Boston’s Claude Julien latest in string of NHL firings this season
Claude Julien became the fourth NHL head coach to be fired this season.
On Tuesday, the Boston Bruins announced that the organization has fired Head Coach, Claude Julien. Julien was in the middle of his tenth season behind the Bruins’ bench before being let go. In nine seasons with the Boston Bruins, Claude Julien led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals twice – in 2011 and 2013 – and won it all in 2011 in a Game Seven against the Vancouver Canucks. Under Julien’s wing, the Bruins reached the postseason seven out of a possible nine times. He received the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach for the 2008-09 season. The Bruins won the President’s Trophy for the most points in the 2013-14 season.
Claude Julien was the longest-tenured active NHL coach up until Tuesday morning. Since being hired by the Bruins in 2007, Claude Julien coached 759 games, going 419-246-94 during that span. However, the Bruins have missed out on playoff action the last two seasons. Julien is relieved of his duties to a team that currently sits at 26-23-6, just outside of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Bruins’ General Manager Don Sweeney is not about to let the black and gold miss the playoffs for a third-straight season.
The Bruins named Bruce Cassidy as interim Head Coach upon letting Julien go. Cassidy coached the Washington Capitals in 2002-03. Prior to serving as Bruins Assistant Coach this season, Cassidy was bench boss for the Bruins’ AHL-affiliate Providence Bruins for the last five seasons.
Bruce Cassidy clearly knows the ins and outs of the Bruins’ philosophy and what the organization expects. Getting acclimated isn’t the problem with the Bruins. Sweeney and Co. feel that the Bruins are under-performing, and that Cassidy will provide a fresh perspective and regeneration for the squad who has just 27 games remaining in the season.
But this story is not an unfamiliar one this season. He is the fourth coach this season to be canned, succeeded by the Panthers’ Gerard Gallant, the Islanders’ Jack Capuano, and the Blues’ Ken Hitchcock. Gallant was let go despite the Panthers’ having an above-.500 record at the time. The Cats hover just above .500 since Gallant was fired in late November 2016. A difference of philosophy was cited as the main reason for the Panthers going in a separate direction, naming Tom Rowe as interim coach.
Last month, Jack Capuano was canned despite glaring on-ice issues. While interim Head Coach Doug Weight led the Isles to an impressive six-game point streak since taking over, the Isles went 1-1-1, giving up five goals in each of the last three matchups. Isles’ GM Garth Snow mentioned that “Cappy” wasn’t in the future plans of the squad.
Last week, St. Louis Blues’ General Manager Doug Armstrong fired his “best friend,” Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock’s firing is peculiar, as he expressed before the season’s start that this would likely be his last. I doubt he imagined this is how he would go out. For the Blues, it was pretty clear what was going on: goaltending problems plagued the Blues as Jake Allen struggled to find his game. Allen was yanked from the crease on three separate occasions in the month of January, and four times in a span of just six games starts. Armstrong also let go of goaltending coach, Jim Corsi. That makes way more sense than letting go of Hitchcock. Former Minnesota Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo was named bench boss after serving as the Blues’ assistant coach under Hitchcock’s tutelage.
Like most cases, the firing of a head coach gives off the appearance that the organization is taking steps to improve. Far less often is this actually the case. The Panthers have been struggling with injuries from the get-go, missing important players such as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. The Panthers also suffer from a lack of blue-line brass aside from Keith Yandle and Aaron Eckblad. The Islanders’ goaltending situation wasn’t ironed out until December, and their inconsistent scoring spurts and lack of some top-four defensive depth continue to plague them. The Blues, as previously alluded to, struggled with Jake Allen.
For the Boston Bruins, an aging squad is at issue. Sure, they have some young guns such as David Pastrnak. But, their core is on the wrong side of 30, save for the controversial, Brad Marchand, who is 28. Zdeno Chara is almost on the wrong side of 40. He certainly isn’t Jaromir Jagr, and it has been showing for a couple of seasons already. While Tuuka Rask is still 29 and reliable, the rest of the squad is only getting older.
Sweeney’s words Tuesday afternoon were ultimately revealing. Sweeney explained that he is “committed” to draft, and while he would explore trade deadline options, he’s not ready to give up anything significant for a short-term fix. In other words, Sweeney is looking to build on his depth from within, starting at the prospects he drafted and working their way up into the Bruins’ roster.
I suppose this is simply the nature of the business. Coaches know full-well that their shelf-life in professional sports is limited. This is especially so in today’s social media-run society, where it’s not even “what have you done for me lately?” anymore; now it’s “what are you doing for me right now?” Regardless, four talented coaches now find themselves unemployed.
Out of the four coaches to lose their positions this season so far, Claude Julien will be most likely to find a coaching position of his desire. I don’t think Ken Hitchcock will land another coaching job, keeping true to his off-season wishes. Las Vegas has still yet to name a head coach, but I doubt any of the four I mentioned would be willing to work with a team knowing the first few years will not see much success. Then again, Capuano could be prime for that position, knowing full-well how difficult it is to lead a team from the bottom of the standings into the playoffs. Capuano could also be a good fit for Boston, a New-England connection, as he is from Rhode Island.
Meanwhile, whereas four coaches have been fired thus far, New York Rangers’ Head Coach Alain Vigneault recently signed an extension with the club. “AV” showed Tuesday evening why General Manager Jeff Gorton made the right decision by earning his 600th NHL win. Vigneault is the second-fastest coach to hit the milestone, behind only Scotty Bowman. Also with the win, Blueshirts’ netminder Henrik Lundqvist is now just two shy of the 400-win milestone.
Speaking of milestones, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Captain Sidney Crosby notched an assist in Tuesday’s shootout loss against the Calgary Flames. Crosby is now just two-points shy of 1,000. Crosby-Watch remains in high-gear. Stay tuned!