By Jacob Hevenor ’17
On Feb. 7, the winningest coach in Boston Bruins history was fired.
Despite 450 wins over ten seasons, including the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship, Head Coach Claude Julien was let go after missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, not including the current campaign. At the time of Julien’s firing, the Bruins sat just outside the final playoff spot. The problem was not that Julien was fired. The problem was how it was done.
Just two days before he was fired, the city of Boston reached the pinnacle of sports yet again, thanks to a fifth Lombardi Trophy won by the New England Patriots. Holding to tradition, the Patriots scheduled its victory parade for the first morning after they returned home on Feb. 7, that fateful Tuesday. So, as the Patriots rejoiced in their duck boats, fans from far and wide lined the sidewalks of Boylston Street, the media swamped the stars for interviews, and most television sets in New England were tuned to the parade. It was in that moment that the Bruins made the move.
There is really no justifiable way to explain holding a press conference of that nature at that time. The media was preoccupied, and the fans were still in a state of distracted bliss. The only possible explanation, and therefore the most likely reason, is that the Bruins front office was scared–scared of having to face the consequences of horrific roster management since its last Cup Finals appearance. The Bruins were scared to acknowledge the awful player development that has depleted the team of young talent and too scared to admit that the team failed to capitalize on a strong core of players in the prime of their careers. Bruins President Cam Neely and GM Don Sweeney made the announcement as discreetly as possible to avoid the bad press, and that is soft.
When Julien was not fired despite missing the playoffs last season, many speculated that Sweeney kept him around as an insurance policy; he could be the scapegoat if things went wrong again.
Now, Sweeney has disposed of his last line of defense. Any subsequent failure falls squarely on his incapable shoulders, which is right where previous failures should have fallen. What can a coach do when management trades away top defensemen and does not replace them? What can a coach do when the forwards are aging and old-fashioned, but management cannot rejuvenate the group with quick modern skill players?
On Feb. 14, just a week later, Julien was named Head Coach of the Bruins’ greatest rival, the Montréal Canadiens. Montréal hired Julien immediately after dismissing Head Coach Michel Therrien, who was fired despite setting the Canadiens up to make the playoffs.
Maybe your rival firing a capable coach just to hire yours should be a sign that Julien wasn’t the problem. Neely and Sweeney are certainly nervous, and they have every reason to be.