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Julien: Adjustments, Not Overhauls, are the Answer

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON — When the Bruins take the ice for their first game of the 2015-16 season, there will be changes.

There may not be glaring changes — there will be no philosophical or systemic overhauls — but there will be changes.

Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien even objected to the word changes. He preferred to use the word adjustments, and in that way, this offseason is like any other. In each and every offseason, adjustments are made, and this offseason will prove to be no different.

“For people to think we’re going to play a run-and-gun game — that’s not happening,” Julien said on Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena, addressing the media for the first time since Boston’s official breakup day on April 13. “This game hasn’t changed. You need good defense and good offense. You need both. And we’ve been able to do that for a lot of years. Just because we had a tough year last year doesn’t mean we’re all about defense; we gave up more goals last year than we did the year before. So that should be criticized as much as the goals for.

“It was just a tough year, and when we’ve compared our scoring chances last year to the year before — where we scored a lot — surprisingly enough, the scoring chances are almost identical.”

The Bruins did not miss the playoffs in 2014-15 because they put too much of the onus on defense and not enough on offense. They missed the playoffs in 2014-15 because, Julien said, they simply did not capitalize on the ample scoring chances they produced.

That is the biggest aspect of their game that must change heading into next season.

“The biggest difference last year was the finish,” Julien said. “And that’s something you’ve got to work on, as individuals and as a coaching staff: How can we get our players to have better finish?

“But the chances were created, and I know it didn’t look that way because when you don’t score, it doesn’t seem like your offense is as good. We think it definitely can be better, but at the same time, we’ve got to work on certain things.

“So that’s what I mean by making adjustments. There are going to be little subtle adjustments along the way, but nothing major.”

Julien admitted that the game he coaches has evolved. It hasn’t changed dramatically, but it has evolved, and for the Bruins to continue to compete with the league’s elite, they, too, will need to evolve.

When Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney met with Julien both after the 2014-15 season and after he had officially been appointed to his new role, he said that he and Julien were in agreement about the changes that had to be made in order for the Bruins to remain competitive. That, Sweeney said, is part of the reason why he is confident in Julien’s ability to continue to lead this team.

“I referenced some of the changes that I think our group, moving forward, I would like to see make, and [Julien and his staff] have already been working on some of those things,” Sweeney said on June 5 at the NHL Combine in Buffalo. “So that part of it is really exciting for me. There’s been a little bit of question mark of the timing of maybe me being able to proclaim this, but to be honest with you, this is the first opportunity I’ve had in that regard. I know there’s been speculation so I want to make sure to put that to bed. I’m fully supporting this staff and looking forward to working with them all.”

Sweeney said it was important for him to meet with each and every member of the coaching staff before making an official proclamation about who would be behind the bench when the puck drops in 2015. That doesn’t mean that he had questions about Julien’s approach. Far from it.

“I needed to have conversations with each and every one of [the coaches] to see if they were in agreement,” Sweeney said. “I have a lot of respect for each and every one of them as people, and the hard work they do each and every day. The success we’ve had as an organization is a result of a lot of that hard work, and I want to make sure I took that all into account as I was speaking with them at a different level for me.

“It might not be as different for them. Obviously, it’s a different voice, but it’s different for me. This is a new role for me. It’s my first opportunity to talk with coaches as general manager. [I’m] not going to apologize for taking a little time to go through that process, to be honest with you. I think it was right for me to do that, and I’ve been completely respectful.

“As I’ve said, their success — I’m going to use that to my advantage. They’ve been part of a group, and they work hard, and I’m looking forward to enjoying it.”

Sweeney was simply doing his due diligence as he approached his new role as general manager, and Julien fully understood that.

Not only did he understand, but he welcomed it.

“Don’s been around for a long time,” Julien said. “Even though he may be viewed as a rookie GM, he’s done a lot of things around here that gives him the opportunity to step in and be fairly comfortable with everything that’s going around. He’s seen everyone has their own touch on things, and he’s going to come in and make a few tweaks here and there that he wants to do. And that’s understandable.

