Claude Julien was at TD Garden Monday, but did not conduct exit interviews. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
In some ways, breakup day in hockey is like the players’ last day of work. In 2011, Bruins players had to work more than expected.
Brad Marchand had been overserved. Walking through the hall at TD Garden on the way to meet with the press, a Mike Cameron-jersey-wearing Marchand was babbling about how much he loved baseball after the Stanley Cup champs had just been to Fenway Park. Once everyone, media included, had gone into the Bruins’ dressing room for the commencement of the year-end availability, various Bruins players kept watch of Marchand in the players’ lounge to make sure Marchand didn’t venture over to the media and field questions.
From every time the door to the players’ lounge would crack open, it looked like hard work. Marchand kept getting up. He really wanted to talk about baseball.
Only one team a year gets to come out of breakup day with such stories. For the rest, it’s roughly the same routine everywhere: tie up odds and ends, have exit meetings with the coaches and executives, take physicals and give final comments to the media.
The Bruins did not follow that routine Monday. Not only did the coach and general manager not give their annual season-ending press conference, they didn’t even conduct the exit interviews with the players.
Claude Julien, Cam Neely and Don Sweeney were all at the Garden on Monday, so the fact that the annual meetings were not held when all parties were present came off as very suspect. The meetings will still be held at some point, so one has to wonder if the Bruins are waiting until after they fire Julien to conduct them.
Julien’s status is up in the air after being behind the bench for two consecutive ninth-place finishes. Yet Julien didn’t coach the Bruins out of the playoffs. It’s fair to question Julien leaving off Brad Marchand in a shootout when he was 0-for-3 shootouts on the season, but if that’s Julien’s biggest sin then fans should look across the league and recognize that Julien is more competent than the vast majority of his peers. Those other coaches also have better rosters than Julien had this season.
“It’s never just one person’s fault,” Zdeno Chara said. “I think that Claude is a great coach. He puts a system into place and he does whatever he can to make us ready, and it really comes down to us.”
The concern with the Bruins if they are to move on from Julien is the higher up the chain of command it gets, the worse it gets. Julien is better at his job than Don Sweeney or Cam Neely are that theirs. Sweeney is more qualified for his job than Neely is for his.
If the Bruins have someone else behind the bench next season — Nate Leaman and Bruce Cassidy would figure to be the favorites — they’ll miss the playoffs once again unless Sweeney fixes the defense. If next season ends up like this one, where player development at the NHL isn’t executed effectively enough while Boston’s core players simply get another year older, the Bruins could officially end up on slide towards the bottom of the league. As the Hurricanes (seven years without reaching the playoffs) can tell you, that’s not an easy place to exit.