3 Amigos Podcast Ep. 8: Everything Claude Julien & Bruins trade rumors

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The 3 Amigos ride again!

Reed Duthie, Dominic Tiano and your TSP founder have reunited for another podcast. It’s been a time of transition, and we’re not a professional outfit, so we appreciate the patience over the time elapsed from our last offering. We’ll do these when we can, but for now- we’re focusing on the dismissal of Claude Julien, new B’s interim bench boss Bruce Cassidy and trade rumors swirling around the team and one name in particular out West.

Enjoy the podcast, and we’ll follow up tomorrow with the debut of our 45- minute supplementary podcast “Ask the Amigos” where we take questions our listeners and TSP readers submitted on Twitter.

Cheers.

 

Deconstructing the Claude Julien firing

About 24 hours ago, the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney officially swung the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the organization and coach Claude Julien’s head for weeks (some would even say years), dismissing the franchise’s all-time wins leader and Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, setting off a firestorm of criticism online and in the media for the timing and way it was handled.

This post will attempt to analyze the move and the subsequent naming of assistant coach Bruce Cassidy as the B’s interim bench boss. It is by no means the first and last word on the matter, nor will it hit every bucket that the firing impacts. Whether you were someone who felt it was time to go and are angered that the team elected to do it on the morning of the New England Patriots’ victory parade, are someone who felt he was not the problem and are even more irate at the timing, or are someone who feels like the move had to be made and have no issue with it (and everyone in between), this piece will try to raise multiple perspectives and shed light on some of the other factors that led to where we are on Wednesday, February 8, 2017- nearly a decade after Julien was brought in on the heels of the failed Dave Lewis experiment.

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Breaking: Julien out, Cassidy in

The Boston Bruins announced this morning that the franchise’s all-time wins leader and 2011 Stanley Cup-winning head coach Claude Julien has been relieved of his duties after nearly a decade in the position and more than 400 victories. B’s assistant and former Providence Bruins bench boss Bruce Cassidy will serve as interim head coach in Boston. Cassidy, who previously held the head coaching job with the Washington Capitals, inherits a team that most recently lost critical points to the division rival Toronto Maple Leafs in a crushing 6-5 defeat and is fighting for its playoff lives.

With the New England Patriots victory happening today, GM Don Sweeney will hold a press conference to officially announce the move and discuss the way ahead. The timing of Julien’s dismissal is curious, to say the least, but given his pedigree- he is sure to land on his feet and won’t be unemployed for long.

More analysis on Julien’s legacy and expanded context on Cassidy and the organization to follow on the blog later tonight or in next 24 hours.

EDITOR’s note- The conference is over, with GM and new coach meeting the press, plus revelation that Joe Sacco will cover down on D and Jay Pandolfo will move to the bench during games. A lot to unpack and not sure the first/hottest take is going to cut it.

 

 

B’s rookies making hay in preseason

Carlo

Help coming in the form of Brandon Carlo? He’s ready for the NHL grind.(Kirk Luedeke photo)

The Boston Bruins iced a largely untested lineup Thursday against a more experienced and closer-to-opening-night roster in Columbus versus the Blue Jackets, and the kids skated away with a 2-1 regulation victory.

After carrying play for the first 40 minutes, the Baby B’s found themselves on their heels a bit- they did get goals from Matt Beleskey (1st period on a deflection of a Colin Miller point shot) and Seth Griffith (on a beautiful sauce pass from Jake DeBrusk) to make it 2-0 Boston in the third.  When Brandon Saad beat the D with his speed and Malcolm Subban with a bullet shot to make it 2-1, the home team put on a furious surge, but Subban proved up to the task and stopped everything else that came his way including a last-second Zach Werenski would-be equalizer.

After the game, Boston head coach Claude Julien was effusive in his praise of multiple young players, with most of his positive waves going to defenseman Brandon Carlo and DeBrusk. We’re less than a week from the start of the 2016-17 regular season, and you have to think that Julien was encouraged by what he saw last night on the road. Sure- veterans with bigger-ticket contracts will still likely benefit from the economic reality and make the team ahead of young, lower-cost guys who can go down to Providence without being exposed on waivers, but one of the more important purposes of these exhibition games is to give the coaches a sense of who they would want in the lineup should a veteran get injured, underperform or find himself headed out of Boston in a trade or transaction. The B’s win over Columbus likely earned some respect, even if it may not have been enough to solidify NHL roster spots for a few of the standouts.

Even though many observers tend to seek an egalitarian viewpoint when it comes to deciding who makes it and who goes down, not to mention a natural, shall we call it- an “implicit bias” to want to see shiny new toys up with the NHL club, the league’s salary cap system often makes that a tough balancing act. It is easy to blame coaches like Julien for wanting to ice “binkies” (read: safe, experienced but low-upside veterans)- in lieu of accepting risk with younger, more skilled guys who are also more prone to making mistakes and potentially costing the team points.

The truth is- it isn’t that simple, and management/ownership gets a vote, too. Right or wrong- it doesn’t make sense to spend millions of dollars on one-way contracts in the minors and while you can criticize the wisdom of signing players like Riley Nash and Dominic Moore, there is no shortage of fans and media types who would have blasted the team for putting too much stock in young, untested players. NHL teams have always hedged against putting too much trust in the youth movement, it’s just that the modern era of cost certainty makes some of those moves look bad in hindsight. At the same time, just because a rookie plays well in the preseason does not mean he’s ready for primetime (Cameron Mann, anyone?). And so- it does become a balancing act in terms of deciding whether the value lies in having a young player with the NHL team in a smaller role but benefiting from being at the highest level and immersed in that big league culture on and off the ice, or whether he’s better off playing more minutes in expanded situations in the AHL. Because entry-level contracts are two-way deals, it makes more economic sense in many instances for management and coaches to send the player down for more seasoning at the ‘AAA’ equivalent level.

Having said that, here are many of the Boston rookies (or at least those still with the team as of today) and where we think they stand as the team will make its final cuts in the coming days and ice a lineup next week that will undoubtedly look different from the one that will take the ice in Game 82. Whether the B’s will be looking forward to the postseason at that point or we’re headed back to the drawing board for another disappointing offseason is the great hockey adventure that will unfold over the next six months.

The locks (or who we think will see action in Boston at some point in 2016-17, even if they don’t make the NHL roster out of camp)

Noel Acciari, C- This versatile forward played 19 NHL games with the B’s to close out 2015-16 and is already a trusted agent with the coaching staff. His challenge is to make the opening night roster with the additions of other similar, but more experienced NHLers having been brought in during the summer months. We think he can do it, but going back down to Providence for a spell might help refine this more defensive, grinding center’s offensive skills. He hits hard, but clean and has been a revelation after being one of multiple free agent signings in the spring of 2015.

Brandon Carlo, D- The B’s are lean on right-shooting defenders, so while the soon-to-be 20-year-old is pretty green and raw yet, with his size, reach and mobility- he just might have done enough to grab a roster spot out of the gate. Even if the 2015 second-rounder (acquired with the first of two draft picks for Johnny Boychuk) doesn’t earn his way into the top-six defensive rotation on opening night, we expect that he’s close and should get an opportunity to see playing time when inevitable injuries or other situations occur. He shouldn’t be seen as a dominant two-way D/savior kind of player, but he’s still developing and could eventually become a solid NHL No. 3 who already has advanced shutdown type potential.

