On Friday, General Manager Don Sweeney announced trades that garnered a handful of draft picks, including two first rounders that saw the Bruins make the 13th, 14th and 15th overall selections. Milan Lucic was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, and Dougie Hamilton was sent to the Calgary Flames.
Boston acquired the 15th, 45th and 52nd picks in this year’s draft in exchange for Hamilton. They received the 13th pick, goalie Martin Jones and defenseman Colin Miller from the Kings for Lucic.
Hamilton played his three entry-level years with Boston after being drafted in 2011. Selected in 2006, Lucic first eight years in the League with Boston mirrored Julien’s tenure that began in 2007-08.
The personnel moves weren’t necessarily easy for Julien to take, but he’s backing Sweeney and the vision his staff has for the team both in the short term and in the future.
“First of all, I think you’ve got to give Don a lot of credit,” Julien told reporters late Friday night at the BB&T Center towards the end of the first round. “He’s come into this in this role and there was a lot on his plate, and a lot going on, and there were some tough decisions to be made, and personally, I’m pretty impressed with how he’s handled it.”
“And that’s not to say that I’m happy that Dougie Hamilton and Milan Lucic are gone - we just lost two pretty good players, but those are moves that probably had to be made, obviously with the situation we’re in with the cap and everything else and the future.”
“They’ve decided to make some decisions regarding the future of the Bruins and they had to make those decisions, so I’m a coach that likes to have the support of the upper management, so I’m going to be supporting upper management on that and say, listen, I’m the coach here and I’m going to take whatever players that we have because he’s going to be bringing some new faces in and we’re going to make it work.”
“I’m not looking at this as we’re rebuilding - not at all. We’re going out there next year to win hockey games and to be a real competitive team, so that’s going to be part of my job.”
Since being named general manager, Sweeney has repeatedly mentioned that the Bruins need to integrate younger players into the lineup, in part to help alleviate cap constraints in the future and not end up in the same situation they have found themselves in cap-wise for the past few seasons with barely any room to maneuver the roster.
The salary cap’s upper limit is set at $71.4 million for the upcoming 2015-16 season.
“I think after it’s all said and done, I’ll see what the situation is,” said Julien. “Obviously there’s some cap space now, there’s also July 1 coming up, there’s still a whole day of the draft [on Saturday], so there’s a lot of things that can happen and I think I have to sit back and allow those kinds of things to happen before I’m able to answer those questions on what I’m going to have.”
“But you know, I’ve been coaching now for over 20 years and I started coaching in junior, so I’ve worked with a lot of young kids. I’ve had young kids here in my first years, whether the Lucics were 18 and Krejci in his first few years, just to name a few, and Bergeron was only 20 years old, so I’ve dealt with young players and I don’t mind working with young players, so it’s not going to be an issue to have some of that in your lineup, not at all.”
“I think it’s just a matter of working with the combination of whatever I have and turning it into a winning hockey club, and a lot of times - it’s a team sport and I think that when you’re cohesive as a group, no matter how old, how young you are, you always give yourself a chance.”
“The best example was probably my first year in Boston, you look at our lineup then and honestly, I don’t think a lot of people thought we were supposed to make the playoffs and we did - why? because we worked well as a group, so we had a bunch of young players then, so my job is - if that’s the case, to try and repeat that.”
Julien’s first season behind the Bruins’ bench in 2007-08 saw his squad exceed expectations and push Montreal to a Game 7 in the first round of the 2008 playoffs.
“That first year, we lost [Patrice] Bergeron for the year and for the most part, we had a bunch of grinders and guys that came and played hard every night and we were able to win some tight hockey games, a lot of one goal games,” said Julien. “Last year was a lot of key injuries, when you miss a [David] Krejci for almost half the season, that’s a big part of your hockey club, of your offense, that you miss.”
“When you miss Zdeno Chara for the first two months, and you see him come back from a knee injury and taking months to find his game, that hurt us. There were also a few guys that I’ve mentioned before and I guess we’re repeating ourselves, they had tough years, so I think it was a bit of a different season than that other year [in 2007—08].
