The Boston Bruins have my full attention.
There are multiple reasons for this. First and foremost, the NFL season is officially over. But also because the B’s fired their head coach last week and went on to win three straight games before the bye week, putting them back into a playoff spot.
The Bruins have moved on from Claude Julien. For now, at least, they are committed to interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. We have no choice but to embrace that for the rest of this season, and perhaps beyond.
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Even though Julien was immediately scooped up by the rival Montreal Canadiens, there’s something preventing me from completely moving on to a new leader behind the B’s bench.
Perhaps we’re spoiled in this town with someone like Bill Belichick. But let’s be fair. What Julien did in nine-plus seasons in Boston is certainly worth remembering, rather than just taking it for granted and quickly moving on to the next guy as if the Bruins have had plenty of luck in the head-coaching department during the organization’s 92-year history. Because the truth is, they haven’t.
Last season, Julien surpassed Art Ross to become the Bruins’ all-time winningest coach with his 388th victory. He finished his tenure in Boston with 419 wins and a Stanley Cup.
Speaking of taking things for granted, before Julien led the B’s to a championship in 2011, the organization had gone through 17 different coaches since winning their last Stanley Cup in 1972. He took the Bruins to the playoffs in his first seven seasons, and also took them to a second Stanley Cup Final in 2013, only to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Julien became the victim of an owner who didn’t want to miss out on the playoffs for a third-straight year. And while there’s no doubt the coaching change lit a fire under this somewhat-underachieving Bruins team, it also got me thinking about just how good Julien was for the organization.
I wasn’t always a Julien guy. His defensive-minded style wasn’t always fun to watch. And from what I was told during the 2009-10 season when I covered the team as a reporter, he wasn’t always a joy to play for.
So much so that when Julien was on the hot seat that season — publicly at least, the year before they won the Stanley Cup — some of his players refused to have his back when asked about the coach’s job security and potential changes if the team didn’t get its act together.
I wasn’t a great reporter. I was a freelancer. I was the glorified assistant to my company’s beat writers for the four major pro teams in town. I knew my role.
But I also knew that there were several Bruins players on that team that didn’t like playing for Julien.
It was his third season in Boston. I wasn’t sold on him being the right guy. And hearing about how some in the room felt about him, that didn’t make me any more confident that Julien would lead them to the promised land.
One year later, I was wrong. The Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup. Julien’s defensive style worked, regardless of how some players felt about it.
I became a Julien guy. Suddenly, I cared less about offense. I became obsessed with the success of the penalty kill, rather than that of the power play.
Julien stuck around for nine-plus seasons because of his obsession for that defensive style. Unfortunately, he was also fired for it. But only because his front office apparently stopped caring about the defensive talent it provided him with.
Cue the Bill Parcells soundbite here.
Well, Julien is now cooking dinner in Montreal. Before we begin to wish him the worst, I’d just like to take a few moments to acknowledge his best.
And for the Bruins, that’s going to be awfully tough to match.