By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Correspondent
In a move that most Bruins fans will love but a not so silent minority will loathe, the B’s are rumored to have extended head coach Claude Julien’s contract by 3 years. The extension – if the rumors first reported by Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet on Saturday night are true – seems to align with the terms as far as number of years of the contract of general manager Peter Chiarelli, who signed an extension that keeps him calling the shots for the Bruins through the 2017-18 season prior to the start of play last year.
Love him or hate him, Claude and his system are here to stay for the foreseeable future. The defensive minded B’s bench boss ranks second in team history – behind the legendary Art Ross – in wins with 317 and has made it to the playoffs each of his previous 7 years with the club.
For those fans who would like to see more offense and less back-checking from the Bruins forwards, this is bad news. Julien – who seemingly has an allergic reaction to natural goal scorers – has had the likes of Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel – who rank tied for 3rd and tied for 5th respectively in the league in scoring this season – expelled from Boston due in large part to the fact that they did not buy into the coach’s defensive minded system.
It can be maddening to some (even those in the organization like team president Cam Neely, who once said during an interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger & Mazz show when his team was underperforming offensively a couple years ago that you “can’t win games 0-0”) who look at the team’s lack of production at times and point to the fact that there is no go-to guy when the teams is struggling to score goals.
There are even those who claim (Ok, me) that nothing would make Claude happier than having 12 Chris Kelly’s up front on offense. Imagine how many scoreless ties you would get by having a whole host of face-off winning forwards that score goals once in a blue moon, but can back-check with the best of them.
There is no doubt that Julien’s system works in the regular season. He has only had one losing season – that coming when he took over a bad Montreal Canadiens team from their current head coach Michel Therrien in ‘03/04 – and he has made the playoffs in 8 of his previous 11 seasons.
The only real blemish on the coach’s resume came when he was curiously canned by the New Jersey Devils – or namely GM Lou Lamoriello – after leading his team to 47 wins and 102 points prior to the playoffs in 2007. In an ESPN report following Julien’s firing Lamoriello said, “I don’t think we’re at a point of being ready both mentally and [physically] to play the way that is necessary going into the playoffs.”
That was a black spot that remained with the coach until the Bruins won it all in 2011 with the help of an otherworldly performance by then goaltender, Tim Thomas.
But as successful as his system is in the long, meat grinder of an NHL schedule during the regular season, it can be a detriment in the playoffs when his group of average to below average goal scoring forwards go cold.
Case in point was last year’s early departure against the hated Habs in 7 games in the second round of the playoffs. While the Bruins were grinding their sticks into saw dust and missing open nets at an alarming rate (Hello, Messrs Lucic and Marchand), the Canadiens – led by public enemy #1 in Boston, P.K. Subban – took the series with their speed and timely scoring.
Just two years before – when the Bruins came within 1 minute and 16 seconds away from playing in game 7 of Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks when ironically a defensive breakdown led to 2 late goals to seal the series victory for the Hawks – their inability to put the puck in the net in crunch time cost them a chance to win two titles in the span of three years.
By signing his head coach to an extension matching his, Chiarelli has cemented the system that both the coach and general manager have in place. Much like the way he signs “his” players to early extensions and thereby established a “core” that will dictate the direction of the team for the foreseeable future, the B’s GM has declared with his actions that Julien’s defensive system will serve as the bedrock on which the team is built for at least the next few years.
That means you can expect that the Bruins will continue to be strong regular season performers, but it also means that the “those who do not back-check first, need not apply” sign remains hanging in Julien’s office and promising young forwards with offensive skill like the baby B’s Ryan Spooner, will remain permanently housed in the head coach’s doghouse.
Unless or until Julien is willing to take the good with the bad from talented forwards like their latest draft pick David Pastrnak – who is lighting it up in the AHL to the tune of 9 points in 7 games – the Bruins Achilles heel with continue to be the lack of an elite goal scorer.
After all, it is tough to score goals consistently when your first assignment is to clear the puck from behind your own net.
Kevin Flanagan can be reached at Bsdkevinflanagan@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMFlanagan.