BOSTON, MA -- On a snowy Tuesday morning in Boston, an email arrived from the Bruins public relations department with the heading “Boston Bruins Relieve Claude Julien of Coaching Duties.” The email went on to say that assistant coach Bruce Cassidy will serve as the team’s interim head coach.
The weeks of speculation had finally come to an end.
Was the firing of Julien a surprise? Yes, and no.
Julien, who was hired to coach the Bruins on June 21, 2007, had said in a press conference after practice on January 21 that he intended on remaining with the team throughout the season.
Bruins forward Brad Marchand became a vocal advocate for Julien when he said that firing the coach would not change things and that it was dead issue.
When Boston won, the issue was mute. When the Bruins lost, it was first and foremost on everyone’s mind. Apparently, after a 6-5 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 4, it was on management's’ minds and after a weekend of contemplation, Julien was informed on Tuesday, January 7 that he was, indeed, no longer the head coach of the Boston Bruins.
It was the same day the New England Patriots chose to hold their Super Bowl victory parade through the streets of Boston.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney addressed the media at Warrior Arena, the team’s practice facility in Brighton, Massachusetts.
“Like the weather in New England, I did not necessarily pick this day to take away from a great accomplishment by the New England Patriots, but I had taken a few days to assess where we were at and came to my decision to make a change with regards to Claude (Julien),” Sweeney said. “First of all, I want to thank Claude. I want to acknowledge the level of success that he has achieved as the coach of the Boston Bruins and acknowledge that he’s a great coach, a tremendous person, and he’s meant a lot to our organization and we’re going to wish him nothing but the greatest level of success that he can achieve. He’ll be a great coach at some other organization in a short time. I’m quite positive of that.
“A very, very, difficult morning for me, personally. To be delivering that news and having that conversation with Claude, who was, as always, a true pro about it this morning. I’ve gained a tremendous amount of respect for Claude as a person in working with him over the last couple of years but had come to a conclusion that in moving this group forward, with an eye toward the plan that we had put into place, that I wasn’t ready to commit on a longer-term basis with Claude. I felt that there was a level of frustration with our wins and losses and what he’d be subjected to on a nightly basis.”
Sweeney explained the decision to let Julien go was based on communication and commitment.
“It never rested with a win or a loss. I wasn’t making a decision on how we lost tonight or we won, can we win tomorrow night. It was really a communication level that I could not get past -- the fact that I wasn’t committed in my own mind to sort of go beyond where we are right now with Claude. Where we are as an organization, I don’t know if those two things lined up, but the level of success he’s had, the way we were playing, that the roster wasn’t built and necessarily complete or a finished product -- are we an elite team? No, we’re a very competitive team, which we were last year. We have areas and gaps within our game that exist. Whether that’s strictly personnel related, or whether or not those are some tweaks that we need to make or continue to make, that’s what’s going to unfold here.
“I think the opportunity for Bruce (Cassidy), who I’ve had a working relationship with, to come in and sort of evaluate his job and where our staff is as well as our personnel is important. It’s an important period of time that we can continue to allow to unfold as opposed to waiting until the season’s end and just seeing if we hadn’t done anything, whether or not that would have worked. So, I’m not grasping and realizing that I changed the expectations necessarily in the group. I think I understand that, where our group is at. I think on any given night, we can beat any given team. Whether or not we can maintain the consistency to get to where we need to, that’s going to unfold in the next 27 (games).”
In a subdued dressing room after the club’s first practice under Cassidy, Patrice Bergeron expressed that the players need to be better as a group.
“At the end of the day, it falls back on the players,” Bergeron said. “We’re the ones who are not executing on the ice. We have to realize that this is not going to fix everything. We have to go out there and do the job and be better as a whole. I like our team, I like the way we’re built. I think that we’ve obviously under-achieved. We have to go out there and realize what needs to be changed to be better. You don’t fix everything in one day but you have to move forward and concentrate on our next game Thursday against San Jose and go from there but we also have to realize that, like I said, it’s on us.”
Torey Krug agreed with Bergeron and said it is a side of the business of hockey that no one enjoys.
“Obviously, it’s a wake up call to all the players in here and whatever happens falls on our shoulders,” said Krug, “It’s unfortunate that Claude has to go and hopefully it can wake some of us up in here and we can use it as a positive thing but it’s definitely the toughest part of the business. It’s definitely an emotional day.”
Brad Marchand added that he would not be a member of the Boston Bruins if it weren’t for Julien.
“We have a tremendous amount of respect for him (Julien) in this room and we were fortunate to have him as long as we did,” he said. “I learned a ton from him and I can easily say that I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t be the same player, if he wasn’t my coach for the last number of years. It’s very disappointing and frustrating in here because it’s very avoidable if we would have done our jobs.”
Julien’s resume includes one Stanley Cup, a President’s Trophy, a Jack Adams award, a World Cup of Hockey gold medal, an Olympic gold medal, and World Junior silver and bronze medals, not to mention, he’s the winningest coach in Boston Bruins history with a record of 419-246-94 record and a .614 winning percentage in 759 games with the club.
The Bruins advanced to the playoffs in seven of his nine years behind the Boston bench, and he owns the club career coaching record with 57 postseason wins. Those credentials make it a pretty safe wager that he will not be unemployed for long.
If social media can be an indication, fans are just as frustrated as the players.
The reaction to Julien losing his job was swift and met with anger directed at Sweeney and team president Cam Neely. Now, the success of the team rests squarely on their shoulders.
With Julien gone, they now sit on the hot seats. Sources close to the situation have informed me that should Boston fail to qualify for the postseason for the third consecutive season, Sweeney and Neely will be heading for the unemployment line.
They have 27 games to see their club rise from ninth place in the Eastern Conference into playoff position and possibly seal their fates.
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.