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.