Austin Czarnik, F- What else can we say about the little buzzsaw who keeps opening eyes around the organization? Czarnik might be just 5-9 (barely…and that’s in skates), but he’s a speed demon who has the creativity and puck skills to be an offensive threat while is smart and defensively aware enough to thrive in Julien’s system. The biggest question with Czarnik is whether he’ll make it as a center or be employed at wing, where he’s been practicing, but the Bruins love versatile guys who can play anywhere. He was called up late last season but didn’t make his NHL debut. This year, he’s going to get into the historical ledger at some point, even if his role is yet to be determined.

Danton Heinen, F- The first-year pro has been a nom du jour in Boston hockey circles for a while now, as he put up two very good NCAA seasons with Denver University before signing last April. He’s not flashy or dynamic the way Czarnik is…Heinen doesn’t have the seek-and-destroy (without headhunting) mentality of Acciari or Beleskey, either…but he’s fast enough to make plays at both ends and strong enough to excel in the wall work and net-front power needed for the modern NHL. Just when you start to say to yourself “what does this guy do?” he’ll make a sweet dish or bury a quick strike to the back of the net. Julien loves guys like Heinen, and the organization has been highly impressed with Heinen’s mature and refined game for some time now. With Frank Vatrano in recovery from foot surgery, opportunities are there for players like Heinen to take advantage of.

On the cusp (don’t count them out, but likely headed to Providence to begin the season)

Jake DeBrusk, LW- It’s no secret that we’ve been bullish on DeBrusk since before the 2015 draft and perhaps Bruins fans are starting to see flashes of why after he suffered through an agonizing injury last year that left stat watchers ignorantly ranting about him on Twitter and the Internets. Part of why DeBrusk has caught flack in some circles of Boston fandom is something completely foolish that he can’t control- the old covetous attitude of wanting different players taken at the 14th spot instead of him. That’s life and sports- and to be honest- there is an honest argument to be made for several guys whom Boston could have had, but didn’t, Unfortunately, that kind of what-if stuff is counter productive, so have it, but you won’t see it here at TSP. Instead- DeBrusk continues to show off a high-end creativity and offensive skill that saw him net 41 goals in his draft year. Last night’s pass to Griffith for the game-winner was subtle and perfect- he protected the puck from the defender who was hooking and obstructing him to no avail. DeBrusk pulled away and then put it in the one spot his teammate could get to it and fire the shot home. That was a hockey player’s move and DeBrusk is a hockey player. He’s got some rounding out to do in his game and should get a chance to do that in the AHL rather than being forced into the NHL’s bright lights right away.

Sean Kuraly, F- Czarnik’s Miami University (the Brotherhood!) teammate was acquired on June 30, 2015 in the deal that sent Martin Jones to San Jose. He’s a big guy who can skate quite well for his size and has underrated hands, but probably lacks the higher-end vision and hockey IQ to be a top-six NHL forward. Having said that, the Ohio native brings the kind of traits to the table that the Bruins value: he’s heavy on the puck, willing to grind and take hits needed to gain and maintain puck possession and will go to the greasy areas of the ice. He’s been impressive after a pretty lackluster senior year scoring-wise in which more was expected, but a member of the Bruins organization told TSP back when the team acquired him that they envisioned him as a 3rd or 4th-line checking winger, so in that regard- Kuraly is on target. Because he can go down to Providence without being put on waivers, he’ll likely need that chance to play and develop rather than be a spare part in Boston, but he could get a shot at the big time at some point.

Rob O’Gara, D- We agonized over putting the 23-year-old Yale product in the locks section, but in the end- the belief here is that he’s more valuable in the AHL soaking up big minutes in all situations and developing under Kevin Dean rather than sitting in the press box in Boston. Barring a rash of injuries, O’Gara needs to be playing a lot at this stage and he’ll get that chance in Providence moreso than if he slots into Boston, where the left side is pretty well established between Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, John-Michael Liles and even Christian Ehrhoff, who is in on a tryout but is a left-shooting D. O’Gara’s going to be a good one- he’s shown that time and time again in college, his brief AHL look last spring and in a few impressive spots here in the preseason. But, we don’t think his NHL time is quite now.

Malcolm Subban, G- Give him some credit- the first-round pick in 2012 showed some poise and moxie against Columbus in preserving the win he was handed when he came into the game after Anton Khudobin. Tuukka Rask and Khudobin are Boston’s 1-2 goalies this year, but Subban is showing the coaches that he’s got the stuff to come up and be a backup goalie if someone should get hurt. He’s such an athlete…but that’s also been the knock on him, as he tends to overcompensate for flaws in his technique through his athleticism. As he continues to gain experience and get better in dealing with in-game situations, Subban is looking more and more like he could one day start to fulfill the potential Boston saw enough of in him to grab him where they did. But, he’s also hit setbacks in each and every year of his pro hockey career, so this is huge season for him to stay healthy and be ready to go if Boston needs him.

Not likely

Brian Ferlin, RW- He’s a good guy and you feel for him given the concussion he suffered in April 2015 and its lingering effects. Unfortunately, Ferlin brings a certain lower-line appeal in a sea of players who have the same style and relatively low ceiling. He’s a big-bodied winger who has some untapped offensive tools (he was Kuraly’s USHL teammate with the Indiana Ice), but needs more time to work that out in the AHL- the B’s can’t really afford to keep him around based on the talent and experience levels of others fighting for the same position on the team.

Don’t forget about…

Seth Griffith, RW- He’s technically not a rookie, but he’s still in the mix and last night backed up what he’s been good at (at least in the AHL)- finding  the back of the net. We still can’t help but think he’s a ‘tweener, but he does have sweet hands and a good offensive mind. Ultimately, he’d have to be put on waivers to be sent down to the AHL, so that could mean the Bruins will keep him at the expense of someone else who doesn’t have to clear. Or- he could be included in some kind of trade package going forward. Either way, Griffith is still scrapping for a job and that’s a credit to him after he got injured a year ago and lost his shot at the NHL. He’s a superb player for Providence, but the jury is still very much out as to whether that excellence can translate to the highest level.

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series part 3: the Left Wings

Brad Marchand is the team's top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Scouting Post is back with another attempt to break down what we might see unfold during the 2016-17 NHL campaign as it pertains to the Boston Bruins.

This time, we’re hitting the left wingers, and it all starts with Brad Marchand– the lil’ ball of hate & straw that stirs the goal-scoring drink for the B’s. He’s entering a contract year after coming off a career season, and I’ll break him down in detail for you in the accompanying podcast, so no real need to say more.

Frank Vatrano is the player we have high hopes for in making it as the second-line LW in Boston this year. The Springfield Rifle is talented enough to do it, but it will entail accepting risk on the part of Claude Julien and Co. Can the East Longmeadow native be trusted to shoulder the load- TSP is confident he can. His impressive AHL rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg- Vatrano has the skill and moxie to make it work as a top-6 NHL forward.

On the third line, Matt Beleskey is the guy, though I do go into more about his value contract-wise and what he means to the B’s. I’m sold on Beleskey for the myriad little things he does on and off the ice, but I won’t argue with those who feel that the team isn’t getting enough bang for the buck on his deal. Ultimately, they could do much worse, but if he can improve on his 15 goals and 37 points from a year ago, that would be welcome news indeed.

