On Claude Julien

It would be disingenuous to call Claude Julien losing his job polarizing. For all intents and purposes, Bruins fans, players [Marchand], coaches from around the league [Babcock], journalists and bloggers have condemned the move. There is a vocal minority that have been calling for his head for the better part of a decade, and not without some justification. A devastating upset at the hands of Carolina; blowing a lead 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia, which was capped off by blowing a 3-0 lead in game 7; being beaten by two inferior teams in 2012 and 2014, the latter after winning the presidents trophy; and finally, missing the playoffs in two straight seasons are some of the unforgivable sins of Claude Julien. Of course, he also brought the Bruins to relevancy again for the better part of a decade, delivering some of the best regular season and playoff hockey the city had seen since the 1970s. A free agent wasteland, a perennial mediocre team, a burgeoning joke of a franchise was turned around by a combination of two massive signings [Savard, Chara] and, a little less than a year later, by the arrival of Julien. Most can look past his failures and see how successful he was in Boston. So could the front office, for a time.

The NHL is cutthroat. Even a single season delivering less than expected of you is enough to lose your job. By these standards, its not surprising Julien was let go; only disappointing. Even when results are out of the control of coaches, they receive the credit and the blame. If one thinks that the cup win and the other trip to the Stanley Cup Final were a product of the personnel handed to him, rather than his coaching, its only intellectually honest to recognize that you must say the same of his failures. A coach can only do so much, night to night. Julien provided a system for the players to work in that produced great shot differentials and, most years, a strong goal differential. He gave them a chance to win. This year, his backup goaltenders did not return the favour. For the last two months, neither did his starting goalies. Julien was also victim of one of the lowest shooting percentages in the league. Maybe some of that was on the system, or shooting talent, but nobody could reasonably expect them to be this bad. That’s not to say the roster wasn’t talented enough, either. Some of the biggest weapons Julien had were shooting worse than their career percentages; Krug, Bergeron, Marchand, Beleskey, and Backes are not a lack of talent, by any stretch of imagination.

We’re left with a question of who to blame. Julien, the players and the front office- because of their poor drafting and questionable at best personnel moves- all share some of that blame. But the main culprit in Julien’s fate was simply luck. That same luck was beginning to turn: the Bruins were scoring more goals at the very end of Julien’s tenure. Unfortunately, it perfectly coincided with a downturn in goaltending. It covered up the fact that their results were beginning to normalize. Even the goaltending results were semi-luck driven. Even if the backups were truly bad, they couldn’t possibly be as bad as their results suggested, much the same as the Bruins goal scoring. There is no room for luck in business. Owners demand answers that are more than the numbers will regress towards the mean, even if it is fundamentally true. In the business world, and even in the general sense, people are uncomfortable with attributing events to random variance. The news will attribute statistically insignificant swings in the stock market to unrelated events, people will convince themselves that the money they made was a result of anything other than the circumstances they were born into, and coaches will get fired because not enough pucks bounced their way.

Now Bruins fans are left wondering what happens next. If you believe some of the more dramatic personalities, firing Julien is the equivalent of Hector putting on the armor of Achilles: ultimately dooming himself and the city of Troy. Maybe there is no escaping fate now. Maybe the Bruins are destined to begin their slide into mediocrity, if they’re not already there, starting this very minute. Maybe, but probably not. The farm system is looking to be the strongest it has been in decades. And in the short term, maybe the luck turns for the new coach, Cassidy. A coach can’t do much more than provide his players with a chance to win every night, which Julien did. Firing him might not signal the end of the Bruins, but it does represent another misstep by the Bruins front office. That front office will soon realise the meaning of death by a thousand cuts. One thing Bruins fans can be sure of is that wherever Julien ends up, success is soon to follow.






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