Why Claude Julien Is the Perfect Coach for the Boston Bruins
Claude Julien is now strongly identified as one of the greatest Bruins coaches of all time.
With 268 wins behind the bench for the Bruins, he is second to only Art Ross (361), having passed Bruins legends Don Cherry (231) and Milt Schmidt (245) in the last year.
Julien has coached the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in two of the past three years, winning the Cup in 2011 before losing last June to the Chicago Blackhawks.
However, he is now firmly entrenched in Boston and is the perfect coach for the Bruins.
The Boston Bruins have an identity around the NHL, one that goes far beyond their long-time reputation for being a rough-and-tumble team that is more than happy to drop the gloves with any opponent that has the guts to challenge them.
Claude Julien has given the Bruins an identity as a strong defensive team. He makes sure each player is fully responsible defensively and lets it be known that careless play is simply not accepted.
The Bruins play the kind of layered defense that makes it difficult to score against them because this is the way Julien teaches the game and has throughout his seven seasons in Boston.
He has a very sharp eye in practice and corrects mistakes immediately. It helps that he has responsible leadership coming from defenseman Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron, but the Bruins have learned the system Julien has envisioned and taught.
Handle on Personnel
Claude Julien seems to have an uncanny handle on his team's personnel.
When it comes to line combinations, defensive pairings or choosing which goaltender plays or sits out, Julien seems to have an innate ability to make the right choice with his personnel.
Perhaps the best move he ever made came in the opening round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins met up with the archrival Montreal Canadiens, and while the Bruins had home-ice advantage, the Canadiens won the first two games of the series in Boston.
Prior to the third game, Julien decided to pair Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg and play them together in as many crucial situations as possible.
This strategy seemed risky because the other defensive pairs were apparently weakened, but it turned out be instrumental in turning the series in Boston's favor. The Bruins had their "shutdown pair," and they went on to win the series in seven games.
The Bruins went on from there to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
If Julien had not made the move, the Bruins would likely have dropped the series to the Canadiens, perhaps in four or five games.
Matching Up with Opponents
Claude Julien knows how to play the matchup game better than most.
All coaches want to deploy their personnel against certain opposing players so their team gets an edge. Julien seems to be better than most at executing in these situations. The Bruins are rarely in a situation where their players are getting overwhelmed by their opponent's fastest or strongest players.
All coaches study tape, but Julien seems to get more out of it than most when looking for matchups.
Prior to last year's Eastern Conference Final matchup with the Penguins, Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged that Julien does well in that area.
“There are certainly matchups in this game. When and how they are going to matchup their defense in Chara against our guys and there's a Seidenberg matchup that we'll have in this game that we'll see play out,” Bylsma told CSNNE.com's Joe Haggerty. “More for their team, and the way they are coached. It's more about the defense, the matchups they try to get in the game. They work really hard at it. They are good at it."
Claude Julien speaks openly and honestly with his players.
He looks them in the eye and tells them what he thinks. He is not an autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway kind of coach who makes his players fear him.
"I'm speaking from a player's perspective, there's no gray area and that's important as a player to know where your coach is coming from," team president Cam Neely told Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com. "That's key from a player's perspective."
Julien simply wants his players to know what he expects of them and what he thinks of them.
"I really think it's about communication," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli told McDonald. "[Julien] is a good communicator. He's a modest guy but a good communicator with strong leadership character traits."
Claude Julien does not go on a rampage when the Bruins lose a big game or get blown out.
Similarly, he does not put on a lamp shade or start doling out compliments when his team wins a big game or there are some excellent individual performances.
Julien does not operate that way. He knows that the most important game is the next game. His job is to get his team prepared as best he can.
He will address past performance based on the way it will impact his team or his players for the next game. He doesn't dwell on the past.
Julien has excellent perspective and knows how to keep an even keel.
Claude Julien works in a city with a coach who is famous for his non-answers to questions and who seemingly prides himself in keeping knowledge about his team from the press.
Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots rarely gives meaningful answers when he is questioned by the media. Belichick, one of the most successful coaches in the NFL, has spawned many clones in his league who prefer to play it close to the vest.
Julien and Belichick may be friends who respect each other, but Julien does not follow Belichick's model when it comes to dealing with the media.
He meets with the media regularly, answers questions as honestly as he can and understands the media's job. He does not resent reporters and generally treats members of the fourth estate with respect.
Why is this important? Because Julien serves as a role model for his players. He treats the media properly and so do his players.
He doesn't waste his time by getting into spats with reporters. His job is to prepare his team, not to get into time-wasting feuds.
Julien understands his priorities and knows that cooperating with the press only leads to better relationships with the fans, who ultimately pay the freight.