The fourth line is pretty wide open, and my guess is that Tim Schaller has the inside track. The Merrimack, N.H. native has the size and enough big league ability to be a capable bookend along with Riley Nash over on the right side. He’s listed as a center, but if he’s not going to play in the middle, LW makes a lot of sense for the former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo.

Zac Rinaldo…we hardly knew ye! Well, he’s still hanging around, but my guess is not for much longer.

That leaves a host of other aspiring young players vying for spots on this Boston Bruins club, and I run through just about all of them- from the young pros like Colton Hargrove and Anton Blidh, to new blood AHL options like Jake DeBrusk and Peter Cehlarik. Jesse Gabrielle will be fighting (literally?) to make an impression, and he looked jacked (in a good way) when I saw him in Buffalo for draft weekend. When he’s playing like someone possessed, opponents need to keep their heads on a swivel…he can wreck it on the scoreboard and on the physical side. He’ll have his hands full trying to win a spot on this NHL team given the lack of options the B’s have, but watch for Gabrielle to open up some eyes this month- he took a major step forward last year.

Ryan Fitzgerald isn’t there because he’s entering his senior year at Boston College, but he’s a Swiss Army Knife kind of pro projected player, and he’s going to do some impressive scoring work up on Chestnut Hill this season after breaking out as a junior.

Let’s not forget a couple of undrafted camp invites in Matt Mistele (I pronounce it for you on the podcast)- a 6th-round pick of the Kings in 2014 who didn’t sign and has been a pretty major disappointment since potting 34 goals in the OHL as a 16-17-year-old prior to his draft year. He’s big and talented, but doesn’t use his size and brings inconsistent effort- sounds like he might just fit right in. Simon Stransky is the other as a WHL player this past season who put up a point-per-game with the Prince Albert Raiders and distinguished himself as a playmaking winger with top hockey sense, yet never got a draft call. Both will get an opportunity to show their potential and earn an NHL contract, but in the podcast- we’ll explain why just signing one or both is not as simple as declaring it a must on Twitter and Bruins internet message boards. There are other undrafted/unsigned/ forwards and rookie defensemen in Boston on an invitational basis for the rookie camp portion, but not going to cover them here.

Thanks for reading and listening…keeping this one short and pithy because the pod comes in at around 50 minutes. Enjoy the Winger intro and the Primus outro.

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

 

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series 2: the Right Wings

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

After a bit of a hiatus, we’re back to continue the 2016-17 Boston Bruins season preview by breaking down each position and analyzing where the B’s sit going into the new hockey campaign.

We started out with the centers, and if you haven’t seen it yet and listened to the companion podcast, you can check that out here.

Today, we’re looking at the right wings- another pretty solid position of strength for the B’s. Loui Eriksson is gone, having signed with the Vancouver Canucks on July 1, but the B’s signed David Backes from the St. Louis Blues on the same day. The conventional thought is that Backes will remain in his capacity as a center, but with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci solidly established as the 1-2 punch up the middle, it makes quite a bit of sense that the B’s will take their 5-year, $30 million investment and put him over on the right side with Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand, who tallied 37 goals last season.

Expected to skate on the right side with Krejci is fellow Czech and David- David Pastrnak. After an electrifying NHL debut in the latter half of the 2014-15 NHL season, the 25th overall pick in 2014 struggled out of the gate last year and then was felled by a foot injury that cost him about 30 games and much of his offensive jump and effectiveness. This is an important season for the David Squared duo, as a healthy and productive Krejci and Pastrnak will be needed to take some of the pressure off of the top line.

Third line is where there could be some opportunities for change. Right now, Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes is the guy to fill that spot on paper. Even with the disappointing season a year ago, Hayes should not be written off yet. Consistency was the biggest thing with the 6-5, 215-pound former second-round pick in 2008. When on his game, Hayes is capable of scoring goals and adding offense both off the rush and in close where he uses his gigantic frame and long arms to pounce on loose pucks. Hayes was an easy scapegoat last year, and he does need to own the fact that when the team needed his offensive production the most, he went largely MIA down the stretch. Having said that, he’s young (turns 27 in November) and talented enough to raise his game and surpass the 20-goal mark, but he’ll have to get back to basics and start with the little things that brought him success in Florida, when he tallied his career-best 19 goals in 2014-15. When you look at Hayes’ possession stats, there’s a case to be made that he’s more effective than he gets credit for, and given his contract structure when compared to others around the NHL, he didn’t exactly embarrass himself. Hayes is never going to be a top-level player, but he has more to offer and if the B’s can get it from him this season, he can be an asset.

If Hayes falters, rookie forward Danton Heinen could fill the void on that third line. A fourth-round pick in 2014, Heinen spent two highly productive NCAA seasons with Denver University before turning pro with Boston last April. The British Columbia native by way of the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles is a slick, cerebral playmaking wing who can skate on each of the forward positions, but saw his most production as the RW on the famed “Pacific Rim Line” last season with Toronto free agent signing Trevor Moore and Sharks second-rounder Dylan Gambrell. Heinen could be best served by playing a lot in the AHL, but of all the prospect forwards in camp this month, he’s the one guy who has the best mix of skill, maturity and a three-zone game- all of which should combine to impress Claude Julien and the other Boston coaches (Joe Sacco, Jay Pandolfo, Bruce Cassidy).

On the fourth line, the B’s added free agent forward Riley Nash in July, and as a rugged, versatile forward, the 27-year-old right-shooting former first-rounder in 2007 is good for about 20-30 points while playing that grinding, checking style that is valuable on the bottom unit. There’s not much to get excited about here, but the former Cornell Big Red point-per-game guy gives you NHL experience, physicality and the example that will help to build team cohesion.

Like Backes, we previewed Peter Mueller at center, but in all likelihood, he’ll compete for a roster spot at the RW position as the eighth overall pick in 2006 has spent more of his pro career flanked out wide as opposed to playing in the middle. Temper expectations with him, but if he plays well and earns a contract, his presence allows B’s GM some flexibility to add assets in a potential trade deal for a much-needed defenseman. Mueller has the size and hands to be an effective bottom-six player, but one only knows how he’ll look after spending the last three seasons in Europe. At one point, he looked like an NHL star, so it’s not a bad risk to take as a PTO invite to camp- nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Other right wings in the mix vying for NHL jobs are Seth Griffith, Brian Ferlin and Tyler Randell– all impact performers for the Providence Bruins. Of the three, Randell is the one who is best positioned to come out of camp with a job- he scored six goals in 27 NHL games last season- his first taste of big league action after being drafted in 2009 (and shot an unsustainable 33.3 percent as well). He’s rugged and tough- even though he lacks speed, the B’s can carry him as a 13th forward and plug and play him into the roster as needed. I like that he showed enough to stick around long after other players likely would have been given up on.

Some of the prospects that fans are eagerly looking forward to are 45-goal man Zach Senyshn, drafted 15th overall in 2015. Although he’s struggled with mono and a recent emergency appendectomy that will cost him the rookie tournament portion of camp. He’s big, fast, skilled and ready to take a big next step forward. This year is probably not Zach’s year to make it in Boston, but that’s not a knock on him- not everyone can play in the NHL as a teen, but the patience will likely pay off- he’s a player.

