believe that the Bruins did need a new voice in the locker room. It is possible that the players just stopped responding to Julien, but only the players know that deep down inside. There are obvious reasons to look at on why the recent playoff slump and fall down the standings are not his fault. The 2013 trade of former #2 overall pick Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars for Loui Eriksson still blows my mind. Yea I know the rumors that went around about the lifestyle of Seguin were a factor, but guess what he was a 20-year old kid and most 2o-year old kids are going to party. Not to mention Eriksson was mediocre at best in his 3 seasons in Boston, while Seguin has turned into one of the premier forwards in the NHL.
The next series of contributing factors are handing out bad contracts and an aging core group of players. For some reason the Bruins decided to hand out a 4-year $19 million contract to winger Matt Beleskey, who before that contract had a career high of 22 goals and 32 points for a season. The numbers for Beleskey this year, are an eye popping 2 goals, 5 assists and a -9 rating in 31 games, but I will cut him a little slack because of missed time due to a knee injury. The next bad contract I want to talk about is the one given to forward David Backes. Listen I have always been a huge fan of Backes and the way he plays, but a 5-year $30 million contract for an aging Backes will comeback to bite the Bruins. While Backes brings some size and grit to the forward unit, he doesn’t give the Bruins something they sorely lack and that is speed. Not to mention Backes may be on pace for his worst offensive season output in years, as going into play Thursday Backes has 11 goals, 11 assists and is currently a minus player, something he has only been once in his 10 year NHL career.
The group of core players that were vital to the success of the Bruins such as David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara are all having some down years and it makes you wonder if we are seeing the decline of these stars. In the case of Chara, he is 39-years old and his career is clearly coming to an end after being the cornerstone of the Bruins defense for a decade now. Chara has nothing left to prove in his career. When it comes to Krejci and Bergeron, they’re still in their early 30s but they have faced many injuries and have been on some very physical playoff runs, which could be a major contributor to why they are struggling this year. Regardless of why their play has declined this year, it is definitely a huge reason why the Bruins rank 21st in the league in goals per game.
There have been some bright spots for the Bruins this year despite the struggles. Winger Brad Marchand has been a point per game player this year, putting up totals of 23 goals and 32 assists, while also being one of the few plus players on the Bruins roster this year. Youngster David Pastrnak has broken out in a big way for the B’s and has shown that he may be the player the Bruins will build around for years to come. With Zdeno Chara heading to the end of his career, the Bruins are looking for their next great defensemen and the early returns of the play of rookie Brandon Carlo show that he could be the next great Bruins defensemen. Only time will tell on whether Carlo will be that guy. And last but not least, goaltender Tuukka Rask has been one of the main reasons why the Bruins are in playoff contention at the moment.
So all in all, I do believe that the Bruins may need a new voice in the locker room to give the players and this organization a fresh start. But the blame falls just as much on the players and upper management as it does on Julien. The Bruins for the moment are what they are, a team that could flirt with a playoff spot but are far from being a Cup contender.