Debate over whether Claude Julien should be fired has already begun. (USA Today Sports)
The “should Claude Julien be fired” talk had already begun even before Saturday, but with the Bruins missing the playoffs for a second straight year and getting absolutely embarrassed on home ice in their season finale, it’s only going to pick up.
Most Bruins players weren’t willing to make any sort of comment on the possibility of Julien being fired after Saturday’s 6-1 loss to the Senators given that, at the time, the B’s still had an outside shot of making the playoffs (the Flyers’ win over the Penguins later Saturday officially sealed their fate). But the team’s best and most important player came to the defense of Julien.
“I’ve said a million times that Claude has been the best coach I’ve had,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s definitely not on him. It should be on us. His system is there, the game plan is there. It’s about us executing, and we didn’t do that. So it should fall back on the players.”
In the case of Saturday and other games down the stretch that saw the Bruins lose to non-playoff teams, Bergeron is right that the players deserve a good chunk of the blame. There’s no excuse for making the kinds of defensive mistakes that led to Ottawa’s goals on Saturday. There’s no excuse for a top-five offense struggling to score against three non-playoff teams over the last two weeks of the season. Regardless of who the coach is or whether his message is getting through, those are things for which the players need to take responsibility.
But there is plenty of blame to go around, and yes, Julien deserves some of it. A coach should be able to do more to ensure that his team isn’t making as many mistakes as the Bruins made Saturday, whether it was getting beat wide, leaving guys uncovered in front or making bad breakout passes that were easily intercepted. Those things are coachable, and the fact that they happened this late in the season doesn’t reflect well on the coach.
The group that deserves the most blame, however, is the front office. Don Sweeney and company are the ones who built a team that had one legitimate top-four defenseman — and that one, Zdeno Chara, is 39 years old. It’s fitting that defense was the Bruins’ biggest issue on their disastrous last day, because it was their biggest issue all season, and it will remain their biggest issue going forward unless they bring in multiple defensemen who are significant upgrades over what they have now.
Can a coach really be blamed for not being able to turn third-pairing and AHL defensemen into top-four guys? Can those third-pairing and AHL defensemen really be blamed when they struggle in roles they’re simply not good enough to fill?
Julien, perhaps to his credit, was unwilling to address the state of his roster Saturday.
“I’m going to stay away from answering that. I’m going to deal with that kind of stuff with upper management,” Julien said. “This is not something I’m going to discuss publicly.”
Fair enough. For the sake of Bruins fans, hopefully upper management realizes it needs to build a much better team than the one it built this year. The coach and players absolutely deserve some of the blame, and the front office can fire the coach or trade away big-name players if they want, but ultimately there’s only so much any coach or player can do if the roster has the kinds of massive holes the Bruins had this year.