Just days after one Stanley Cup winning coach, Ken Hitchcock lost his job, another Stanley Cup winner, Claude Julien, got fired by the Boston Bruins. Hitchcock was going to retire from coaching at the end of the season anyway but it was not the way he wanted to go out. Nor did Julien want to leave the Bruins.
He had been coaching the Bruins for ten years and had become the franchise’s all time leader in coaching wins. In 2011, he finally got the Bruins over the hump and won the team’s first Stanley Cup since the Bobby Orr-Phil Esposito years of 1970-72, a drought of 39 years. He would also bring the Bruins back to the Final in 2013 which they lost after a tough struggle to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Julien seems to have lost the favor of Bruins management, President Cam Neely, and General Manager Don Sweeney long ago. There have been rumors of his firing for the past few years after the Bruins began to slip from the top ranks. The last straw for Sweeney and Neely was a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice, a team that Julien’s teams used to beat easily and regularly with different personnel, in the same manner as the crushing defeat of Toronto (the Leafs blew a three goal lead in the few minutes of the third period of the seventh game) a few years ago when the two teams last played each other in the playoffs.
The news of the firing has not been taken kindly by either the local press or Bruins fans. They are not likely to forget that Julien finally got the Bruins over the hump that other coaches could not do and ended the long drought since 1972. Or how close he came to victory two years later. One article I read listed all the Bruins players whom Julien once coached when he was winning the Stanley Cup and the current roster of “inferiors” with whom he now tried to find a way to win with.
As with Hitchcock, the coach can win with only the material management supplies him with and the high turnover on the Bruins roster since 2011 shows that Julien was now coaching a much different team. It will be left to his successor, Bruce Cassidy, to see if he can do something with the current Bruins roster.
Julien was once the coach of arch-rival Montreal, the team that has heaped the most humiliations on the Bruins in its history. Using the old cliche philosophy of if you can’t beat them, join them, the Bruins hired the French Canadian, ex-Montreal coach and it paid off in 2011. For once Montreal is now waiting in a longer drought for victory than Boston.
There was particular anger by Bruins fans that the firing was timed to coincide with the victory parade of the New England Patriots. It was almost that the Bruins were trying to usurp and disturb the euphoria of the Super Bowl victory. But whereas the Patriots are still built around Tom Brady and much of the past New England champions, the team that Julien leaves is much different from his championship year.
In firing Julien, Sweeney and Neely now put themselves on the line. If the Bruins do not improve within the next year or two, they will have no one to hide behind. They are already suspect because of the roster changes from the championship year. They better hope that the new coach can get something out of the Bruins and that they make the right draft choice next year.
This is not a good year to be a Bruins fan. Recently the franchise lost one its greatest players, legendary Milt Schmidt. Now the coach with the most victories in team history is gone too. Julien now joins Gerard Gallant (fired Florida coach), and Ralph Krueger (Team Europe coach) as one of the three men who will be most sought after to coach another NHL team next year.