Also talked Swedish forward Oskar Steen, who is listed as a center but plays right wing and projects as a wing at the pro level in North America. Steen is a Bruins-type of player and was a favorite of scout and former Boston cult hero P.J. Axelsson.

Also not covered in the podcast, but Notre Dame right wing Anders Bjork had a very good sophomore season, leading the Fighting Irish in scoring (35 points in as many games). He’s a gritty, fast, high-energy player, but also showed off some impressive offense. Watch for the Bruins to try and sign him this spring to avoid him going back to school for a fourth year and becoming a free agent in 2018. It will be interesting to see what the Wisconsin native does.

Justin Hickman also has promise as a second-year pro as a big power forward who can bang and add some offense after struggling a bit to find his niche. Don’t count the former Seattle Thunderbirds captain out- he was a sought-after undrafted free agent and shows a willingness to scrap and fight for his team.

Now, you’ve read the post- listen to the podcast (I also talk a little 2017 NHL draft and Shane Bowers)! Will be back in this week to break down the left wings next. Thanks for reading/listening.

 

 

5 big Boston Bruins storylines from 2015

As we say farewell to 2015, we’ll take a look back at a turbulent year for the Boston Bruins franchise, one that saw the team miss the postseason for the first time in eight years.

With a solid 20-12-4 record and third place in the Atlantic Division heading into Friday’s Winter Classic against Montreal (just one spot and point above the B’s in the standings) Boston has a chance to start 2016 on a brighter note.

Here are five stories and an honorable mention that highlight the year the was for Boston Bruins hockey:

1.  Bruins miss playoffs, fire GM Peter Chiarelli

Just two years prior, the Boston GM’s team nearly captured a second Stanley Cup since 2011 before falling to the Chicago Blackhawks (winners in 2010, 2013 and 2015) in six games. He followed that up a year later with the top team in the 2013-14 regular season before a second-round seven-game flameout to the Montreal Canadiens. However, with his team in a salary cap mess and missing the playoffs to a tie-breaker on the final night of the 2014-15 campaign, team president Cam Neely relieved Chiarelli of his duties.

It’s an indicator of just how fickle and results-driven the professional sports business is, but personalities and power consolidation might have played a bigger role than Neely and ownership want to admit. Regardless, Chiarelli soon resigned his position in the organization and the Edmonton Oilers went all-in on him building another success story in Alberta, naming him president and general manager just a few weeks later. Chiarelli then had the benefit of watching a generational talent in Connor McDavid fall into his lap at the 2015 draft (he inherited Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask at the 2006 draft- technically before he officially assumed GM duties in Boston).

Chiarelli’s Oilers teams won both games against his old organization this year, but it took a shootout and overtime respectively to do it. This sets up a fun East-West grudge rivalry between the two teams for years as he attempts to change the Oilers’ ways from perennial doormats to legitimate hockey power.

2. Boston names Don Sweeney new GM

Neely’s old teammate and close friend was named to step into Chiarelli’s old position on May 20, 2015 after being his assistant for several years and starting out as a player development consultant from day one of the post-Mike O’Connell (and interim GM Jeff Gorton) era. To think that Sweeney got the job solely because of his connection to the team president is wholly unfair to a man who not only played more than 1,000 NHL games on the Boston blue line, but who also spent countless hours in rinks around the world scouting future talent and working to develop B’s prospects into successful pros.

Sweeney has been active and aggressive since taking the helm. His first (and perhaps most astute) move was to keep Claude Julien in the fold. Make no mistake- had Boston dismissed him behind Chiarelli, another team (Edmonton?) would have pounced quickly. Since then, Sweeney made a series of bold moves that so far, most of which, have worked out (see No. 3 below). One longtime (and very respected) NHL director of scouting I ran into Sunday night in Fort Lauderdale told me point blank that Sweeney had “balls” and that you had to give him credit from making what was sure to be (at least initially) two unpopular and risky trades without a whole lot of proven assets coming back in return. “He’s doing what he thinks is right,” the scouting director said outside a local watering hole. “We’ll see if the heat he’s getting is even warranted by the time we’re halfway through next season.”

With a hot take like that, you might be right to look up a list of chief scouts to see if anyone’s last name is Nostradamus.

There’s plenty of hockey left before we get too carried away, but if most were told the B’s would be 8 games over .500 heading into the Winter Classic, they’d have taken it.

3. 2015 draft day trades: Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton go West

“Trader Don” did not waste much time in making several aggressive, even shocking moves to shed salary and re-work the Bruins roster to fit his vision.

Initial reaction to the decision to trade Dougie Hamilton, with news breaking in the early Friday afternoon before the draft’s first round, was not positive. Beyond the shock of finding out that the new GM had just dealt a 22-year-old and the last piece of the Phil Kessel trade return from Toronto was one thing, but that the B’s got three draft picks from Calgary- their first and two (of three) second-rounders all in 2015- was even more stunning. The team had just opened up a sizable hole on its blue line, which had been exposed in the spring when Boston failed to earn a playoff berth, and in return- the team was placing its hopes on future assets, none of whom had a chance to fill the void of Hamilton’s departure.

Before fans could come out of the daze, more rumors swirled, this time less surprising but nevertheless polarizing when it looked like Sweeney was on the verge of trading fan favorite Milan Lucic to Los Angeles.  On its face- it made sense. Sweeney was trying to rework Boston’s dire cap situation- created by his former boss- and with Lucic entering the last year of a contract that already paid him $6 million, the writing was on the wall that the B’s couldn’t afford to extend him, nor did many feel his play warranted it. This time, Sweeney landed more immediate assets from the Kings- backup goaltender Martin Jones and prized defense prospect Colin Miller, coming off a 19-goal season in the AHL which culminated in a championship. These two players were topped with LA’s first pick- one spot before Boston’s own 14th overall position, giving them picks 13-15. The rest is, as they say, history.

However- there are reports that the Bruins acquired the many assets as currency to move up in the draft to the top-five in order to grab Boston College star and Norwood, Mass. native Noah Hanifin. It didn’t work out, but if in fact that was Sweeney’s vision, the decision to trade Hamilton for what he received in return makes perfect sense. In dealing Hamilton but drafting Hanifin (say that three times- real fast), Sweeney could have spun moving his young defender to the Flames as an eventual upgrade with a marketable asset like Hanifin, viewed by most scouts (including this one) as a future franchise cornerstone and legitimate 2-way defenseman. Hamilton has proven he can generate offense, but his defensive zone play has always been and continues to be an adventure with his new team. Hanifin, who is already in the NHL at 18 with Carolina, is breaking in slowly, but you can see that he’s growing and maturing. It won’t be long until he and Justin Faulk are forming as formidable a 1-2 punch at the position as any in the league.

Sweeney didn’t just stop wheeling and dealing at the draft, though.

He then traded Jones, who was unsigned and not going to be happy sitting behind Tuukka Rask after previously backing up Jonathan Quick, to San Jose for their first-rounder in 2016 plus defensive center prospect Sean Kuraly, captain of the Miami University RedHawks (a 2011 fifth-round pick of the Sharks).

