In a season full of head scratchers and frustrations the Bruins have avoided the most obvious scenario that faces every struggling NHL team in the history of the league. That is, firing the head coach.
It’s always been a formality for the failing. A team doesn’t meet expectations, the cliché “but you can’t fire all 20 players” kicks in, so the coach is out. That’s how it works. But does that apply to this version of the Bruins?
On paper it does. The B’s are speeding in the easy pass lane on their way to missing the playoffs for the third straight year with the same coach driving the bus. And GM Don Sweeney is aware firing Julien is being talked about. In a recent interview in the Boston Globe Sweeney stated, “I’m not avoiding the question. I think it’s an obvious one. You have to look at every different thing.”
Some of Julien’s recent baffling moves won’t help his case to stay. He healthy scratched Frank Vatrano on the first night he was specifically available to return to a scoring starved team. Sunday he healthy scratched Colin Miller, who is hitting his developmental stride, in favor of an aging vet coming off another concussion. Not to mention in that same Sunday game the Bruins needed goals Dominic Moore (whom I love) gets nearly double the 5v5 ice time of Vatrano. And it took Julien months to get David Pastrnak a regular power play shift. He always seems to defer to veterans, deserving or not, when making personnel decisions.
But with the heat rising in Julien’s office, and his obvious replacement in Bruce Cassidy standing next to him on the bench every night, the Bruins recently took 3 of 4 points on the road in back-to-back nights. It wouldn’t shock me one bit if the B’s came out flying tonight against the St. Louis Blues either. Claude always seems to find a way to avoid getting chased out of town. And why he’s still here comes down to one reason.
The Bruins are built to be the exact average team everyone expected they’d be. Whether it’s Scotty Bowman or Joel Quennville behind that B’s bench they’re a bubble playoff team. They still haven’t replenished their blue line since shipping Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton out of town. They don’t have a Tyler Seguin as a weapon anymore. And even his 30-goal scoring replacement in Loui Eriksson is gone as well. They’re average.
It doesn’t excuse some of Julien’s moves but the ingredients he’s cooking with are what they are. Although solid defensively sound players one can’t expect Tim Schaller, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash, Jimmy Hayes, Dominic Moore, and Austin Czarnik to be 20-25 goal scorers. Hell, the six of them have combined for 23 goals. I’m not sure how long the excuse will last but the roster Julien has been given is the only thing saving his job.
Sweeney knows it too. It’s why their in Gabriel Landeskog trade rumors. In the same Globe interview I previously mentioned Sweeney stated, “You can look at shooting percentages and say, ‘Well, eventually it’s going to come along.’ It doesn’t come around if you miss the net. The amount of times that we do, I think, is a real problem. We have a tendency, even in quality chances, whether that’s picking corners or not making the goaltender make the save and creating a rebound as a result. Getting to the rebounds, that’s another one I’d like to question. We don’t give ourselves a chance on either side of it. You miss the net, you don’t give yourself a chance at a rebound. We get a rebound, do we have the conviction to go in there and get them?”.
I’m not sure how all of this eventually plays out. You have a coach leading a team out of the playoffs. You have average or below scoring ability filling out the roster. And you have bunch of fantastic prospects still a year or two away from helping you out. Yet, they’re exactly where they should be. So is the coach really failing? Because if you thought the B’s would be safely planted in the playoff race you’re lying.
How many lives does Claude Julien have left before he’s sent packing?