It is somehow hard to envision the hot seat ever cooling off for Boston Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien. Stanley Cup title aside, there are those among the fan base who will still find a way to critique the team’s most successful skipper since at least the middle of the Ray Bourque era, if not longer.
Perhaps that’s just the nature of New England, the home of the original Royal Rooters. The intensity is only a few rungs short of Philadelphia, where people are inclined call in and demand the canning of Charlie Manuel even when he is on the heels of taking the Phillies to back-to-back World Series.
While it may be getting exponentially tough to justify the criticism of Julien, perhaps there is no need to fight it. Julien and his pupils seem to do that well enough on their own, what with two regular-season divisional titles and six playoff series victories within four years.
Not to mention, a long-awaited reunion with Lord Stanley. All of these were unheard of in the Spoked-B circles for the longest time.
One can bet the pricey contents of an entire CCM duffel bag that the censure and success will both continue long after the Bruins begin to defend their title in the coming month. Here are five indications that Julien will not only keep thriving under fire, but cement the Bruins’ perennial relevance in the process.
Look at each of the last four Cup champions and you’ll notice a trend.
Even after Sidney Crosby made his debut in 2005, the basement-bound Penguins were haunted by the specter of relocation. But former on-ice star and current owner Mario Lemieux made an eleventh hour deal for a much-needed new building.
From there, the team continued to build up on young talent. And in a short time, two Prince of Wales Trophies and a Cup have quickly kicked ice chips over the notion that the NHL would ever evaporate from Pittsburgh.
Likewise, there was a time during the 1980s and stretching into the early 1990s when Detroit’s Original Six team was derisively (and aptly) called the Dead Things. But ever since they have had a front office that cares, the Red Wings have consistently convinced their fans that they are living in “Hockeytown, USA.”
Even Chicago is not done chasing Cups with its corps of young talent. Nor is its rejuvenated fan base going to let that Original Six team recede back to irrelevance anytime in the near future.
In a similar vein, the Bruins are not about to step too far down from where they are on the NHL or Boston sports landscape. Not as long as former fan favorite Cam Neely is in the front office, where he has not so coincidentally been since Julien initiated the team’s resurrection.
Post-championship hangover is inevitable and will take a certain toll on the 2011-12 Bruins. It happens to even the model franchises, as evidenced by Pittsburgh and Detroit both sputtering in the second round after meeting in back-to-back Cup Finals.
And it is rather unsettling for Boston fans to remember that, since 2002, five of the last seven defending champions have failed to get past the first round the subsequent year.
Still, the Bruins have the means to minimize their hangover this season, particularly with players like Tuukka Rask and Tyler Seguin bound to bring more energy left over from many playoff benching.
And even if they don’t go particularly far in defense of their title, the foundation is still there for the Bruins to get stronger. In turn, they should forge a delicate balance between experience and energy that every team needs to go deep on a regular basis.
Many wondered if their 2008-09 rise to first place in the Eastern Conference was a fluke, especially when they dropped back to sixth place the following year and didn’t even assure themselves a playoff spot until Game No. 81 of the regular season.
But keep in mind, the 2009-10 Bruins were perpetually tripped up by injuries. So, too, were the Detroit Red Wings of that year.
Both teams, mostly through a combination of sharp young goaltending and resolute coaching and leadership not only defied whispers that they would miss the playoffs, they both made it to the NHL’s Elite Eight.
Between 2009 and 2011, only three NHL teams have progressed beyond the first round of the playoffs three times: The Bruins, Red Wings and Canucks. And Vancouver most recently got past the first round at the expense of the Blackhawks, who were one goal away from winning a playoff series for the third year in a row themselves.
Not bad company to be in.
Over his first three years on the job, Julien’s pupils charged up an acrid 0-3 record in Game 7's. They lost one on the road and two at home, including one in overtime when they were heavily favored to win that series.
As a result, the Causeway Congregants were understandably apprehensive when the upset-minded Montreal Canadiens forced sudden death in the rubber game of the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
But Nathan Horton injected a welcome shot of catharsis as he scored his second overtime goal and the team’s third walk-off strike of the series. Afterwards, the Bruins won two more Game 7's; one at home and one on the road; one to get to the Cup Final and one to win the Cup.
From the moment anyone started taking the Bruins seriously as Stanley Cup contenders, one had to point to the surrounding sports scene as a motivating factor for Peter Chiarelli and Co.
Bill Belichik is about to embark on his 12th year as the New England Patriots head coach. And even with three Super Bowl rings and four AFC titles on his resume, he is tasked with assuaging the region’s fastidious football fans after last year’s startling playoff loss to the New York Jets.
Terry Francona has already won two World Series as the Red Sox manager and hopes to win a third in a span of eight years on the job.
Doc Rivers has been coaching the Celtics since 2004-05 and has led them to two NBA Finals, winning the title in 2007-08.
Only after Julien got acclimated did the Bruins even express the possibility of getting with the program. Now that they have caught up and won a title, they will doubtlessly want more to ensure they maintain the high spot in New England fan’s hearts that they still lacked three short years ago and worked so hard to attain.
Within at least one year of the Celtics winning their latest title, which came right after the Sox won their last World Series and the Patriots just missed a perfect season, some lamented that Boston’s widespread championship window had suddenly closed.
Because they were the odd team out during that blessed 2007-08 time frame, the Bruins would love to claim responsibility for officially reopening that window and leading the charge to keep it open a while longer.