Sunday, September 06, 2009

Stirring The Habs-Bruins Rivalry

If you follow my thoughts from day to day, you will note my total revulsion for all things coming from the hockey curiosity south of Montreal that is Boston.

To describe Bruins fans as arrogant would be a dis-service to arrogant people all over. So as a public service to all of you I attempt to keep an eye on the Boston media and expose you to stories of their pin-wheel dreams gone berserk.

In July, I found a new thorn in my side in James Murphy of Murphy's Law. Back then he was writing about how the suddenly useful Bruins would undoubtedly conquer all opponents this year in an 82-game synopsis that makes a Halak for Lecavalier and Hedman trade look like good sense talking. With the subtlety of a hammer and the insight of a constipated gnat, Murphy irritated me then.

Well, never one to lie down on the job, James has produced another piece to rile the rah-rah masses of Beantown, with some directed jabs at rivals like us (I'd never do such a thing). So again, for my piece of mind and your amusement, I share with you his piece: Bruins Show Claude Julien the Faith He Always Deserved

Now look, I don't disagree with offering a contract extension to the coach who just won the conference and the Jack Adams trophy. But do we really need to pretend that Julien is the first coach to win those plaudits? Nor would he be the first Adams trophy defender and once-can't-do-no-wrong coach to get fired if things go wrong for him – despite said extension.

The thing that riled me up is the length at which Mr. Murphy criticises the Canadiens organization for their mistreatment of Claude Julien – once again insinuating that he was somehow mistreated in his firing.

It's a myth.

Murphy provides me the ammunition himself:
The Canadiens got off to a strong 12-3 start under Julien that season, before winning just seven of their next 25 games.

7 wins in 25 games!?! That's horrible enough. If you remember the time well, you'll recall there were other issues like the Theodore saga, as well as some other problems with ice time and employing the right players. Montreal fans had been baying for Julien's head for some time without hesitation, simply because he was a rookie coach going wrong. His solutions weren't well thought out. His AHL experiences weren't translating to the NHL for him.

When you consider that Claude had only been allowed to stay on after Bob Gainey's hiring on a temporary basis to begin with and you can see that.

The team was faltering. Players were faltering. Julien, on extended job interview, was not doing great in Montreal – not when you consider the expectations post-lockout were high. His firing was a very run-of-the-mill NHL firing – one employed to give a boost to the team in question – nothing more. No raw deal here.

Julien's other raw deal

For me, Claude Julien's other raw deal is the more telling. As Murphy reminds us, Claude was fired again on April 3, 2007, with his team 47-24-8, holding onto first place in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference.

At the time, this was a first for me. This was a winning coach during a winning patch. It seemed to defy logic.

Defy logic, indeed. But was it a raw deal?

Well, that certainly depends on your outlook. While players are quick to hide behind bad coaching when things go bad, so too coach apologists prefer to blame sour culture and bad play throughout. Interesting then that this firing left no one anywhere to hide. All it was was a GM reviewing the performance of his employee and deeming that it was not up to scratch. Is that unfair?
Lamoriello told the Canadian Press, "I did not feel that we were going in the right direction, both mentally and hockey(-wise), going into the playoffs, for a variety of reasons." He went on to say that we were not privy to the inner realities of the club.

It is if you think that a GM should only use a single season of experience in making judgments. But, if you allow a manager with Lamoriello's resume to draw on a longer period of observation, then it gets blurrier. After all, if Lou Lamoriello deems that his team will fail with Julien at the helm in the first playoff hurdle, who am I to say he was wrong? Indeed who is Peter Chiarelli?

Bruins immune to a fall?

I think I've made it clear that I side with Gainey and Lamoriello on their decisions of the past. I see 2 experienced GMs making 2 hard choices to release a coach with lots of long-term potential, but in each instance what they deemed to be too little immediate pay-out.

Murphy sees it differently – he calls each move a raw deal. He would have seen Julien last longer in each position, I suppose.

When it comes to the Canadiens of 2005-06, he prefers to blame the entire roster, even the wider organization:
But if you ask most players from that Canadiens squad -- or any players who played under Julien -- the team’s struggles were more a result of the players on the roster and the culture that dominated the Habs’ dressing room for the next three seasons.

I think I could go on about this, but I don't think it necessary. Only to remind the Bruins again that they are not the first team to lead the conference in points. Perhaps they might check the last page of their history book.

To think the Bruins are immune to a fall from grace is to ignore the lessons that have unrolled in their very own division over the past two years. Indeed, it is to ignore what has happened in Julien's and many another coach's career as well.

I'm sure we all wish the best for Claude Julien the minute he moves on from the Bruins, but until then I know I can count on many of you to join me in toasting the Bruins this autumn:

"Here's to their fall."

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