Sweeney added Zac Rinaldo from Philly for a 2017 third-rounder, then made another move by sending Reilly Smith and Marc Savard’s contract to South Florida for Jimmy Hayes.

Those transactions didn’t match the surprise or impact that dealing Hamilton and Lucic did, but so far, they haven’t blown up in Sweeney’s face, either.

Signing veteran farmhand D Matt Irwin was a poor move, but picking up Landon Ferraro off of waivers from Detroit was another solid add for Sweeney and his pro scouts. When you add pieces like Frank Vatrano and Austin Czarnik, signed as undrafted college free agents under the Chiarelli regime, there is hope for the future.

The question that dogs Sweeney now is- how can he find a way to add that heir apparent and future No. 1 to replace Zdeno Chara? When at first you don’t succeed as was the case with Hanifin, then try, try again. It’s much easier said than done, however, and might take a bit of luck.

4. Claude Julien enters ninth season behind B’s bench, in range of coaching record

Boston’s longest-tenured coach since Art Ross stands to break the hockey icon’s franchise record, which has stood since the end of World War II. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun has an excellent article on Julien and the idea (I agree with it) that he’s a legitimate Jack Adams Award candidate because of what he’s doing with Boston’s roster amidst all the off-season turmoil and expectations. Go here and read it.  It’s a detailed piece replete with sources and I think it effectively captures the essence of Julien’s legacy in Boston and why an active movement to oust him without a clear solution in place borders on the absurd. Here’s an excerpt from LeBrun’s article:

The Bruins’ season ended in April, Don Sweeney was named general manager on May 20, and Julien had to wait until June 5 for an announcement that he would return as coach.

Bruins star Patrice Bergeron remembers chatting with Sweeney last summer, but the head coach wasn’t a topic of conversation.

“I think he knew what I thought of Claude anyway, that I love playing for him and I’ve learned so much from him,” Bergeron said Tuesday night. “So he didn’t need to ask me the question. I think he just needed time to figure out things is all.”

Julien is the best Bruins coach in my lifetime, and although doesn’t have the longevity of Ross because the NHL played far fewer games when he coached as opposed to now, will deserve his spot on top of the franchise’s coaching list. Not convinced? More from Bergeron:

“He always finds a way to get the best out of each player, it’s really his strong suit to recognize if the team lacks confidence, or has too much confidence, up and down, he has a good pulse for the feeling out of the dressing room,” said Bergeron. “And he’s really fair. It’s easy to play for a coach like that. You want to give him all you’ve got.”

Julien gets criticism for his personnel decisions, and no amount of success is going to bring everyone completely on board because of that. In the minds of some- even if he wins with certain veterans, the fact that he’s not icing a more skilled group will keep the critics supplied with fresh gripes. Having said that, he’s 17 career wins from passing Ross and has managed to keep his players loyal and playing hard for him. With a club that had major questions surrounding it entering the season, you’d need a pretty enticing option in place to supplant Julien for such a move to make sense.

5. Bruins host 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium vs. Canadiens

In 2010, the B’s needed overtime to beat the Philadelphia Flyers at frozen Fenway Park in a memorable first foray in the NHL’s annual New Year’s Day outdoor game tradition. This time, they host their hated rival from the north- the Montreal Canadiens- and go south to Foxboro and the home of the New England Patriots to do it.

There’s plenty of information out there on the game, which has become quite the spectacle since the NHL introduced it more than a decade ago, so I won’t rehash it all here. Three of my friends and colleagues- ESPN’s Joe McDonald, DJ Bean of WEEI and Joe Haggerty of CSNNE are a trio to follow for fine coverage. Be sure to hook on with Brian “Rear Admiral” McGonagle of Barstool Sports, too- he’s a good egg with a large following who blends hockey and pop culture like no one else I know. Finally, the writers at the Boston dailies are all fine people who will give you the ins and outs, starting with the alumni and women’s pro hockey games tomorrow.

 HM: 10 picks re-stock the organizational cupboard

The team entered draft weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with two picks in the first two rounds, and by the time Sweeney & Co. walked into the BB&T Center for Friday’s primetime event, those selections had swelled to six in exchange for Lucic and Hamilton.

Boston was high on Czech defender Jakub Zboril, so when their reported attempts to move up for top-rated D Hanifin proved unsuccessful, he was in that second tier of defenders and made sense at 13th overall. On the plus side, Zboril has size and is highly talented with skating, passing and shooting skills galore. He’s also got some real nasty to his game and he plays with a physical edge. He is inconsistent with his effort and intensity, however- that is something the Bruins will watch closely.

Jake DeBrusk was the team’s second pick at 14th overall and began to raise eyebrows when the B’s did not opt for either of smallish but uber-skilled and fast playmaking center Mathew Barzal or USHL leading scorer Kyle Connor. DeBrusk, who scored 42 goals for the Swift Current Broncos a year ago and was just traded to the Red Deer Rebels as they gear up for the 2016 Memorial Cup, has a natural nose for the net and can score goals by the bushel. The left wing is not a dynamic game-breaker like Barzal, but the B’s wanted a finisher and they got one. The son of former NHL enforcer Louie DeBrusk is a completely different player than his dad was, but is a keeper.

The sharp criticism Boston drew in taking Soo Greyhounds right wing Zach Senyshyn has been much more muted this season, as he has scored 22 goals in his first 33 games of the OHL season. With his impressive NHL tools- a 6-2 frame, fast wheels, superb puck skills and finishing ability, there is much to like about this fledgling power forward. He’s still raw and addressing consistency in his game (more on that in a future blog post), but after getting ridiculed in trading Hamilton for the pick that became Senyshyn, you’re not hearing that as much in pundit circles these days, especially with how shaky Hamilton’s start in Calgary was. This is a trade that in time analysts will say both teams won, but the Flames are getting the more immediate returns.

Big shutdown defender Brandon Carlo came next at 37, acquired with Philadelphia’s pick (obtained from the Islanders in the much-criticized Johnny Boychuk deal on the eve of the 2014-15 campaign). At 6-5, he’s massive, but his long arms give him an even bigger reach than other guys his size. He’s a fluid, mobile skater for one so big, and we’ve seen it in the WJC, as he pretty much shuts down players who try to get to the net on his side of the ice either by using his long stick and strength to block a straight net drive or his quickness to deny opponents room on the outside. He’s as good a shutdown player as you will find in the prospect ranks, but his offensive potential at the NHL level is a question mark at this stage. He scored his first goal of the tourney today against Switzerland in USA’s 10-1 drubbing, so there’s much to like about this player.

Swedish center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, acquired with the second of three Flames picks for Hamilton at 45 overall (the same draft spot that the B’s got Bergeron at in 2003, btw) is surging up the prospect rankings with a superb freshman season at Boston University. ‘JFK’ is smooth, poised and intelligent- he doesn’t push the pace a lot, but is creative and slick- he uses his vision and deft stick to set up quality scoring chances and can find the back of the net, too. He’s very good at the faceoff dot and has surprised many with his poise and maturity for one so young. He’s playing well for Sweden at the WJC.

The B’s also grabbed Quebec defender Jeremy Lauzon with the last of Calgary’s picks at 52nd overall in the second round. The big, rugged and skilled two-way guy was one of Canada’s last WJC cuts and has impressed with a career offensive season while logging upwards of about 30 minutes for Rouyn-Noranda.He doesn’t quite have the flash and polish of higher-regarded blue line prospects, nor does he possess the early draft pedigree of  others, but he’s a perfect blend between the offensive skill of Zboril and defensive prowess Carlo.

