Amid the excitement in Boston over the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory, the Bruins stole the spotlight in the NHL news by firing Stanley-Cup-winning Head Coach Claude Julien last Tuesday. Prior to being relieved of his coaching duties, Julien was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, spending 10 seasons with the Bruins.
For the top-possession team in the league that seemed ready to make a decent case for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division this season, the decision seemed abrupt and unnecessary, especially given Julien’s record; the Bruins have made the playoffs seven out of nine seasons under his command. Unfortunately, the two seasons that they were forced to sit out have been the most recent, lining Julien up as the next to fall in a frustrated Bruins organization.
It is tough to accept for many Bruins fans, but Julien has become both a scapegoat and a spark for a team that boasts playoff potential and very little recent success to show for it.
Often when an NHL team fires its head coach — which has happened four times already this season — it is meant to be a wake-up call to players who the team’s administration believes are not playing to their potential. St. Louis Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock was fired earlier this year for similar reasons — being at the helm of a team that should be an unquestioned playoff contender, and yet struggling to stay in the playoff picture.
The Bruins hope firing Julien acts as a short-term spark for the team. It is also possible that the Bruins management simply wanted to send the message to its fans that mediocre play is unacceptable. Fans who are used to dominant seasons and viable opportunities at playoff success have been voicing their discontent for the past two seasons, and perhaps this is the Bruins’ answer.
Whether it was a misguided decision, the Bruins seem to have woken up. Interim Head Coach Bruce Cassidy had a strong start this past Thursday, defeating the formidable San Jose Sharks 6-3. After the win, Bruins player David Pastrnak explained, “We wanted to get the win for Bruce, the first win, so I think we all came a little bit more energized and we did a good job as a team.”
Cassidy followed that victory up with a 4-3 win over Vanouver on Saturday and closed out the week with a 4-0 shutout of archrival Montreal, which currently sits at the top of the Atlantic Division. The contrast of a team with newfound purpose and energy, against a team who has been leading for so long that they seem to have lost their focus, was extremely apparent during this game.
Only time will tell whether that justifies the firing of Julien, but in the short term, Cassidy sports a perfect 3-0 record as head coach of the Bruins.
Julien has little to worry about. With a reputation as one of the league’s best coaches, and the understanding that his coaching ability was not necessarily the reason he was fired, he may welcome multiple job options this coming summer.
The Vegas Golden Knights may make him an offer if he does not prove to be too expensive for their new team, as may the New York Islanders or the Florida Panthers, which both fired their head coaches this season. If not, struggling teams like the Dallas Stars, Buffalo Sabres and Colorado Avalanche may also be looking for a change — and it seems like Julien is the hottest free agent on the market.