Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli’s general passivity this summer need not be immune to skepticism. A shortage of a more impactful roster move can be taken for one of the ways he does not always deal the easiest hand to his head coach, Claude Julien.
Outside forces have not had consistent mercy, either, in Julien’s first five years behind the Boston bench. Perhaps the starkest examples have been his first and third years in 2007-08 and 2009-10, when key and/or multiple injuries led to the fanbase waiting until the penultimate game of the regular season to rest assured with their team’s playoff berth.
With that said, for all of the times the Bruins have bent, with the obvious exception of four eventual playoff defeats, they have not broken on Julien’s watch.
The persistence and resiliency Julien has instilled has been rewarded in the form of a Jack Adams Award in 2009, a Stanley Cup in 2011 and, most recently, a contract extension this summer.
Going a tad deeper than trophy cases, documents and stat sheets, here are four ways in which Julien, as opposed to his 29 peers, has made the most impressive use of his allotment in Boston.
Until they spring for an established sizzler or until Tyler Seguin fully blossoms into one, the Bruins offense is comprised of, at best, average or barely above-average scorers.
That said, just as the monster from Frankenstein was a formidable creature comprised of pieces of once-living average people, Julien has fostered a Franken-offense. Despite having no one crack the 30-goal or 70-point range, last year’s Boston team tied Philadelphia for the second-largest offensive output in the league with 3.17 goals per game.
Whereas most contenders are characterized, in part, by their power-play proficiency, Julien has managed to help the Bruins subsist through special teams’ hardship by making them one of the NHL’s top full-strength forces.
The team was third-best in five-on-five last year with a 1.32 rate and led the league in that category in both 2008-09 and 2010-11 at 1.42 and 1.40, respectively. They posted a 1.62 five-on-five rating, second only to the Stanley Cup finalist Red Wings in the 2009 postseason and a league-best 1.82 en route to a playoff title in 2011.
Granted, there are times when they sorely miss prolific playmaker and power-play specialist Marc Savard, and more can and should be done to shore up their extra-man output.
Even so, the way Julien gets Boston to extract goals when they are not at an advantage is one of the reasons why their three division titles in four years have been no accident.
Sure, it helps to have a blueliner like a fully-bloomed, Norris-caliber Zdeno Chara at one’s disposal. But remember that Julien’s immediate predecessor, Dave Lewis, used Chara in a way that made the new captain’s first year in Boston an absurd anomaly and the new coach’s first year in Boston his last.
In 2006-07, Chara was mollified by the Lewis-issued workload to a point where he regressed to his New York Islander days, ultimately accruing a minus-21 rating.
Under Julien, the towering Slovak rebounded the next year to a plus-14 and has more recently matched his uniform digits with back-to-back plus-33 seasons.
Furthermore, this past year, Chara was on a team that finished sixth in defense and was in the company of four teammates as the league’s five individual plus-minus leaders. He was the league leader in 2010-11 while fellow Bruins Adam McQuaid, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic placed eighth, ninth and 11th, respectively.
In addition, Boston placed second in NHL team defense in both 2009-10 and 2010-11 and were first in that category in 2008-09. Furthermore, in each of those three seasons, either Tim Thomas or Tuukka Rask topped all other goaltenders in both goals-against average and save percentage.
Half of the NHL’s 30 coaches have faced elimination from the playoffs at least once with their current team. Of those 15 active coach-team combinations, seven have a .500 record or better in that scenario.
Through five seasons and postseasons, Julien’s Bruins are 9-4 when they must win to extend their season for a .692 winning percentage. Only Tampa Bay’s Guy Boucher and New Jersey’s Peter DeBoer, who have each been on only one playoff run, can claim a better success rate at staving off handshakes with identical 4-1 records and .800 winning percentages.
In addition, when you combine his Boston transcript with his previous records from Montreal and New Jersey, Julien is 12-5 in his NHL coaching career when his team has no more losses to spare.