by Jason Howard Kelly
Last night Claude Julien earned his 388th victory as the head coach of the Boston Bruins which now makes him the all-time leader in franchise history. Not only does Julien now hold that illustrious record, but he is also the franchise leader in playoff victories with 57. He is also currently the longest tenured head coach in the NHL as he has been with the Bruins for 9 seasons, while all the other 29 teams in the NHL are seemingly constantly making coaching changes.
That all sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Not if you live in Boston, oddly enough. It is needless to say that the Bruins have had a roller-coaster type of season, mixing in some strong wins against good teams with some downright embarrassing losses, such as the, “Winter Classic Massacre” against Montreal in which they lost 6-2, or the 9-2 drubbing they took against the LA Kings in February. Inconsistency has plagued the Bruins this season, and the offense, the defense, and even the goaltending have been affected by it. The Bruins are in a position to make the playoffs, but there are legitimate questions as to how far they will go once the playoffs start. It’s looking more and more like the Bruins will be a one-and-done team in the playoffs this year.
This, naturally, has the Boston media all up in arms as they yell and scream about this Bruins team ultimately being a failure, even if they do make the playoffs. Whining about a team that will, almost assuredly, make the playoffs is nothing new in Boston. We have become spoiled as a sports city and we now expect nothing but championships and parades from every team every year. The problem is that the complaints are not being directed at the right people. It seems as though Claude Julien is being ripped to shreds on a daily basis by writers and radio personalities in Boston, and that makes no sense at all.
What part of this tumultuous Bruins season is Claude Julien’s fault? Sure, he’s made a few odd choices when it comes to line combinations, such as putting the aimless wonder, Brett Connolly, on the top line. One could also question why Julien insists on playing Kevan Miller over younger, higher-ceiling talents like Colin Miller. However, when it all comes down to it, the blame does not belong to Claude Julien. He has taken this, quite frankly, sub-par roster and brought it to second place in its division, with a chance to play for first place tonight in Tampa Bay.
The blame actually belongs to management, mainly Don Sweeney and Cam Neely. They were the ones who built, and also dismantled, this roster. It was Sweeney and Neely who decided to trade Dougie Hamilton for draft picks. It was Sweeney and Neely who decided to trade Milan Lucic. If we go back even further we can blame Neely for trading Tyler Seguin, who is now a superstar in the league, for the underwhelming return of Reilly Smith (traded to Florida), Loui Eriksson (likely gone via free agency at the end of the year), and Joe Morrow (might be a solid d-man one day, but impossible to tell). The Bruins’ management handed Claude Julien a poor roster with glaring holes on defense. If a player like Kevan Miller is playing 20 minutes per night then your team’s defense definitely has a problem.
And WHY, in the name of all that is good, was Brett freaking Connolly given time on the first line with Bergeron and Marchand? Here’s a news flash, Cam and Don, Brett Connolly STINKS. The only highlights that Brett Connolly has provided this season have been the time that he pitchforked himself against the net and went flying into the boards. Oh, and how about the time he went to check someone against the bench, missed, and went ass over tea kettle right into his own bench?
Seriously, that image of Brett Connolly disappearing into the Boston bench with his skates flailing in the air pretty much sums up his season. What. A. Waste.
One has to think that Julien was being pressured from his bosses to play Brett Connolly more, given that those geniuses decided to give up a 2nd round draft pick for him and they want to find a way to justify the deal. At least the Bruins have finally moved Connolly off of that top line and replaced him with newly acquired Lee Stempniak, who had 2 assists and the game-winning goal in overtime last night against Florida.
Julien has been asked to do a lot with a very dysfunctional roster, and he has done a fine job. Perhaps more importantly than that is this very simple but also very important thing: the players believe in Claude Julien, and they like playing for him. It is fair to assume that veteran players like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara looked at the roster at the beginning of the year and had the same doubts as the rest of us. But they knew that had an extremely smart and dedicated head coach in Claude Julien who could overcome those deficits and lead this team to the playoffs.
The Bruins are playing for first place in their division tonight, so maybe we should relax with all the Claude Julien bashing? Instead of whining and moaning about potentially not winning the Stanley Cup this year be thankful for what Claude Julien has given this team and this city — 9 years of the Bruins being a relevant cup contender in the NHL. Not many fans get to have what we have here in Boston.