The Bruins fired Claude Julien on Tuesday morning, just over nine and a half years since the day he was hired. In that time, Julien put together one of the most impressive runs in the history of the Bruins franchise. Although every coach can lose their hold on the locker room and the argument could be made that his time had come, holding Julien singularly responsible for the Bruins struggles over the past two and a half seasons is unfair.
Prior to his arrival in Boston, the Bruins were a listless franchise that had cycled through six different head coaches over the previous decade. By the end of his third season in Boston, the Bruins had been to the playoffs three times and Julien had a coach of the year award under his belt. Although Julien is often criticized for being difficult on young players, the evidence of his first few seasons in Boston shows that to be more myth than fact.
In those critical first three years, Julien was largely responsible for the growth and development of Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Johnny Boychuk, and Tuukka Rask. These players helped form the core of his team that went to two Stanley Cups in a three year span starting in his fourth season. It should also be mentioned that Dennis Seidenberg, Tim Thomas, Loui Eriksson, Carl Soderberg and Dougie Hamilton all had the best years of their respective careers while playing for Julien.
Julien’s fourth season in Boston will live on in the history books. After losing their first two playoff games at home to the Montreal Canadiens, Boston rallied to defeat Montreal in seven games with the series winner coming in overtime. Following a sweep of the Flyers, the Bruins faced a tough Eastern Conference finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was at this point that Julien released a secret weapon, 19-year old Tyler Seguin, who although would later end his time in Boston on a sour note, was brilliant in the limited action he saw against Tampa Bay, including recording the first four point period for a rookie in NHL playoff history. After beating the Lightning in a nail-biting seventh game, the Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup for the first time in two decades to face the Vancouver Canucks.
In that series, the Bruins experienced a roller coaster of outcomes, but stayed the course and eventually one. That mental toughness should be credited in two places, the strong veteran leadership of the team and Julien. After dropping their first two games on the road, including game two in overtime, the Bruins returned to the TD Garden and handed the Canucks two straight blowout losses. Perhaps nothing personified the Bruins more than how they reacted a dirty hit on respected veteran Nathan Horton that knocked him from the serious. The team sought revenge and got physical, but also channeled some of that anger in to an eight-goal offensive explosion in game three. After a 1-0 loss in game five, the Bruins once again returned to the Garden, this time with their season on the brink of being over. They responded with four first period goals in game six en route to a win and then faced a game seven on the road.
In that game seven, the Bruins played a near-perfect game and won 4-0. It was the team’s first championship in 39 years and occurred in just Julien’s fourth season with the team.
After losing in overtime of game seven in the first round in 2012, Julien once again guided his team to the Stanley Cup Final in a lockout-shortened 2013 season. The Bruins lost a chance at another championship in heartbreaking fashion. After leading 2-1 late in game six, the Bruins allowed two goals in the final minute and a half and then had to watch the Blackhawks celebrate a Cup win in Boston. The series featured two loaded teams and the Bruins just missed some bounces that went their way in 2011. From a 3-1 lead in game one that they eventually lost or an overtime loss in game four, Boston had several chances to turn the series in the other direction but just ran into some bad luck and a great opponent.
The next season saw the Bruins have the best regular season in the NHL but flame out in the playoffs seven games into the second round at the hands of the Canadiens. The Bruins were certainly better than a second round exit, but that series began to show the signs of trouble ahead. The young players drafted by Peter Chiarelli were not living up to their draft status and the team looked lifeless in two road losses at Montreal.
There were signs that maybe Julien did not have the same inspiring effect on his players, but what was most glaring was the methodical exodus of talent from a Bruins roster that looked poised to contend for 7-10 years. From the end of 2013 through the summer of 2015, the likes of Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton, Milan Lucic and several other key pieces of two cup teams were gone without suitable replacements. Chiarelli’s drafts had been woeful, and the likes of Zach Hamill and Jordan Caron were simply not good enough to fill the void left by the departures.
The Bruins failed to make the playoffs the next two seasons and, in what might be the biggest indictment against Julien, had an opportunity to secure a spot each of those two years but collapsed in the final weeks.
Those misses, coupled with a 26-23-6 record this season led to Julien’s dismissal. Although Julien certainly had his mistakes as a coach and the Bruins falling apart at the end of last season is also on him, he was left with a roster devoid of talent in his final two plus years. He helped develop the likes of David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo, but their arrivals were too little, too late for Boston and Julien.
With his firing, the Bruins lost a great coach who helped return them to relevancy and contention. Although he is not innocent in their recent struggles, the systemic problems lies with the roster that was built around him. Until that is fixed, no coach will contend in Boston.