And you wanted to fire the guy.
OK, so you were not alone.
It’s been some nine years now, a period over which any professional sports coach or manager would have to garner more than his fair share of grief from at least some segment of a critical fan base and media corps. Thus, the fact that Claude Julien is still here, as head coach of the Boston Bruins, almost a decade after we all expected him to be just another name in a long line of also-rans, is by itself a worthy achievement.
The fact that he’s now, officially, the winningest head coach in Boston Bruins history and has to celebrate the milestone by dodging the bullets of those who still want to see someone else standing behind the bench, speaks to either his underrated expertise or our ignorance of just how damned good he really happens to be.
Monday’s tense, 5-4 overtime win over the Florida Panthers was Julien’s 388th win with the Bruins, thrusting him ahead of Art Ross (1924-’34, ‘36-’39, and ‘41-’45) as the winningest coach (regular season) in franchise history. His .563 winning percentage is second only to Don Cherry (1974-79, .578) and closing in quickly. He’s one of only six coaches to ever claim the Stanley Cup for Boston.
Julien very well may walk away from this season with his second Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
“I think everyone wants to go on the ice and leave everything out there for Claude and it’s all in his honor,’’ Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “It’s one of those things where he does the right things and he says the right things at all times and makes us better players.’’
All told, it’s not too shabby for a guy whom some encouraged to rent with the shortest lease he could manage when he was introduced as Bruins head coach on June 21, 2007. Julien is the 27th head coach in Bruins history, but Boston hired him as its 10th head coach since Mike Milbury in 1991; its sixth in seven years since Pat Burns was let go.
Dave Lewis (35-41-6) lasted all of 82 games. Mike Sullivan, the guy former general manager Mike O’Connell and the Bruins had been grooming for long-term success at the helm, was 70-79-15 over two lackluster seasons. Local boy Robbie Ftorek (76-65-14) never really meshed with the haphazard roster he was given to compete with, and Mike Keenan….oh, boy.
Julien had plenty of incompetence preceding him in the Bruins’ head coaching position. For him to surpass the expectations fans had for him upon his arrival and become the all-time wins leader with a Stanley Cup and a President’s Trophy (T-shirts still on sale) were laughable proposals back in 2007, a point when Boston could “only’’ claim four world championships (three Patriots, one Red Sox) over the decade of dominance.
To be completely honest, Julien’s hiring was seen as a joke by the Bruins back then, particularly after a handful of seasons of complete buffoonery led by the Jacobs family, widely viewed as the group that would never come through in Boston sports. This was, after all, a guy the New Jersey Devils thought so much of the previous season that they fired him with three regular-season games remaining. The Montreal Canadiens had fired him after 41 games the previous season, over which he had led the Habs to a 19-16-6 record.
Today he’s the best coach the Bruins have ever had.
You probably still want to see him go, don’t you?
“The thing that comes to mind is humbling,’’ Julien said when he tied Ross for the record last week with a win over the Chicago Blackhawks. “The fact that I’ve avoided being fired for the last nine years helped [me] get that many wins here.’’
Julien, who is now 388-215-85 with the Bruins, is the longest-tenured head coach in the NHL. He’s the second-longest among the local hierarchy, outlasted only by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, seven years his senior on the local job.
“He’s one of those guys that always puts the team first, but it’s well-deserved,’’ Bergeron said.
That he outlasted the man who hired him, Peter Chiarelli, probably wasn’t part of the former general manager’s plan for Julien, we can imagine. But the reason why Julien may be in line for the Jack Adams this season is his underrated ability to make adjustments to his coaching style. We all thought, he was likely a goner last spring, when the Bruins said goodbye to Chiarelli after years of sinking them into salary cap nightmares, and restructured a front office that kept Julien waiting on news whether or not he still had a head coaching gig. And while the 2015-16 season hasn’t exactly been a smooth transition, Julien still has the 37-23-7 Bruins tied for second place in the Atlantic Division, only one point in back of the Tampa Bay Lightning, their opponent on Tuesday night whom they could leapfrog in the standings with a victory.
You know how many teams have more wins than the Boston Bruins this season? Six (Washington, Tampa Bay, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, and Chicago Blackhawks). They could very well be the Eastern Conference’s second-seeded playoff team, one year after failing to make the postseason for only the second time under Julien’s watch. The reality was that it wasn’t supposed to be rectified the following season.
Yet, here is where Julien has these Bruins, for all their faults and weaknesses.
Certainly, Claude has a host of maddening traits and maneuvers that tend to drive Bruins fans nuts. But he’s also the best you’ve seen behind the Bruins bench.
The next guy can wait. A long while as far as we should be concerned.
When they tore down the old Boston Garden