Haggerty: Habs already terming Julien 'a superstar', which may be a bit much

Haggerty: Habs already terming Julien 'a superstar', which may be a bit much

The second Claude Julien era officially gets underway in Montreal with both GM Marc Bergevin and Julien himself addressing the media on Wednesday about his hiring just a week after he was fired by the Bruins.

Bergevin termed the 54-year-old Julien “a superstar” in the coaching ranks who the Habs were obviously tickled to be able to put behind the bench and replace outgoing coach Michel Therrien after he was kicked to the curb on Tuesday.

“Claude brings credibility, experience, and is a proven Stanley Cup winner,” said Bergevin, who perhaps strained credibility a bit when he stated he didn’t make his decision based on the timing of the Black and Gold relieving Julien of his duties last week. “It wasn't an easy decision, but I've always said I would do what's best for the club.”

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There’s little doubt that Julien is a very good hockey coach. That’s backed up by the 419 regular season wins for the Bruins the past 10 years along with the 2011 Stanley Cup title and seven consecutive playoff appearances. He brought defensive structure to a floundering organization and paid attention to detail and discipline while demanding a great deal from his players in terms of two-way play and defensive responsibility.

He's the best Bruins coach of my lifetime and arguably the best coach that the franchise ever enjoyed in their long and illustrious history. 

But do “superstar” coaches miss the Stanley Cup playoffs three years in a row as Julien had the Bruins poised to do as they limped through January and February prior to the coaching change? Surely, the roster wasn’t as talented now as it was in the two trips to the Cup Finals in 2011 and 2013, but it was stunning to watch the Bruins go from President’s Trophy winners to DNQs for the playoffs the next two seasons.

Those two B’s campaigns were characterized by a lessened roster due to a mostly barren prospect cupboard, cap problems and some very questionable, if not downright nonsensical, moves by the front office. But they were also shrouded in underachieving teams that collapsed down the stretch each of the past two seasons, and a recurring failure to play consistently or be ready to play an alarming number of times in each of those seasons.

There is plenty of blame to go around on what befell the B’s over the past three years. Management, coaches and players all play a part in the degradation of the franchise from legit contenders to mostly pretenders. However, they were still talented enough to make the playoffs each of the past three seasons with a number of gifted holdovers from the Bruins teams that made it to the Cup Finals. Julien couldn’t help guide, coax and cajole the remaining talent to get there. Meanwhile, the first three games under Bruce Cassidy have been eye-opening to the possibilities of what an aggressive, up-tempo and offensively assertive system could do to unlock the talent within the Black and Gold.

So, while Julien is a good hockey coach and a classy human being off the ice who deserves to have everything he may get in Montreal as he takes over a first-place team late in the season, let’s not turn him into the second coming of Scotty Bowman after the fact either.

Julien was never able to maximize the elite talent within players such as Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton as high-end lottery draft picks. That all played a part in their early playoff exits for the Original Six franchise. Some even said that Julien's conservative coaching ways were part of the reason Jimmy Vesey veered away from the Bruins when he was mulling over his NHL options this summer. 

The bottom line is that “superstar” coaches maximize the talent on their roster in all instances and get the most out of their best players. That wasn’t happening anymore in Boston with a young, skilled group that didn’t really jive with the conservative, controlled system that Julien prefers when the going gets tough. 
 

Vatrano looking to snap slump for Bruins, who could really use him

Vatrano looking to snap slump for Bruins, who could really use him

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It’s been 11 games and counting without a goal for Bruins winger Frank Vatrano, but the sharp-shooter may be seeing the light at the end of the goal-scoring tunnel.

Vatrano had four shots on goal and a couple of Grade-A scoring chances in Tuesday night’s loss to the Senators and has a combined seven shots on net in the past two games after watching his shots and chances crater in the middle of the goal-scoring drought.

So the 23-year-old East Longmeadow, Mass., native takes heart that a slump-busting event is going to place sooner rather than later.

“Obviously it’s in the back of your head, but you can’t stress on it too much,” said Vatrano, who last scored back on Feb. 26 in a win over the Dallas Stars. “It’s nice to score goals, but the rest of my game needs to take over. That’s when the goals start coming. If I’m moving my feet, being first on the puck and being physical, being hard on it, then that’s when I’m going to get my chances.

“Sometimes it gets away from you, especially when you haven’t scored in a little bit. In the back of your head you think you need to change something, but for me I’m a hard-nosed player, playing hard up and down the wing. Last game I got a bunch of opportunities being hard on the puck, so hopefully I get more of those chances [against Tampa]. Every goal is important right now, so you need to make sure when you get those chances that you’re bearing down.”

One thing that Vatrano, and any number of Bruins players, could do to help the situation is get a little closer to the net and look for a hard-earned bounce or two rather than constantly trying to pick corners on the goalie. That’s something Bruce Cassidy wants to see out of his players as space on the ice gets more crowded and congested in these late season games, but he also wants Vatrano to keep using his best skill: a lightning-quick release and dangerous shot that’s designed to beat even the best goalies from the scoring areas.

“I thought his last game was good in terms of chances,” said Cassidy of Vatrano, who has 10 goals in the 39 games since returning from foot surgery. “When you stop getting chances as a goal-scorer that’s when the red flags really go up. But he needs to keep shooting. His release is usually what catches goalies off-guard, and [Craig] Anderson happened to stop a couple of them.

“He needs to keep getting to the dirty areas and get there even more. A lot of times it’s a greasy one that gets you going. But for him I just highly recommend he keep shooting. That’s what he is, and you want to keep playing to your strengths.”

The bottom line is this: Vatrano is among the most able B’s players when it comes to putting the puck in the net and the Bruins need a guy like that to step up so they’re not solely reliant on Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak goals for victories. Production from the third line has waned lately and the Bruins need it to return at crunch time with wins and points desperately needed.   

 

 

Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Playoff format going to irk somebody

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Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Playoff format going to irk somebody

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