“A lot of people thought what we did was overachieve, but you know, we had a team that improved a lot on the defensive side of the game and just grinded it out for those tight hockey games, and for the fans in Boston, they loved it because that’s what they wanted to see - they want to see a bunch of guys working hard every night, even if the other team’s more talented, it’s about how hard you work.”
The Bruins no doubt lost grit and toughness with Lucic now gone. The winger had an inconsistent 2014-15, but aside from performance, Julien will miss the forward who he’s coached for eight years.
“On the sentimental side, you’ve got an attachment to a player like that who’s given us some good service to the Boston Bruins and has kind of given the Bruins the identity that the always like to have,” said Julien. “Especially as a 19 year old or 20 year old, nobody wanted to get close to this guy, he built himself a pretty good reputation - he had the most space, was able to produce, so you lose a guy like that, on the sentimental side, absolutely, and I’ve already touched base as far as that’s concerned.”
“He’s sad to leave but there’s another opportunity for him there and I’m sad but at the same time I understand the business and those things have to happen. So it’s up to us right now to turn the page, as we always do, and look forward to seeing the guys that are going to come in and replace some of those players that are going to be gone.”
As for Hamilton, Julien was viewing the business aspect of the hockey trade. The Bruins made a significant long-term contract offer to Hamilton, and the deal did not pan out.
“I mean, the players and the organization, everybody’s in their right, the way the CBA is,” said Julien. “To me, I find that as a coach, I find it very unfortunate that players that have played maybe three years in the League all of a sudden are looking to be up there with the top players. I find that I prefer the other way where they work their way up in years of service and everything else.”
“But that’s not to say he wasn’t in his right - he’s in his right and entitled to do what he did, so I’m not standing here blaming him at all. Would we have liked to have kept him? We would have liked to have kept Dougie Hamilton, he’s a good promising young player but you move on. You move on with others, we have to move on in this situation.”
Like Sweeney, Julien stressed the opportunity that now awaits for younger defensemen.
“Again, I can’t go into the year saying it’s going to be tough, I need to be optimistic, I need to believe,” aid Julien. “We have guys who can skate, the Joe Morrows are down there, the [Zach] Trotmans, and like I said, there’s some more time here to maybe add if need to.”
“I’ve got to be positive and I’ve got to believe that we’re still going to be a competitive team, and that’s what our whole motto and our whole discussions that we’ve had, was to make this team better. So we’re not looking to make this team weaker, we’re going to make it better and we can do that. And we’re all on the same page when it comes to that.”
Julien and Sweeney are in line with wanting a competitive team that is going to work hard every night.
“We need to be a real competitive team next year, and again, you guys have some questions, how are we going to play and how is the team going to be? Well I think once the dust settles and everything in place, we’ll probably be able to answer that,” said Julien. “
“But I don’t think we’re going to necessarily look at getting away from our identity just because Milan Lucic is gone. A guy like [Adam] McQuaid is still there, and there’s still time left and before the season starts we could have some other people, who knows.”
“I need to let management continue to do their job and bring the players that they feel are going to help us be a competitive team.”
The Bruins’ bench boss understands that fans will be upset. He’s choosing to trust in management’s vision.
“Our fans are always going to be our fans, and sometimes it’s frustrating to see those kind of things, but you’ve got to give it a chance,” he said. “I think it’s important to see where we’re heading, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot that can still happen from here until the start of training camp and I’m standing here, allowing upper management to continue to do their jobs and support them, and they’ve got my full support.”
“I know how hard it is to keep teams together, especially when it’s a team that’s had a lot of success in the past. When you have success, people get raises and eventually you hit that cap and we’re one of many teams who are dealing with it, and we’ve dealt with it in a way that we did and we’re going to move forward in the right direction,” Julien added.
“I think the fans just need to know that this is not necessarily a step backwards. I think we’re going to make some improvements here and we’re still going to be a competitive team.”