See that man in the suit? The only one looking up? That man is Claude Julien. Just under two years ago, the man won the Stanley Cup with a truly remarkable group of Boston Bruins. His teams have made the playoffs in each of his 6 seasons as head coach of the Bruins. His teams have always been competitive, and the man has had success. Under him, NHL All-Stars such as Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas. Then why does this man suddenly find himself on the hot seat?
The Boston Bruins were coming off a truly awful season under Dave Lewis. They signed two big-name free agents, Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara. But they failed to qualify for the playoffs. So the Bruins brass cleaned house, and hired a new general manager, Peter Chiarelli and a new coach, Claude Julien.
Despite being fired in consecutive seasons (in 2006 with Montreal and 2007 with New Jersey), the Bruins had success in their first season under Julien. Stars like Krejci and Bergeron were blossoming. They finished 3rd in the division, and qualified for the playoffs. They were eliminated in the first round, however, by the Montreal Canadiens.
The Bruins improved dramatically in Julien's second season, finishing with 116(!) points, 59 wins, and only 19 regulation losses. They were seeded first in the Eastern Conference, eight points up on the Washington Capitals in only one point behind the Western Conference's San Jose Sharks in the race for the President's Trophy (regulation points champion). They swept away their rivals from Montreal in the first round, and the Bruins were matched up with the Carolina Hurricanes (ne Hartford Whalers) in the second round. However, the Bruins were knocked out in the second round (both literally and figuratively) by a hotshot young goalie named Cam Ward and a veteran grinder named Scott Walker (yes, like the douchebag governor). Walker sucker-punched Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward in Game 5, and scored the winner in Game 7. This would be the first of many playoff disappointments.
Still, Bruins fans were happy. The Bruins finished the 2010 season with 91 points (the lowest under Julien to that point) and 3rd in the northeast. The Bruins quickly dispatched Buffalo in the first round, before going 3-0 up on the Philadelphia Flyers.
Then the wheels came off.
The Bruins lost four in a row to lose the series 4-3.
This was a fuckup of immeasurable proportions. People were calling on a complete restructuring of the team, including the firing of Julien and of Chiarelli.
The Bruins decided to hold on for one more year with the old guard. They brought in popular former player Cam Neely as president.
And the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.
It was glorious, of course. I myself wanted every member of the team (even you, Kaberle!) to go to the Hall of Fame. I wanted Boston renamed "Claude Julien City".
In retrospect, it was an incredibly lucky series. In fact, the 2011 postseason run was the definition of incredibly lucky. The bounces went their way in not one, not two, but three game sevens (the only professional sports team to win three game sevens EVER), and a bunch of timely goals (thank you, Nathan Horton) and a goalie who was playing out of this world (thank you, pre-insanity Tim Thomas).
Entering the 2011-12 season, expectations were high, of course. Few people expected us to repeat (though we nearly matched our points total). However, the Bruins were bounced in first round thanks to a young goalie by the name of Braden Holtby and luck in the person of Joel Ward scoring a goal on overtime Whispers began circulating. "Maybe the Bruins aren't that good, just an average playoff team." Furthermore, towards the end of the regular season, the Bruins had seemed to get complacent, letting easy games slip away, not putting in an effort. The Bruins had been godawful on the power play, and most observers seemed to believe that the special team coach would be gone at season's end. He wasn't.
In fact, he's still their special teams coach now.
I bring this up because it's indicative of the Bruins' recent reluctance to make any radical changes to the Stanley Cup winning core of 2011.
Before the lockout obliterated anything relating to the NHL, the Bruins signed several players to monster contracts, including Rich Peverley (acquired from Atlanta during the Cup run) and Chris Kelly (acquired from Ottawa during the Cup run) to multi-year deals worth 3-million per year. I, for one, like both Kelly and Peverley. But they're third and fourth line guys. They shouldn't be making three-million per. Third and fourth line guys should be interchangeable yearly. This is also indicative of the Bruins' reluctance to make changes.
This strike-shortened-season, the Bruins finished second in the Northeast (but should've finished first), but couldn't close games in the third for the final few months of the season. It seems as if they got complacent. It seems as though they lack motivation. It seems as though they lack the soul of Bruins teams.
Which is why, if the Bruins lose tonight (they're currently down 2-1 with 5:00 to go), despite this being the fourth playoff disappointment in five years (this one eerily similar to the collapse against the Flyers three years ago), Claude Julien will still be coaching the Boston Bruins come October. The Cup core will still be there (minus Nathan Horton, probably, as he's a free agent after the season and, despite some better showings in the playoffs, wasn't great in the regular season). Peter Chiarelli, the man who gave three million per season to Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, will still be there.
And I'm not okay with that. The Bruins have underachieved annually in the playoffs. Despite some shrewd trades by Chiarelli and great signings, Chiarelli has gotten afraid of changing anything with this team.
Just because it worked once out of five times doesn't mean you hold on to it for another five.