Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bienvenue Monsieur Julien - Comment Ca Marche?

Hey Peeps and anyone else checking in. A special "Hey" goes out to Hazel Mae if she's checking in.

The worst kept secret in the NHL is about to be shared tomorrow as the Boston Bruins are expected to hold a news conference to announce that they have indeed hired former Habs and Devils coach Claude Julien to take over behind the Bruins bench.

First off, we have to say that it is somewhat sad that this story was broken in Canada - we know the Bruins don't get a lot of attention in Boston these days, not surprising given their struggles last year, but shouldn't one of the beat writers or television broadcasters who are charged with covering the team have been able to find this out? Do these people take the summer off? Hey, before we get any smart alec emails or comments asking if we are including Hazel in the aforementioned media types - we aren't; she's busy doing SportsDesk and the Ultimate Red Sox show...she isn't charged with following the B's.

Now to the hiring of Julien; on a number of levels it the move makes sense. Julien has experience coaching at the NHL level and can bring some structure to a Bruins team that is lacking any sort of team philosophy - we have said time and again here that the Bruins lack a clear identity. Julien will look at the team for what it is and develop a structure and style of play to maximize their chances of being competitive - we don't see the Bruins making the playoffs next year, but we do see them finishing better than 13th in the Eastern Conference. What will Julien see at training camp? He'll see a team that:

  • doesn't have a clear cut number one goalie - while Bruins fans have some strange love affair with Tim Thomas, it is time to face facts; he isn't a true number one, as a matter of fact Thomas would probably be ranked in the bottom third of NHL goaltenders and behind some backups in the NHL (Vesa Toskala, Ilya Bryzgalov, Curtis Joseph, Mike Smith, Jose Theodore and Manny Fernandez would all get the nod over Thomas). Our bet is that Julien will start the season with Thomas but make the move to Hannu Toivonen by December.

  • He will see a defence corps that isn't particularly quick and not overly physical - Zdeno Chara can't be playing 30 minutes per game paired with defenceman who are learning the ropes, it puts too much pressure on him mentally and physically, thus affecting his play. Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward are steady defenceman, but neither would be considered number 3 or 4 defenceman on most playoff teams - Ferenc is a nice player who brings some attitude to the ice, but at 5'10" he is a little over-matched physically; Aaron Ward is also a nice player but has seen his better days and isn't up to being a top four guy. Andrew Alberts will be a good defenceman, but he has a lot of maturing to do. Dennis Wideman? not much to say about a one dimensional player who is soft in his own end.

  • Up front he will see a few gifted offensive players like Savard, Strum, Kessel and Bergeron, a few veterans like Murray and Axelsson that know how to play the game but may not be impact players anymore, and a collection of unspiring forwards who are underachievers (Chistov, Kobasew), soft and one dimensional (Bochenski) or plumbers (Donovan and Reich).
It all adds up to Julien instituting a defence first system where the forwards will be expected to take few chances and play "postitional hockey" (as former Leafs Coach Pat Burns put it) and get their butts back into their own zone to help a defence corps that isn't very good at moving the puck out of the zone. Offensively creative forwards like Marc Savard and Phil Kessel will have to change their games and learn to counter-attack as Julien will be preaching mistake-free hockey as their best chance to win - the adjustment won't be as hard for Sturm and Bergeron who are good two way players. The third and fourth lines will be out there the sole purpose of preventing any goals scored against them - not the best role for guys like Chistov and Bochenski who any sort of physical play - neither is likely to get any considerable measure of second line ice time.

When announcing the firing of Dave Lewis, Peter Chiarelli said he wanted a coach who would make the Bruins a harder team to play against (notice he stayed away from saying "more physical") and a guy who would hold the players accountable for getting the job done. Its hard to describe what "harder to play against" means - it is one of those generic phrases that really means nothing...put it this way, it is like saying losing a game by a score of 2-1, 3-2, is infinitely better than losing 5-2...losing by one goal may mean harder to play against, but a loss is a loss is a loss. On the matter of holding players accountable - that is precisely the reason Julien was let go in Montreal and in New Jersey.

In Montreal, Julien couldn't deal with the Habs only superstar Alex Kovalev and didn't ever have the stones to bench or discipline the flaky Russian for indifferent play. In New Jersey, Lamoriello let Julien go because he said that something wasn't right with the team. Does that sound like a guy who holds his team accountable? It is going to be a long season for the Bruins and their fans this year - while the fans have been clamouring for a return to the days of the Big Bad Bruins; Julien is going to take them to the days of pre-lockout NHL where boring hockey was the norm. You can't blame Julien though, he has to play the hand that was dealt to him - and in the words of my man Tilt, the Bruins are looking like a J - 6 off-suit.

As much as Peter Chiarelli seems to want to build the Boston SenaTards - he is going to have to settle for the Boston Devils, and he has to accept some of the responsibility for that. Chiarelli, likely feeling the pressure to turn the Bruins into instant winners, blew a wad of cash on free-agents Chara and Savard - not that they were bad signings - but blowing your wad and committing that much long-term money is a bit foolish...rookie GMs huh?

He was reactionary in making some questionable trades - Brad Boyes for Wideman will be one Bruins fans will regret for years to come. The Brad Stuart trade wasn't much better - while some will argue that he couldn't get much for Stuart, we eleventh hour trade would have brought more.

He was asleep at the switch in not pulling the trigger on deals that would have brought back a prospect and freed up cap room - inexcusable that he didn't work a deal with San Jose for Glen Murray. Chiarelli learned one bad lesson in Ottawa - he learned to fall in love with players who won't help him win; that doesn't mean Glen Murray isn't a winner...he just won't be around when the Bruins turn it around, if ever.

The result of Chiarelli's wheelings and dealings, the good, bad and ugly, is that he finds himself with a team that is perilously close to being capped out with no real hope of winning this year or next for that matter. There you have it Bruins fans, a viewpoint from North of the border...where you get most of your hockey news and informed opinion. Just kidding.

This may be a tough pill for Bruins fans to swallow - so we'll try to end this one off on a humourous note. The Bruins are going to play some good sound defensive to Ms. Hazel Mae we say:

"Hazel, have fun searching through those highlights of great blocked shots for the Top 10 on next year's season of The Buzz. Something tells us there will be at least two or three per week."
C'mon, we kid, we joke, we poke a little fun. Believe it when we say that as fans of the Maple Leafs...we feel your pain.

Have a beef with our post? A different point of view? A complaint? A love letter? Let us know what you think at

That's it for tonight gang - thanks for taking the time to check in. Have a great one peeps.

Hazel, I hope things are groovy in your world.

I'm Out!


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