“We’re really committed and determined to take this team and move forward with it in the right direction. Don and I have had talks, and [we have a] very, very similar outlook on what’s needed and what we want to do. There was never an issue there at all. So that’s why it’s worked out. We seem to be seeing the same things.

“Personality-wise, we’ve known each other for a long time, and there wasn’t as probably as tough a process, as far as evaluating, as much as people might think, but it was more about the time that was needed for him to feel comfortable with everything.”

Now, the Bruins are ready to move forward. They have their general manager. They have their coaching staff fully in place. The future awaits, and part and parcel with that future comes a vow that the Bruins will not settle for another season that mirrors the last.

The Bruins are committed to a brighter immediate future, and part of that entails a commitment to evolving in a way that will allow them to compete with the teams that dominated the Eastern Conference this past year.

“We’ve got to be realistic,” Julien said. “There’s certain parts of the game that [our] guys have to evolve in, and you can teach, but they’ve got to to also improve in those areas. That’s what we’re going to try to do moving forward with our young players, is bringing [them] to that next level that’s going to make them that much better.”

Both Sweeney and Julien spoke at length about the need for Boston’s transition game to evolve. Last season, the B’s seemed to be slow coming out of their own end, which impacted their ability to accelerate through the neutral zone and create scoring chances. This season, Julien said, that simply must change, and in his eyes, the Bruins have the personnel to do it.

“You have to base your game on the type of players you have, the personnel you have, and what they are capable of doing — and what we’ve done as a coaching staff there at the end of the year is looked at our team and said, ‘Those are things we no doubt can accomplish,’” Julien said.

“There’s just parts of the game — I’m not going to get into details about it — but there’s things that we feel that we can do as a team, with the way the game has changed a little bit, to help our transition game a little bit better. There was a time when the transition game was good, with the way teams were forechecking; teams’ forechecks have changed a lot, so we’ve got some other things that we feel we can do that’s going to help us get our transition game coming out of our own end better, and creating some speed.

“So again, we had already kind of addressed that, and so we’re going to hopefully introduce that into camp like we do every year. Like I said, those aren’t changes to me; those are just adjustments, like we do every year.”

When Sweeney was introduced as GM last month, he addressed another area in which he feels the Bruins can be better. He said the team seemed to lack a certain urgency last season. Urgency is something Bruins teams have always had. They have been known for it. Plenty of players echoed that sentiment on breakup day. The Bruins of years past have always been at their best when the stakes were highest, and for whatever reason, that did not seem to be the case last season.

This year, there is a commitment to making sure that desire — and that grit that has always been characteristic of the Black & Gold — is back at the forefront.

That is not solely Julien’s responsibility. It is not solely Sweeney’s responsibility, either. There has to be a team-wide commitment to returning to that Bruins identity.

“It’s got to be not just my job -- it’s got to be everyone’s job here,” Julien said. “We have to be able to maybe have some players that have that [grit], and that’s what they have alluded to. We need to bring that identity, and some of it has to be personnel — whether it’s certain players growing in their roles and in the style of play, knowing that they’re capable of [it], or whether it’s bringing players in that can do that.

“I think it’s going to be a joint effort when it comes to that. We have to understand that it doesn’t get done overnight, so it’s going to take some patience.”

Patience will be the name of the game this summer, just as it was the name of the game for Julien over the last two months. He waited until the chips fell, and now he can get back to work restoring his team to where he believes it needs to be.

But as he reiterated over and over, there will be no overhauls. The Bruins will still rely upon a defense-first system that has proven itself to be successful for years. But there will be adjustments.

The Bruins will still be the Bruins, but in the end, Julien believes those adjustments will make all the difference.

“I think Don alluded to the fact that we’re not going to change our defensive game because there’s a lot of teams that try to emulate what we do, and it’s something that we should be proud of,” Julien said. “And I think we should be proud of our offensive game because if you look back at past years, we’ve scored quite a bit. We’ve been in the tops of the league for a lot of years. So to me, it’s a bit of a myth that we don’t have any offense.

“We had a tough year last year, and we’re going to make adjustments, again, as I said, to try and create some more offense because of the style this game is heading towards. And we have to counterattack that with our game.”

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