With six picks in the books, the B’s could have called it a successful two days, but they landed two more particularly intriguing players with some boom potential down the road.

Huge Czech goalie Daniel Vladar went off the board to them in the mid-third round. At 6-5, he has outstanding size and quickness, and looks like someone who could one day evolve into a legitimate NHL goalie. On the downside, he’s raw and seems to guess at where shots are coming from rather than effectively tracking the puck or reading the unfolding play. There’s no pressure on him to succeed right away, so like Zane McIntyre, the B’s can afford to put him on the long track and take their time.

WHL agitator Jesse Gabrielle looks like fantastic value in the fourth round. A Bruins fan growing up in his native Saskatchewan, he played some Minnesota high school hockey before major junior and likens his playing style to idol Brad Marchand. He’s not quite as blazing fast, but is plenty quick enough. Gabrielle is bigger, stronger and perhaps meaner than Marchand is. He’s well on pace to shattering his previous career bests with his third Dub team- Prince George- after Regina traded him over the summer. He needs to stay focused and make sure the hockey comes first, but this is certainly a player with legitimate NHL potential if he keeps maturing and growing.

Boston rounded out the draft (after trading their 5th-round selection to Minnesota for the Wild’s 5th in 2016) with Wisconsin center Cameron Hughes- a smallish but offensively talented pivot who toils on a struggling club. They took raw but developing Minnesota forward Jack Becker with their final pick in the seventh round.

While none of the ten picks immediately jump out on paper as having elite high-end potential, the initial returns look promising with more than a few who have a chance to one day make the Boston roster and contribute. There’s much work left, but in a deep draft, the B’s appear to have added some quality depth with a few players like Senyshyn, Lauzon, JFK and Gabrielle in particular- who might one day far exceed their draft positions and perform better than players drafted ahead of them.

Only time will tell.

 

 

 

Why Claude Julien is a top NHL coach

Claude Julien (and family) riding the Boston Duck Boats at the 2011 Stanley Cup victory parade (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Claude Julien (and family) riding the Boston Duck Boats at the 2011 Stanley Cup victory parade (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

With 370 wins as head coach of the Boston Bruins, Claude Julien is just 18 victories away from bumping Hockey Hall of Fame resident Arthur “Art” Ross from his perch as the franchise’s all-time leader (earned in three different coaching stints), a distinction Ross has held since 1945.

You would think that Julien’s success as the Boston pro hockey team’s coach (1 Stanley Cup victory, 1 SCF appearance, only one season without making the playoffs) would have him a near-unanimous for favorite son status among Bruins fans, but there is a vocal minority that never seems pleased with the job he’s doing. This post will attempt to make an effective argument in favor of Julien and explain why he’s a candidate for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top head coach this season.

Background

Julien was born in Blind River, Ontario (near Sudbury) and hails from Navan near Ottawa (across the river from Gatineau, Quebec) played major junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals and Windsor Spitfires in the late 1970s. Undrafted by the NHL, he worked his way up as a free agent in the Quebec Nordiques system after turning pro in 1981, playing a combined 14 NHL games in 1984-85 and 1985-86. He was a solid minor league puck-moving defenseman who finished out his playing career with stops in Kansas City (IHL) and the AHL’s New Haven Nighthawks in 1992.

His first major head coaching job was with the QMJHL’s Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques, where as a rookie coach, he led that team to the 1997 Memorial Cup championship. His next stop on the coaching rung was coaching Montreal Canadiens’ AHL farm team in Hamilton, Ontario. He coached that club for two full seasons and parts of a third, promoted to the NHL after helping the Bulldogs to an impressive 33-6-3-3 record (.800 winning percentage) in 45 games before replacing the fired Michel Therrien behind the Montreal bench. Julien’s Habs went 12-16-4-4, missing the ’03 playoffs.

In his first full year as NHL coach, the Habs bounced back under Julien, making the 2004 postseason and bouncing the Bruins in a seven-game battle in the opening round before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in their next series. It was during the Bruins-Canadiens matchup that he coined the popular term “700-pound line” to describe the unit of Mike Knuble-Joe Thornton-Glen Murray for the Bruins. The Habs fired Julien halfway through the 2005-06 post-lockout season with a record of 19-16-6 in 41 games (Bob Gainey fired Julien to be interim HC, then named Guy Carbonneau to the post)- [thanks to a Eagle-eyed reader who pointed out this error in fact- sloppy on part- KL].

Julien’s next stop was with the New Jersey Devils, hired before the 2006-07 season. In one of the more curious developments of that year, Julien was pink-slipped by Lou Lamoriello after 79 games- just three games short of completing the regular season and with an impressive mark of 47-24-8.  Julien was fired as rumors swirled of a dressing room uprising in New Jersey, though Lamoriello would never go into detail as to why he made the controversial move. In a 2013 New Jersey Star-Ledger piece penned by veteran Devils beat reporter Rich Chere, Lamoriello was asked if he had any regrets about firing Julien and said:

“No, because I made the decision at that time with the information I had in front of me,” Lamoriello told The Star-Ledger. “If you could go back and make decisions again, knowing what you know now, things would be different.

“You can’t look back. You’ve got to trust the position you’re in and the information you have. Nobody else has that information.”

Lamoriello went on to say in the article that he did not feel the Devils were mentally or physically ready for the 2007 playoffs. With the current Maple Leafs GM behind the bench that year, New Jersey was ousted by the eventual Stanley Cup runner-up Ottawa Senators.

That opened the door for Peter Chiarelli to give Julien his next and current opportunity, replacing Dave Lewis after a disastrous single season in Boston, the B’s GM’s first at the helm. Julien’s departure from New Jersey created plenty of discussion points when he was introduced as the new head coach, with the news greeted for the most part with skepticism.

The early years: 2007-10

Under Julien’s watch, the Bruins returned to the 2008 NHL playoffs for the first time since 2004 (with rookie coach Mike Sullivan), making the dance thanks to strong play from veterans Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard, Tim Thomas, Marco Sturm and others, minus Patrice Bergeron, who was hit from behind by Flyers defenseman Randy Jones 10 games into the season and lost for the balance of the regular campaign and playoffs with a severe concussion. Rookie Milan Lucic became an instant fan favorite, and the well-traveled Glen Metropolit provided tangible contributions from the lower lines.

Julien and company pushed the far superior Montreal Canadiens to a seventh game after wining games 5 and 6 with rousing performances that saw Phil Kessel begin to emerge as an offensive force after he was benched by the coach early on. Although the Bruins were no match for the Canadiens at the Bell Centre in a sound Game 7 defeat, better things were ahead for the team.

In 2008-09, Julien and his team finished with the second-best regular season record, earning Julien the Jack Adams Award for that one, and even better- wreaking havoc on the hated Canadiens in a four-game sweep in the 2009 playoffs’ opening round. However, the B’s were unprepared for a grittier, opportunistic Carolina Hurricanes bunch that prevailed in another seven-game series. This one hurt not only because Carolina beat the B’s at home in overtime in that final game, but because series villain Scott Walker scored the winning tally. It was a crushing setback, and the first real sign that a segment of fans questioned whether Julien was the right coach of this team.

