The oldest trick in the book...the Tuesday morning news dump? The Bruins announced the firing of head coach Claude Julien shortly after sunrise, and while the move isn’t exactly unexpected (whether it’s wise is an entirely different question), the timing is suspect. Boston hasn’t played a game since Saturday and won’t play again until Thursday. So why today, why now? If I wanted to be cynical I’d note that sports fans across New England are paying more attention to the Patriots’ championship parade, which will be going on right as the Bruins’ front office holds its press conference to announce the coaching switch.
It’s been a struggle of a season for the Bruins, who are 26-23-6 and one point out of a wild card. They racked up some pretty brutal losses last month, each one making this firing feel more inevitable. But none of this is a surprise, and very little if any should be considered Julien’s fault were supposed to be this year. A top-heavy talented team with a ton of holes, the Bruins are fighting for a playoff spot, which was exactly where they were supposed to be this year.
Julien’s had a lot of success in Boston. Fired midway through his 10th season, he was the NHL’s longest-tenured head coach, and has seven postseason appearances, a Stanley Cup, another Finals appearance, and a Presidents’ Trophy to show for his work. Julien will be out of work for exactly as long as he wants to be, and not a day longer; I can think of about 20 teams that should be calling his agent right now.
The Bruins’ downturn is the front office’s doing, not Julien’s. This is a transition period, as Boston restocks and gets younger and faster, but it’s far from seamless. Executives Cam Neely and Don Sweeney tanked a bunch of drafts while the Bruins were winning, and have tried to fill those holes with some questionable signings. The last few drafts have been better, and reinforcements are on the way, but they’re unlikely to be serious contributors for another couple of seasons. They’ll be desperately needed if Boston is to avoid true, enduring mediocrity: the Bruins have near 50 percent of their salary cap tied up in just five players (Rask, Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Backes) and all five are signed for at least four more years. It’s possible Julien is getting out at tjust the right time.
Taking over behind the bench will be assistant coach Bruce Cassidy, and wow, that’s a name I haven’t heard in years. Cassidy spent the last few years coaching in the AHL, but his biggest accomplishment may have been his year-plus as Washington’s head coach, when he got fired 25 games into the season in which the Caps finished with the league’s worst record and earned the right to draft Alex Ovechkin.
Japers’ Rink recalls another classic Cassidy moment.
Cassidy’s had big success in his career coaching in the minors, and with the Bruins’ youth movement rapidly approaching, maybe he’s the man for this job. But the real winners today may very well be Julien, and whoever hires him next.