Haggerty: Reality is Julien deserves more credit

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Haggerty: Reality is Julien deserves more credit

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Claude Julien might be the perfect example of perception outweighing reality within the world of Boston sports.

The perception is that Julien is slow to change, conservative by nature, and unwilling to be bold when the situation screams for it.

There are moments, of course, when Julien has made mistakes, just as his players have during their 18-game run through the playoffs a journey thats ended with the first Stanley Cup Final berth of his coaching career.

The power play is a living, breathing black hole on the team and kills momentum with the cold-hearted precision of an assassin. An 8.2 percent success rate through the playoffs will become a fatal flaw against the Vancouver Canucks, and could eventually cost the Bruins a member or two of the coaching staff when all things are reviewed after the Finals have concluded.

Contrary to popular belief, however, there have been more good moves than bad in Julien's tenure.

There have been adjustments and alterations made at the perfect times. For instance, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have been the best lockdown defense pairing in the entire NHL during the playoffs, and it was a staff decision to place them together when things started getting dark in the Montreal series. The Bruins are 12-4 since that point, and Seidenberg is playing the best hockey of his NHL career with Chara by his side.

Also, the Bruins found themselves in a seven-game dogfight in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Lightning and their coach, Guy Boucher, whose 1-3-1 trap was lionized as an innovative system that confounded the rest of the NHL. In the end, though, it was Boucher who blinked in Game 7 and slid back into his comfortable, predictable motions rather than become bold and daring at the moment of truth. The Bruins had broken through Bouchers trap during the series -- their problem was an aggressive two-man forecheck that pressured the Boston defensemen -- but Boucher slid back into the passive trip for the entirety of Game 7. And it was Julien who switched forwards up and down his lines, utilized Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Patrice Bergeron to take key face-offs throughout a game that dictated their hockey fate.

Julien has also made an excellent adjustment with Mark Recchi as the playoff games have piled up on the 43-year-old, and hes begun alternating shifts between Recchi and Peverley on the BergeronBrad Marchand line. Its a move that reaped the most benefits out of both Recchi and Peverley, while allowing all the forwards to keep their chemistry intact.

Its a double-edged sword when you hear all the water-cooler talk about this and that line combination, we should do this and that, said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. Well, often times, the momentum, the capital, that youve accumulated on a certain line, you can throw it all away by making a certain change too.

I understand that you dont always have to stick with the same lines . . . But its a fine line and I thought Claude did a good job.

Most fitting of all, it was the steady plan employed by Julien and his players that busted through the 1-3-1 zone on the game-winning goal in the third period of Game Seven. Instead of rimming the puck around, as theyd done throughout the series, Andrew Ference lulled Tampa Bay into anticipating a chip attempt into the corner. Instead he teamed with Krejci to enter the offensive zone with puck possession and speed, and the rest was history once Nathan Horton stormed toward the net and created another game-winning goal.

The Horton goal was preparation, inspiration and execution all wrapped into one beautiful package, and thats all about coaching players to be ready for those moments and veterans following through on them.

This playoff has been about poise. This is the message the staff has been delivering about poise, confidence and composure, said Chiarelli. And theyve stuck with that, from up above.

As far as the game plan itself: we had success against their neutral-zone system. I think its fitting that they way we scored the Game 7 goal was to slice through the way we did. Right through that 1-3-1. What I saw the last two games -- talking about game plans and adapting -- is that they changed how they rimmed it. They stopped rimming it. They made a lot of adjustments to address that one-three-one last night. And ultimately it resulted in a goal to win the series.

A key adjustment on the fly that won the Bruins a key playoff game to catapult them into the Stanley Cup Final?

Imagine that.

Certainly sounds like some pretty smart coaching to me.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Morning Skate: Following Bruins prospect DeBrusk and former All-Star Thornton

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Morning Skate: Following Bruins prospect DeBrusk and former All-Star Thornton

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while thoroughly enjoying “Chewbacca Mom.”

*Good piece on Bruins first round pick Jake DeBrusk, and his solid performance during Memorial Cup play.

*A couple of my friends over at NHL.com have attempted to put together a World Cup of Hockey roster for North America.

*Good piece by FOH (Friend of Haggs) Craig Custance on Jumbo Joe Thornton, and what those who know him best say about him.

*Speaking of the Sharks/Blues conference finals, Vladimir Tarasenko is scoreless through the first five games of the series. That doesn’t bode well for the Blues.

*Actor Will Arnett proves that nobody is better at predicting the outcome of Stanley Cup playoff games than him.

*Longtime Director of Player Personnel Scott Luce is out with the Florida Panthers as their restructuring continues in this spring and summer.

*Gustav Nyquist is disappointing with his scoring numbers from last season, and is looking for a bump up next year.

*For something completely different: Chewbacca Mom visited with James Corden on late night television, and the results were both funny and kind of heartwarming.

Cassidy, Pandolfo brought on board as Bruins assistant coaches

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Cassidy, Pandolfo brought on board as Bruins assistant coaches

The Bruins came to a decision on their coaching staff more than a month after opting to retain head coach Claude Julien, and there will be new faces for next season. Both Doug Houda and Doug Jarvis won’t be returning to the Black and Gold, and will be replaced by Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and former Bruins winger Jay Pandolfo.

