On Feb. 7, the Boston Bruins fired Head Coach Claude Julien halfway into his tenth season at the helm. Players and fans were shocked and saddened as the skipper that brought Boston its first Stanley Cup in 39 years packed his bags. Julien emerged a hometown favorite as his arrival lifted the Bruins from nearly two decades of mediocrity. The team won the cup in 2011 and made another run to the Finals in 2012. His arrival brought the Bruins back into relevancy in Boston, but after two consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs and a half season of just over .500 hockey, the Bruins’ front office decided it was time to mix things up. Since hiring Bruce Cassidy as head coach, the Bruins are 12-3-0 and playing exciting, offensive hockey in the hopes of locking down a playoff bid.
The firing caught many players by surprise, but to fans and onlookers, the move did not come out of the blue. His defense-first mantra had become less effective as the Bruins’ best defensemen grew old or left. To accentuate their defensive issues, the Bruins lacked a variety of offensive assets who could put the puck in the net. A typical Bruins game at the end of Julien’s tenure generally featured the Bruins dominating puck time but failing to score, while defensive miscues would lead to fluke goals for the opposing team. The front office got rid of Julien to spark the squad as well as a desire for a different coaching mentality.
The Bruins, though, are in good company. Last season, the Pittsburgh Penguins were disappointed with a 15-10-3 start to the season and fired their head coach Mike Johnston. This change was a major catalyst for the Penguins, as they went on to finish with the second most points in the Eastern Conference en route to a Stanley Cup title.
Midseason coaching changes are high-risk, high-reward, but they often cause the affected players to play with more urgency and passion. The Red Sox’ 2015 campaign saw John Farrell miss the last month and a half of the season for chemotherapy treatment. Torey Lovullo stepped in as interim manager, and the team instantly responded, finishing the season with particularly inspired baseball highlighted by its two longest-winning streaks of the year.
Right now, the Bruins are playing with the Penguins’ urgency and the Sox’ emotional grip. The players had an especially close relationship with Julien, and many have stated that he has been in their minds during the second half of the season.
The team’s recent results show a major difference between pre- and post-Julien hockey: offensive production. Since Cassidy took over Feb. 9, the Bruins have netted four or more goals ten times. It took the Bruins four and a half months to do so 14 times under Julien. Both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have emerged as serious goal-scoring threats.
The Bruins recent winning habits have gone a long way in solidifying its playoff spot. For most of the season, the team was either on the playoff bubble or on the outside looking in. Now, they have a five-point cushion over the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third bid from the Atlantic Division. The nature of hockey makes any playoff series competitive, so if the Bruins enter the playoffs as hot as they are now, they have a good chance of upsetting a higher-seeded team.
Charlie Blasberg ’18 can be reached at Charles_Blasberg@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.