If the end of the 2009 season was a tremendous disappointment, the 2009-10 campaign raised the bar on setbacks with a crushing end that was even more profound than the unexpected loss to Carolina the year before. After limping through a regular season marred with at times brutal play by Thomas which ultimately gave way to Tuukka Rask becoming the starter in January 2010, the B’s squeaked into the playoffs and then upset the higher-seeded rival Buffalo Sabres. Injuries that had devastated them (starting with the beginning of the end blindside hit by Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke on Savard earlier in the spring) finally caught up to them in the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers, as the Bruins became just the third NHL team ever to blow a 3-0 series lead, losing another decisive Game 7 on home ice after taking a 3-0 lead in the first period only to watch a spirited comeback that left a Boston fanbase beyond befuddled, as the outcry for Julien’s ouster reached a new high.

Chiarelli doubled down with his guy and tied his own fortunes to Julien in 2010-11.

Turning Point- 2011 Playoffs

And so it came down to one goal.

The Bruins had looked done after losing both home games to fall in a 0-2 hole to none other than the Canadiens in the 2011 postseason. But here they were- back at the TD Garden in a Game 7 after clawing back to even the series and taking a 3-2 lead before Montreal won Game 6 to return the series to Boston for what would likely be the end for both of Chiarelli’s and Julien’s tenure with the Bruins if they were sent packing for a third straight year on home ice.

A regular season of highs and lows had ultimately ended well for Boston, and the club entered the playoffs with a new-look roster bolstered by the addition of veterans Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle to go with the previous summer acquisition of Nathan Horton, rookie second overall pick Tyler Seguin and an upstart young scoring winger in Brad Marchand who posted his first career 20+-goal campaign. A repaired hip and second Vezina Trophy for Tim Thomas was a huge part of the team’s success as well, and as fans would discover, the best was yet to come for the quirky, yet ferociously competitive Michigander.

As the teams battled in what was literal sudden death (in sporting parlance at least) for Boston’s GM and coach, it looked like it might be curtains when a Montreal shot hit a player in traffic and skittered towards the B’s net before ultimately just going wide and being cleared out of danger. The tension was beyond description- the home team had held a one-goal lead well into the third period before Boston nemesis P.K. Subban scored the equalizer. The old salts who had seen the “too many men on the ice game” against Montreal 1979 swore that the ghosts of Guy Lafleur and Yvon Lambert were about to descend on the TD Garden ice, but then, Horton’s deflected shot goal sent the home crowd and club into euphoria. Julien earned a stay of execution, and his team rode it all the way to the first Stanley Cup championship for Boston in 39 years later that spring with series wins over Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Vancouver.

With that, the “Fire Julien” crowd disappeared overnight. He pushed all the right buttons, got great play from his team and never seemed to push the panic button even when the club had their backs against the wall. To this day, the calm cool with which he handled falling into an 0-2 hole in the Stanley Cup Final, is worth remembering. The B’s battled back to make it 2-2 and 3-3 before earning one final decisive win on the road, and through it all, Julien’s steady hand played an important role, overcoming the loss of Horton in the finals, while benefiting from the best hockey of Thomas and Marchand’s career.

2012-15: Highs and Lows

In the years since the championship season, the Bruins have come close to winning a second Stanley Cup, but have also largely underachieved in the postseason, losing to the Washington Capitals in the opening round of 2012 and the Canadiens in 2014 (both going seven games). When Boston failed to make the 2015 postseason one year after Julien’s club had earned the B’s a President’s Trophy for top regular season record (the team’s first since 1989-90), the “Fire Julien” crowd came back with a vengeance.

When Chiarelli was relieved of his duties shortly after the end of the 2015 regular season (and subsequently hired as President and GM of the Edmonton Oilers) it was natural to think that Julien might follow him out the door (and very likely right to Edmonton). It didn’t happen, but if Julien was expecting a firm vote of confidence from Bruins President Cam Neely, he didn’t get it. Instead, reports surfaced that Neely had proposed a coaching change back in January. Having said all of that, no one from management ever spoke out against Julien, and Neely addressed his relationship with the coach shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season. Countering speculation that Julien was entering the year on the coaching hot seat after the disappointment of the previous season, Neely was quoted by ESPN’s Joe McDonald, saying:

“It’s unfair to say that,” Neely said. “Claude’s a very good coach in this league. [New Bruins GM] Don [Sweeney] came to us with a plan of how he would like to see the team play, and he’s had many conversations with Claude about that, but a lot of things happen throughout the course of the year that’s not necessarily just on the coach. It’s unfair. I know why certain things are said at times, but it’s really unfair to start the season where it’s out there that the coach could be on the hot seat. It’s unfair to Claude.”

McDonald closed out the piece with Julien’s own take on the situation, which was not unexpected given the timing:

Julien has said many times since the spring that he’s not concerned or burdened by his job security. He understands it’s a business and his job is to get the most from the players he’s given.

“I’m good where I am right now,” he said. “I’m not even thinking about that. The only time I have to is when [media] asks me. Other than that I just go ahead and I do my job, and I enjoy doing my job.

“I’m happy to be here. This is a place I’ve felt really comfortable with the people around me, the organization, the city and the fan base. I love working for this organization. I just keep coming in every day, trying to do my best and try to last as long as I can.”

As the old adage goes, watch what a person does more than what he says. And as we’ve seen in 2015-16, Julien has let his actions behind the bench do the talking en route to the team’s 19-9-4 record in the early going.

Changing on the Fly

Spend enough time on message board and social media sites long enough, and the common theme you’ll see and hear from Julien’s most vocal critics is that he employs an unimaginative, smothering defensive system that his players are unable to execute properly. What’s more, Julien is rigid, inflexible and refuses to change his ways by employing more effective personnel packages. That’s certainly an opinion, but those who believe that will have a harder time proving it other than blowing a lot of hot air and getting indignant with those with whom they disagree.

To debunk the idea that Julien slavishly employs his defense regardless of his roster makeup, we’ll turn it over to the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa. The veteran hockey scribe chronicled the coach and his staff’s attempt to better tailor the team’s breakout to better take advantage of his rosters abilities and limitations, back in mid-September as training camp was just about to get underway.

Now, there is a legitimate debate to be had as to the effectiveness of this change and if, in fact, the B’s players are actually executing this proposed change to a real degree of consistency. However, if you point to the boost in offensive production and the ability the Bruins have shown to score goals off the rush this season when compared to a year ago, there’s enough anecdotal evidence to say that Julien and company were onto something, at least.

When it comes to personnel, Julien has shown a willingness this year to try new things. He’s given different players at every position except goaltender the opportunity to demonstrate their worth, and with waiver claim Landon Ferraro and rookie recall Frankie Vatrano striking gold in key games over the past month-plus, he’s not shied away from sitting more veteran players like Jimmy Hayes for example, in favor of keeping players with skill, speed and the ability to push the pace in the lineup. It hasn’t been perfect, and he’s shown more of an inclination to stick with the struggling Kevan Miller longer than fans and analysts might like, but that is more a reflection of trust that Julien has in that player to execute the gameplan versus other players who might look better on paper, but who the rest of us don’t really have all that much of a handle on outside of limited sample sizes of game action. That’s not to say Julien is right or wrong here, but he’s moving pieces around and hitting on winning combinations. Some of us might not like those combos or agree with the reasoning behind them, but with the team on a roll, the coach will stick with what is working.

