BOSTON - On Tuesday morning, General Manager Don Sweeney announced that the team had relieved Claude Julien of his coaching duties.
Julien was in his 10th season with the Bruins, after assuming the position in June 2007 as the 27th head coach in franchise history and leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup in 2011. He was the longest tenured active head coach in the NHL, and the winningest coach in Bruins franchise history.
"First of all, I want to thank Claude. I want to acknowledge the level of success that he has achieved as the coach of the Boston Bruins, and acknowledge he is a great coach, a tremendous person, and he's meant a lot to our organization," Sweeney told reporters during a press conference after practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
"We're going to wish him nothing but the greatest level of success that he can achieve. He'll be a great coach with another organization in a short time, I'm quite positive of that."
Sweeney delivered the news to Julien on Tuesday morning.
"Very, very difficult morning for me, personally, delivering that news," said Sweeney. "We had a conversation with Claude, who was, as he always is and as you guys would know, an absolute, true pro about it this morning."
"I've got a tremendous level of respect for Claude as a person, working with him over the past couple of years, but had come to a conclusion that, in moving this group forward with an eye towards the plan that we had put in place, that I wasn't ready to commit on a longer-term basis with Claude."
Sweeney discusses the balance of moving forward with this group, while also keeping an eye towards the future.
"The expectations have not changed for this organization. We expect the players to make a push and get into the playoffs," said Sweeney. "It was the same regard last year, and that was why we added at the trade deadline, because our players had been in position. It didn't work, we fell just short."
"But, I'm also committed, as I said last year, to draft. I wasn't trading David Pastrnak to try to find the D that we feel we still need to improve our group and add depth to; acknowledging all the way along that we have some shortcomings in our roster, and expecting either players to step forward and fill those voids, or continuing to find the right personnel to fit in with the guys that have won and are looking forward to winning again."
With 27 games remaining in the regular season, Sweeney will evaluate how it all unfolds.
"I want our players to understand this falls with me and on them moving forward, whether or not we get in and how far we go as an organization," said Sweeney. "But, there will be an opportunity for players to come in and improve our hockey club both internally and obviously, the trade deadline represents another opportunity. I'm not going to sacrifice the players that we feel are important and integral to how we get better, but if there is an opportunity to improve our hockey club with a long-term view, then that's what we will do."
The Bruins are amid a rare break in the schedule, with two days off and two practice days. The NHL's All-Star Weekend served as a respite, but didn't offer valuable practice time on the ice like this week does.
Boston has a three-game homestand before their NHL designated bye week from Feb. 13 through 17. After those five days off, they'll head down a busy home stretch to the playoffs.
"I would like to see how the team responds in the next three games, and then we certainly have a big break to see how far we'll be back in the playoff race," said Sweeney.
"We had a couple days off and we have two days of practice here where before we go into a few games, and then we have a real opportunity to sort of step back from the emotional piece of this and allow the players to get away and vacate mentally and physically [with the bye week]," Sweeney said. "I felt there was an opportunity [on Tuesday] and [Wednesday] to get their feet on the ground for a practice environment, which we haven't had."
"We had played 50 games in 102 days or so, and I'm sure the schedule has been very challenging in that regard. I just felt that there was an opportunity now, as I was contemplating the decision."
Video: Bruins relieve Julien of coaching duties
Sweeney was asked about the deliberation of making this decision.
"Not an easy decision in any way, shape, or form…I was asked, 'Why can't you just ride out the season?' Well, I think the timing became an opportunity for us to evaluate going down the stretch, where these players are and how many of them can fit in to what we want to do going forward and the decisions that we have to make accordingly - how players react to a different voice, and a direction change."
"I'm looking for alignment from top to bottom as to what our expectations are, from the players that have won to the players that are coming in, and I won't to be in consult with the next coach of the Boston Bruins while I am evaluating the current staff - I'll have a list of candidates that will fall in line with what I am trying to do."
For the interim, Assistant Coach Bruce Cassidy will take over head coaching duties. Prior to joining Julien's staff this season, Cassidy was the head coach of the Providence Bruins for five seasons, and has previous NHL head coach experience with the Washington Capitals.
According to Sweeney, Cassidy will be among the list of candidates and he and his staff will be evaluated throughout the next few months.
"I think the opportunity for Bruce, who I've had a working relationship with, to come in and sort of evaluate his job and where our staff is as well as our personnel, is important," said Sweeney. "It's an important period of time that we can continue to allow to unfold as opposed to waiting until the season's end and just seeing if we hadn't done anything, whether or not that would have worked."
"So I'm not grasping and realizing that I changed the expectations necessarily in the group. I think I understand that, where our group is at. I think on any given night, we can beat any given team. Whether or not we can maintain the consistency to get to where we need to, that's going to unfold in the next 27 [games]."
Cassidy will provide a different voice at the helm: in the room, on the ice leading practices, and on the bench during games.
"I expect our practices to change a little bit, in terms of Bruce has always been a coach that wants to practice at a really high pace," said Sweeney. "He'll probably tweak a few things coming out of the neutral zone. We just discussed in a short period of time, and watching the play of the players that he has coached over the years."
"I think that there is an opportunity for a new set of eyes to come in, and a new voice for our players to sort of start to hear, and hopefully, their ears are perked up."
While the bench boss has changed, expectations have not.
"Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there's no question this group has a chance to get in," said Sweeney.
The team has 27 games to make that happen in the short term, with the long-term vision still in place to integrate young players.
"Our players and our core players are too good to not have that plan in place in the short-term, and the long-term," Sweeney said.
"I would like to continue to surround and build around our core and strengthen, deepen the talent pool throughout our organization. It something I've been committed to and I'm not going to deviate from it."