Thursday was an eventful day for the Boston Bruins as GM Don Sweeney made it official that head coach Claude Julien would be back for (at least the start of) the 2016-17 season, his tenth with the team.
It’s the right move. I know there is a vocal contingent of fans who want him gone, and we get it- because it’s Boston, passions get inflamed. But, I had a couple of exchanges on Twitter that reminded me of the fact that the “Turf Claude” movement doesn’t have much in the way of solutions or answers- they just want some change, any change, and firing the coach is the most accepted move. Ultimately, many of us have been conditioned to blame the coach and put him out as a scapegoat because it’s harder to fire players and with the Stanley Cup playoffs happening, there isn’t much in the way of trades to be made right now.
I go back to Boston’s road trip in February and the discussions I had with several members of the Bruins organization (who will go nameless because our talks were not on the record) who were emphatic in their respect for the job Claude had done, knowing that the defense he had this year but the Bruins at a disadvantage most nights. Yes, the final month collapse was troubling, and the Bruins know this. The players could have spared Claude the angst and debate leading up to yesterday’s pressed by performing and not being the NHL’s worst club over the last 30 days of the regular season. The players could have found a way, yet for the anti-Julien crowd, it’s all about getting rid of the coach. Not sure the ghost of Toe Blake could have coached that group into the postseason.
What is so surprising to me is the lack of give and take that I experience on places like Twitter. One fan tells me “Claude stifles the kids” and when I point out several examples to the contrary, there are a legion of “yeah buts” or outright dismissals that follow. If you want to have a debate, let’s have one, but you need to be honest when you come to the table. Honesty is something that I find lacking in some…the passion and emotion is certainly there, but if you don’t really grasp how personnel transactions work in the NHL and who does what within an organization, then how can we really have an intelligent discussion? When it comes to this kind of thing, you’re always entitled to your opinion, but you can’t make up your own facts or conveniently omit the ones that undercut your position.
If someone wants to have the debate about how Julien “hates” young players and can lay out a coherent argument for that, then have it. I have yet to see someone who can clearly articulate that position, even if there are merits to the idea that there are things Julien can do better. But let’s face it…that is true for everyone. Nobody is perfect, so absence a cogent idea and plan to put a better option in place as head coach, then Bruins fans should be careful what they wish for. You don’t want to make perfection the enemy of good enough, so we’ll now watch as the team focuses its energies on addressing the defense and giving Chef Julien better ingredients to cook with. If he can’t get it done, than an eventual change at coach must follow.
Nothing lasts forever.
Speaking of defense, here’s a dispatch from Grand Forks, where we watched the first day of the World Under-18 tournament on Thursday.
The pickings were pretty slim in the first two games- Latvia vs Switzerland and Denmark vs Slovakia. The second match was a nightmare for the goalies, as we witnessed six (6) goals on nine (9) total shots in a 3-3 game in the first 10 minutes. The Slovak starter was beaten on all three shots he faced, and got the quick hook. Slovakia captain Samuel Solensky might be small, but he’s a little buzz saw of a creator out there, scoring a pair of goals and impressing with his hustle and knack for making plays.
Finland-Czech Republic was a big draw for the NHL scouts, with a 6 pm start on the other side of town. Managed to catch 2 periods of that one and it became clear to me why Finnish defenseman Markus Niemelainen is drawing interest from the Bruins.
At 6-5, he looks even bigger in person (and the confines of the ICON Center’s Judd Rink wasn’t great for sight lines, but it put you far, far closer to the action that at the Ralph)and his skating is so fluid and effective for such a big man. It was a quiet game (at least in the 40 minutes I saw) offensively for Niemelainen, but he did a good job of reading/reacting, and activating at the right time, and he played a smart, efficient game in all zones. He had one memorable textbook hip check, where he just slide across the ice effortlessly and drilled a Czech forward into the boards to negate the rush. He did lose his gap on one of the Czech goals, but he looks like a player to me. Not sure about the offensive upside but will get several more looks.
The standout performer for me was Finnish forward Eeli Tolvanen (2017 NHL Draft)- he was fast and sniped an unbelievable goal right in front of us, hitting as small as spot in the net as you can have. It would have beaten NHL goalie, and he’s projected as a 1st-rounder next year.
USA-Russia was an 8-2 rout, but the Russian U17s (most of their U18 roster was DQ’d for a failed drug test) hung in tough for the better part of two periods, erasing a two-goal deficit before Maxim Zhukov allowed an egregious sharp-angle goal to Clayton Keller to break the tie in the late second. Just a few ticks later, Kieffer Bellows got in behind the D and ripped a shot into twine to make it 4-2 and USA dominated the 3rd.
Speaking of the Russian D- Windsor Spitfires rearguard Mikhail Sergachev came as advertised- outstanding skater, aggressive, moved the puck with authority. He’s being projected to go in the top-10 so not an expected option for the Bruins. Having said that, even with their lack of success with Russians, he’s got some of the highest home run potential of any player available and I imagine they know it.
I’ll be back with more thoughts on the U18 as the tourney progresses. Thanks for reading.