Houda was largely in charge of the defensemen group, and was fired in the days following the end of the season after a rough season for an overmatched blue line group. Jarvis did not have his contract renewed after replacing Craig Ramsay prior to the 2010-11 season, and working largely with the center and the penalty kill units.

The affable Houda has since been hired by the Detroit Red Wings to be an assistant coach for Jeff Blashill. That leaves Joe Sacco and Bob Essensa as the only two members of Julien’s staff from last season that will return again next year.

Cassidy moves on to Boston after a solid run with the P-Bruins over the last five years as head coach and eight years altogether, and Pandolfo moves to the NHL coaching from his role as Director of Player Development. So what does this mean for Julien?

Clearly, Cassidy is being brought on board to work with some of the younger NHL players he successfully developed in Providence, and whose growth hasn’t been quite as expansive in Boston under Julien over the years.

Those players developed by Cassidy are mentioned prominently in the press release from the Bruins:  Noel Acciari, Tommy Cross, Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith, Alexander Khokhlachev, Torey Krug, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Tyler Randell, Ryan Spooner, Malcolm Subban, Zach Trotman and Frank Vatrano.

The sense in hockey circles is that Cassidy is eventually looking for another shot as an NHL head coach after leading the Washington Capitals to a 39-29-8-6 record from 2002-2004, and that he would probably be the choice as “interim coach” in Boston if things don’t work out with Julien next season. Some of Cassidy’s coaching strengths counterbalance some of the weaker points in Julien’s coaching style, so perhaps it’s a group that can find chemistry behind the bench for the Black and Gold.

But this feels very much like moves are being made by the Bruins front office just in case things continue down the same frustrating path that they’ve ended in during each of the last two seasons.

NHL notes: Local boy making (very) good in Florida

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NHL notes: Local boy making (very) good in Florida

Eric Joyce came upon the game of hockey in a different way than most.

Sure, the 37-year-old Joyce grew up in Dorchester, where hockey is pretty much a way of life for those who get their secondary education on the blue collar, rough-around-the-edges streets. But the primary reason was something more uncommon.

Joyce was born with a club foot that his doctors suspect was connected to environmental toxins his father came into contact with while fighting in Vietnam. His family was told that Eric would never enjoy a normal athletic childhood,  playing sports as freely and easily as the other kids.

But, somehow, hockey became a source of joy, a way to escape and something the determined youngster would build his identity around.

“It’s actually kind of a unique story, and it explains of why I’m not only dedicated to winning a Cup with the Florida Panthers . . . but also giving back to kids,” Joyce said during last week’s podcast episode of the Great American Hockey Show

“I had (the club foot) corrected at Children’s Hospital in Boston with a man named Dr. McKay, who did a wonderful job. We saw a bunch of doctors that said ‘Hey, your son will be able to walk and stuff. But he’s never going to be able to run, or really be an athlete.' My mom didn’t accept that answer, so we went back to Dr. McKay and asked him what was the best thing to strengthen my legs. He said ‘Why don’t you put him on skates? Hockey players usually have huge asses and it looks like they have strong legs, so put him on skates and see what happens.’

So Joyce and his mom trudged out to Devine Rink with the milk crates to perform a tiny little miracle for a 2-year-old, right around the same time local heroes Mike Eruzione and Jackie O’Callahan were performing their own Miracles on Ice  

“My dad was more of a baseball and basketball guy without much of a hockey background, but I enjoyed it and it definitely helped me out,” said Joyce. “I played Dorchester Youth growing up, played in Quincy a little bit and on a Hyde Park team when they had the likes of Mike Mottau and Brian Cummings."

Joyce did much more than simply use skating and ice hockey purely for therapeutic reasons. He played a couple of years at BC High, and then ended up at the Pingree School in South Hamilton (Joyce said he had to do a double-take the first time he saw one of his classmates driving a BMW around the campus). From there, he played Division I college hockey at West Point . . . all based off the experiences he had from initially pushing himself to overcome his challenges.

Joyce is quick to say he was never the most talented guy on any of his teams, and other local players -- like Mottau -- were the ones catching much of the attention and accolades on the South Shore in the mid-1990s. But that passion led him to play three years at Army, with 5 goals and 16 points .

The hockey experience, and the lessons learned on the ice, clearly stayed with him through an honorable, rigorous career in the armed forces. Prior to joining the Panthers front office, Joyce served in numerous governmental roles focusing on National Security, including a stint as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry, where he was deployed to Mosul, Iraq for roughly two years.  While serving in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, Joyce earned a Combat Infantryman’s Badge and a Bronze Star, and his unit earned the Valorous Unit Citation.

Most recently, Joyce was an instructor for the Department of Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy at West Point, specializing in instruction in Counterterrorism and Homeland Security.

It doesn’t feel like the typical background for an NHL executive, but it’s clearly something that bestowed Joyce with a number of different skills sets outside the norm in NHL front offices.

