If Don Sweeney’s first move of the offseason is any indication as to what this summer is going to be like for the Boston Bruins, then consider me pleased.
After missing out on the playoffs for two straight years, the B’s general manager announced on Thursday that he’s decided to stick with head coach Claude Julien.
And it’s certainly the right move.
In his nine years as Bruins coach, Julien has only missed the playoffs twice. Granted those two non-playoff seasons have come consecutively, this year and last, but the rest of his resume speaks for itself.
Julien became the franchise’s all-time winningest coach in March, passing Art Ross with his 388th victory. He also owns the Bruins’ record for most playoff wins, with 57. He won the Jack Adams Trophy in 2008-09 as the NHL’s best coach. And he hoisted the Stanley Cup with the B’s in 2011, while taking them to another Cup Final in 2013.
Yet, as the Bruins watch playoff hockey from home once again this year, the elephant in the room has been Julien’s future. Would it be in Boston? Or was a major change about to be made?
I say “major” while fully understanding how professional sports work. Head coaches and managers get too much credit and take too much of the blame. Had Julien been let go — he had two years remaining on his contract — it would have been no surprise. That’s just how it goes. In any sport, it’s the easiest move for a team to make, if they feel a “change” is needed.
And make no mistake about it, the Bruins need changes. So I would not have been shocked if Sweeney sent Julien packing. In fact, I almost expected that to be the case.
Instead, they’re keeping him around. And it’s the type of commitment that could even define Sweeney’s legacy as GM of an organization that’s once again desperate for playoff hockey.
By sticking with Julien, Sweeney is accepting some of the blame for what went wrong this year. He can’t accept all of it, because Cam Neely and former GM Peter Chiarelli also have their fingerprints on this. As do the players.
That’s not to say Julien has been perfect, either. Because he hasn’t been. But if you’ve watched this Bruins team the last two seasons, it’s obvious what the biggest issue is: defense.
It’s not Julien’s fault that the team traded away two of its top-four defensemen for draft picks the last two offseasons. He also can’t control how Father Time manages the careers of veterans like Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
The problem with that is, Julien is a defensive-minded coach. In his world, you don’t need the best offense in the league to win championships if you can execute on the defensive end. That includes goaltending, shot-blocking, positioning, battle-winning, penalty-killing, and even puck-moving.
This year’s Bruins team seemed to have the opposite of that. They finished the regular season with the fifth-most goals scored in the NHL. They had three 30-goal scorers. So you can’t really crush the offense.
Also, goaltender Tuukka Rask didn’t have his best year. But as I told you back in October, it’s one thing to ask Rask to steal the Bruins some games, but this season, you were asking him to rob a bank. And that never ends well.
Turns out, it ended similar to how I envisioned, given the construction of the defense. They just didn’t have the talent on the back end to be the type of team that Julien knows how to coach.
In recent weeks, I’ve dug up the old Bill Parcells analogy. “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.” Now, I’m not calling for Julien to replace Sweeney as GM. But I am advising that they get on the same page.
Julien’s best meal is, and always has been, defense. If the Bruins want him to cook the best dinner he can, at least they ought to provide him the proper groceries.
Because next season, Julien will be back in the Bruins’ kitchen. And a third consecutive year without playoff hockey is certainly not on the menu.