Julien deserves consideration for a second Jack Adams Award this season because he’s finding ways to keep his team on a winning track despite a lot of star power on a young, rather untested club. Beyond that, with the way the Bruins were almost universally mocked for the moves made at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, some of those snickering pundits are already coming out of the woodwork to express respect (and astonishment) at how Julien and his fine staff- Doug Houda, Doug Jarvis and Joe Sacco– have put together a team that is not only scoring (104 goals and counting) at a much better clip, but showing the verve and drive to gut out some tough wins. They’re far from perfect, but there aren’t many who were lining up to bet on the B’s this year, and they’re making it fun for the fans at the very least.

The intangibles and why Julien is a great NHL coach

What makes a great or even decent/successful NHL coach?

In hockey, just like any other major team (or individual) sport, it comes down to preparation, focus, intensity and execution.

A friend of mine named Ian Wilson, as passionate and knowledgeable a fan of the Bruins as anyone I know, used to quote the old saw that said- “You need an awfully long stick to score from the bench,” and that’s true. The modern NHL coach can’t do a great deal to directly influence the outcome of games on a regular basis other than giving the players focus, direction, discipline and at times that extra shot of experience and motivation needed to go out and get two points on any given nights.

This blog post doesn’t need go down the road of what makes a truly great NHL coach just that, but in Julien’s case, his demeanor and personality has a lot to do with it. He’s not a taskmaster who employs fear and intimidation in the mold of a Mike Keenan, but he is demanding in terms of what he wants from his players and will not tolerate if they make certain transgressions. If you’re a fan of one of those guys who just doesn’t or won’t get it, then there’s a good chance you don’t care a whit for one Claude Julien, but he’s nothing if consistent in terms of how he levies his expectations and treats the players like adults.

You got a sense of that in the recent first episode of the EPIX-produced hockey show Road to the Winter Classic, where scenes inside the Boston dressing room between periods demonstrated his business-like demeanor, pulling no punches in telling the team where they were falling short, but not screaming at them. Not that Michel Therrien did any of that either from his perch with the Montreal team, but compare and contrast the way both coaches talk to the players and then tell me honestly which guy you’d rather have behind your bench. More than one player has told me in the years since Julien arrived in Boston that they appreciate the way he conducts himself, and the word ‘fair’ has come up repeatedly with them. You know where you stand with Julien- there aren’t any mind games and if you’re one of his guys, his trust and faith in you is rewarded with ample ice time and a chance to contribute, perhaps sometimes to a fault. However, if you’re not one of those guys, then…well, not so much. Finding the balance is important, but lest we forget- hockey is a sport played AND coached by humans. The players don’t always get it right, and neither, for that matter, do the coaches. But a willingness to change and adapt one’s approach is the real secret to sustained success.

As a military officer with nearly 22 years of service, I’ve seen the personality dynamic of how a coach is perceived in a room play out in similar fashion by commanders and staff of general officers. What I’ve learned is pretty simple- no matter how well (or poorly) a particular general or senior leader is perceived by the rank and file and those on their staff who know them best, no one is ever completely loved 100 percent or completely free from criticism. There’s always an inner circle of some kind- it’s human nature. And if you’re inside it- you love your patron. If you’re not inside that circle, then you’ll begin to hear the criticisms. It’s no different with NHL coaches and I would submit to you- any coaches in any sport or profession which requires an abundance of teamwork. When you’re in a business that requires people to achieve an ultimate end state, whether it’s accomplishing a military objective or winning the Stanley Cup, you need most of everyone on board, but if you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll never truly find complete consensus support of your leadership, no matter how effective and approachable those leaders or coaches are.

Successful NHL coaches win the same way military leaders get credit for missions their charges accomplish: because they inspire those players (and troops) to give their absolute best for the common cause. Players want to play for guys they respect. Tyrants will have some level success when they lead with fear, but that success can only be fleeting, because eventually, players will rise up and resist that tyranny. Those who impose their will with an iron fist cannot expect to sustain their hold over those they rely on most. If the reports out of New Jersey are true and Julien had lost the room right before the playoffs (and after a superb regular season), then perhaps that important lesson was learned by Julien before he arrived to Boston and he became a better man and coach for it.

When it comes to Julien, I’ve never had a single player vent in negative fashion about the way he is or handles his duties as Boston’s head coachDoes that mean such players do not exist? Absolutely not. But when guys who play or previously played for him go out of their way to talk about the respect they have for the way he coaches or coached them, you know that you’re onto something good. Don’t change it. Don’t go looking for that next big thing or sexy name out there, because the right person might be exactly where you want him to be.

And that’s  a wrap, but before I go…

Last point about Julien is his personal and professional humility.

He had just a cup of coffee in the NHL, so he spent a playing career trying to work his way to the very top and got there for only the briefest of moments. Without much if anything being handed to him, he’s one who can relate to those younger players trying to establish themselves in the NHL with the Bruins. Imagine, if you will- some of the discussions he had with a young Brad Marchand, who looked like anything but a sure thing when he got his first taste of NHL action late in the 2009-10 season. The way Marchand has evolved in his career since is all the food for thought you probably need to know there. He did some head-shaking stuff, both on and off the ice, but his coach gave him a chance to work through it and didn’t try to change him, while at the same time, forcing him to be accountable. Julien has coached superstars and grinders along with those players in between, but through it all, he’s not let an ego come between his room and the final desired result that only one of 30 teams and coaches can achieve in a single season.

The personal humility comes from a story I was told by a junior hockey coach in Ontario who was part of Julien’s billet family when he played for Windsor and was a surrogate little brother to the Boston coach. The family owned a chicken farm, and between school and hockey, Julien found time to pitch in with the chores. Julien happened to be walking past me at the 2011 draft in St. Paul, and after exchanging a quick hello, I mentioned the coach’s name to him. Julien stopped in his tracks and immediately lit up with a wide smile and immediately began regaling me with stories about early mornings on that chicken farm and how much the family patriarch had taught him about responsibility, discipline, and the importance of being able to get a lot of things done when people are depending on you.

Think about that for a second- the coach who had just 10 days earlier risen to the very summit of professional hockey when he hoisted the Stanley Cup over his head on the Rogers Arena ice, was more interested and energetic about talking about a farm in Ontario.  He had time to dish on just one of the many waypoints in a potential Hall of Fame coaching career,but he seemed to enjoy that more than he does holding court with reporters and supporters. He could have simply acknowledged the name, made a perfunctory comment and continued his path to the Bruins draft table. Instead, he stayed a good several minutes to talk about that family and their farm. It didn’t take much to connect the dots on how much his time there taught him and how much he values the experience. And watching the twinkle in his eye as he spoke about those days taught me more about who Claude Julien the man is…much more than any brilliant game plan or sketched out play on a rinkside wipe board ever could.

Julien’s time as Bruins coach won’t last forever, and regardless of what happens this year and beyond, he’s given the Boston fans a lifetime of good memories to draw from.  But if his departure comes sooner than later, I’ll leave you with one more old adage:

Be careful what you wish for.