Joyce is also one of a couple of locals with more prominent roles in a reconfigured front office for the ascending Panthers. Joyce and general manager and Lynn native Tom Rowe both report to club president Dale Tallon after a management reshuffling that was made official last week, and continued Monday when head of scouting Scott Luce was fired.

As outlined in this excellent piece from James Murphy at Vice Sports, new Florida owner Vincent Viola and the Panthers are putting a premium on military experience in many of their organizational hires these days.

There have been recent questions about Tallon’s role within the freshly shuffled reorganization, but a couple of things remain clear about the longstanding Florida exec: He has final say on hockey matters presented to ownership, and he’s been freed up to do what he does best: Scouring the land in search of hockey talent.

“This is just how I grew up being a kid from Dorchester and also with the military background. You just view yourself as part of a team,” said Joyce. “The great thing about Dale is that he’s an incredibly gracious guy. He puts the scowl on and he plays the part, but at the end of the day he’s like a Teddy Bear in the sense that he really cares about the people that work for him, he cares about the organization and he wants to win.

“We talked about evaluating players . . . I wasn’t always the best player on the ice, so I had to spend a lot of time evaluating my competition during that time in order to just be effective. I basically told him what I see with the players, and the direction that I see the game going. And he listened. Most NHL GMs would say ‘Who is this kid trying to push his way into pro hockey that’s only been here for five minutes?’ But he took the time to talk to me, and we formed a pretty good relationship.”

A relationship between Joyce, who earned a Masters from the Harvard School of Government, and Viola was the key to opening the NHL door to him prior to 2013-14 with a job as assistant to the general manager. Since then it’s been Joyce’s job to kick-start the Panthers analytics department and forge relationship with the area doing community relations outreach for the Panthers in the southern Florida region.

It’s been a steady rise since then for Joyce, who's served as GM of the San Antonio Rampage and Portland Pirates over the last couple of seasons as the Panthers franchise has gone from teetering on bankruptcy to winning the Atlantic Division. He played a role in helping shepherd through the Jimmy Hayes-for-Reilly Smith trade that worked out well last season for the Panthers, and is part of a Florida group that looks poised for a long, extended run of contention.

Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau form a young nucleus buffeted by key veterans like Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo and Brian Campbell, and the analytics will play a key role in maintaining, building and taking the Panthers to places they’ve never been before.

“It’s a real testament to our scouting staff," said Joyce. "I know a lot of people use the term ‘analytics’, or say ‘Oh, Joyce . . . he’s an analytics guy.’ We’re just looking at every single data point we can get, whether it’s a scout talking about his character, a report on how he skates or an Excel spread sheet that says when this guy is on the ice going things tend to happen, or when this other guy is on the ice not-so-good things happen. It’s a combination of [things]. I’d like to tell you there’s a silver bullet (in advanced statistics), but it all depends on what kind of player you need and when do you need them. Let’s just take secondary scoring with speed for example.

“Last year our recommendation was ‘Let’s try to acquire Reilly Smith from the Boston Bruins’ because he’d provided secondary scoring up until last season. But he also added another element. He added some speed. When you looked at our roster two years ago, one of the things we lacked was speed. So we made the decision to give up secondary scoring in Jimmy Hayes to acquire secondary scoring in Reilly Smith. The reason we did that was because Boston was looking for a bigger, Zdeno Chara-like presence in front of the net on the power play, where that player could be effective putting pucks home at a 20-25 goal rate. Reilly Smith did a lot of the same things well as Hayes did, but he also did with speed. That’s something that’s kind of a subjective thing on our scouting reports, rather than a possession numbers thing where Smith drives X possession and Hayes drives Y possession.”

Joyce admits a metrics-conscious Florida team would still go with a scouting report over a spreadsheet if it’s a dead heat in a choice between similar players for one spot on the roster. It seems like the statistical reports, including ones utilized and introduced by an actual math professor on staff with the Panthers, is about assigning a monetary value to any and every player within the league’s overall salary cap structure.

At the end of the day, though, it’s about putting all the factors together to put a value on every player, and making sure the team doesn’t overstep on those valuations. It will be interesting to see where the Panthers go with Huberdeau, Ekblad and Trocheck all looking at new contracts over the next calendar year, and the Florida franchise not exactly a money-making machine even after a successful playoff season.

That’s where being smarter and bolder than the other teams becomes necessary, and that’s where Joyce will lend his voice after a lifetime of bucking the odds.

ONE TIMERS

-- The Bruins will hold this summer’s development with on-ice sessions at Ristuccia Arena from July 12-15, with each day's practice session set to begin at 10 a.m. There will also be a host of TBA community events for the B’s prospects to participate in on July 13.

-- I'm very new to the entire GIF world, so it’s been very disappointing I haven’t been able to track down any old footage of Hillbilly Jim’s WWF wrestling matches to have at the ready when Jumbo Joe Thornton hits the ice with that bird’s nest of a playoff beard. Clearly it’s working for him and Brent Burns, and one can only hope they get a chance to dip those scraggly beers in a Stanley Cup full of adult beverages just a couple of weeks from now.

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.