The Bruins' decision to extend coach Claude Julien's contract has made one important thing clear: Julien finally has earned the faith and security he was deprived of earlier in his coaching career in Montreal, New Jersey and even at times in Boston.
By learning to adapt his coaching style to new and different ideas from both management and players over his first five years as Bruins coach, Julien now has a Stanley Cup ring, is the fifth-longest tenured head coach in the NHL and will be the bench boss in Boston for the foreseeable future.
“Over his tenure here he’s shown the ability to adapt,” Chiarelli said Tuesday. “He has a very, very disciplined team -- and that’s again a testament to his coaching. Yet at the same time, his team is a very tough team and that’s a very difficult balance to maintain, and he’s been able to do that with success.”
Chiarelli went on to make it clear that just as he intends to keep the core of the 2011 Stanley Cup champions together, he intends to keep Julien as the coach that will hopefully lead them to the promised land once again.
“When we made the commitment to try and keep the core of this team together following our Cup win, we embarked on signing some key players before free agency. We feel that we’ve come a long way to keeping this critical mass together for this team because I believe it’s a strong team and will continue to be a strong team,” the Bruins GM said Tuesday. “One of the core components of this -- of this critical mass -- is sitting beside me in our coach, Claude Julien, and we’re happy to announce his extension today.”
Julien wasn’t always considered part of his team’s core.
As the saying goes, when a team hits hard times, you can’t fire the team so you fire the coach. That’s how it went for Julien twice already, once with Montreal in 2006 and then a year later in New Jersey -- despite his team being second in the Eastern Conference with 102 points and just a week left in the regular season. After taking over as Bruins coach in June 2007, Julien led Boston to three consecutive playoff berths, including two Eastern Conference semifinals, with the Bruins losing Game 7 in each series.
That second loss was the conclusion of an epic collapse in which the Bruins blew a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 to lose to the Flyers. Once again, the media and fans were calling for Julien’s head. Chiarelli and team president Cam Neely, however, stuck with the bench boss who had pulled their team back into relevance, and it paid off with a Stanley Cup the following June.
On Tuesday, Chiarelli pointed to Julien’s ability to implement advice from Chiarelli and Neely into his system the following season as a key catalyst to the Cup win.
“A couple years ago we asked him ... we needed more team speed,” Chiarelli recalled. “Sometimes it’s hard to just go out and get team speed as a manager, and he changed his neutral-zone breakout. We had more team speed and that helped us jump-start into winning the Cup.”
Bruins veteran winger Shawn Thornton agreed with his GM and pointed to that Cup run -- specifically the Eastern Conference finals and the Stanley Cup finals -- as a prime example of Julien’s ability to feel the pulse of his team and make the right moves at the right time. With Patrice Bergeron out for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, Julien inserted seldom-used but talented rookie Tyler Seguin into the lineup and Seguin delivered with six points in two games, including two goals and two assists in Game 2, helping his team tie the series at one.
“[Seguin] had to sit out a bunch of games and people kept asking why, but when he came in, he delivered for a few games and then Claude wasn’t afraid to go back to what he felt was best for the team at that time," Thornton told ESPNBoston.com on Tuesday
Thornton also pointed to Julien’s keen sense of when a player needs a good old-fashioned kick in the behind and when encouragement works best.
“He definitely has a good feel for the players,” Thornton said. “He knows when tough love is needed and when you need a heart-to-heart. He’s really good at reading situations. He knows when guys can get going and when guys need a rest and knows when some guys can give that little bit extra. His system has proven that it can win and everyone likes playing for him. So it’s a great fit.”