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Sweeney and Julien Assess 2015-16 Season, Look Ahead

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — The 2015-16 season clearly did not end how the Bruins would have liked.

That goes for everyone involved — the organization, general manager, head coach, players and fans. As such, the annual process has begun for both looking back at the disappointing end and dissecting the season, and then looking ahead to the future and what will need to be improved.

It’s the nature of the business, when the final result is not the ultimate prize.

On Thursday morning, General Manager Don Sweeney and Head Coach Claude Julien held their season-end press conference at TD Garden to field questions from reporters about the season.

“It’s a performance business, and this town’s been pretty successful in accumulating championships, and we expect to be doing the same thing,” said Sweeney, when asked about the criticism that comes along with the position that they’re in. “That’s the set of standards that we know going in. That’s what drives you, the passionate fanbase here.”

“You understand the criticism’s coming. The only real way to alleviate that is to get back on top, and you’re going to be subject to it until you do.”

“There’s just no easy battle,” said Sweeney. “You’ve got to choose the path that’s in front of you and if it’s bumpy, then you work through the bumps.”

The major bump for the 2015-16 Bruins was missing the postseason for the second straight year, with a playoff spot hanging on Game 82. One more regulation win, or one more point, would have made the difference for the Black & Gold.

As Zdeno Chara said during his season-end media availability on Monday, the team “is close, but close it not close enough.”

“I mean, we’ve seen the last two years, we missed the playoffs by a point, two points — we’re there, but obviously the commitment has got to be on a higher level,” Chara said. “The execution has to be on a higher level, and every individual has to be better in that area.”

The work continues for Sweeney and his staff, for Julien and his staff, for the players who will rest, recover and gear up for another season.

“October’s a long way away; we’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Sweeney. “I understand it’s still on me to get this group back to acquiring and assembling players that can help our current group, and in support of what Claude believes in and his philosophies as a coach.”

Voicing confidence in Julien was one of Sweeney’s first orders of business during the press conference, as the first question asked by a reporter involved Julien’s status.

“I emphatically believe that Claude is the coach that can take us through what I’ll describe as what has been a bumpy transition period this year,” said Sweeney. “We’ve got work to do; I have work to do. There’s no question that. We have areas that we want to address and collectively we’ve already started to assess that. We did throughout the course of the year, we’ve tried to address some of those things, and we’ll continue to address them.”

Sweeney and Julien met for an extended period of time on Sunday morning to begin the assessment process. Monday saw the players go through exit physicals and speak with reporters. Tuesday served as a day of exit meetings with players. Julien and Sweeney spent Wednesday going back over everything, and Thursday served as the day to meet with the local media.

In capping the 2015-16 season, the Bruins ended the year fifth in scoring, as one of two teams with three 30-goal scorers in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson. On the flip side, they fell to 20th in goals against.

“You try to improve in all areas of your hockey club,” said Sweeney. “We had players that had been in our system and have done very well in our system. We had some injuries [on defense] early on, allowing that opportunity for some younger players that had been in our group who are going to continue to hopefully grow and be able to mature as NHL players.”

“You’re going to find that in almost every team. That eventually, you know, a player gets an opportunity and it’s up to him to continue to take advantage of that opportunity and sometimes it happens and you end up with a long career and sometimes it doesn’t, and then it’s incumbent upon me to make sure that I’m in a position where we have depth when we go through rough patches, or you go out and acquire players that can help you.”

“We have gaps in that area,” Sweeney continued. “We’re not a team that’s playing for the Stanley Cup. We clearly have areas that we need to improve upon.”

With Julien behind the bench for 2016-17, the structure will be in place.

“Eventually it falls on the players themselves to execute, because he has won and the players that he’s had have won,” said Sweeney. “Therefore, the players that we continue to identify have to come in and complement that.”

“At times, our group wasn't as galvanized defensively,” said Sweeney. “And again, there’s new player integration, there’s younger players — those are all areas that we need to address going forward. We started right in our exit interviews to address it with some of them to get them to understand, and there’s got to be a total buy-in.”

“Clearly the best players, when they have the types of years that they have — Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] and March [Brad Marchand] in particular, they lead that charge and the other players have to fall in line with that.”

Apart from the structure of the Bruins’ game, Julien and Sweeney also addressed a theme that came up during the players’ season-end availability: inconsistency.

“I think it’s pretty obvious, that we failed on numerous occasions there when there were some big games,” said Julien. “We can go back to even the Winter Classic, you know, how we played in that game… there were some games that we failed to get what we needed.”

“And there were other games and right now it’s more, ‘how did we play so well against Detroit, and not be able to win that game against Ottawa?’ That’s where we failed, you know. Somehow, the consistency wasn’t there.”

“We thought we had a decent amount of consistency at one point, but then it slipped, and throughout the year, we lost some games that I really felt were important for us to win and we weren’t able to do that. So at the end of the day, you end up missing the playoffs by a real small margin and that’s where I think we failed, honestly.”

Before the Bruins’ five-game losing streak in mid-March, they had not lost more than three in a row all season. Three times, they lost three straight games — in October start the season, in early November, and then in late December.

The most difficult aspect of the season to assess is not necessarily their attack, or their defensive prowess, but the inability down the stretch to will themselves to important wins, even if they came close to getting the job done.

“Can we have a little more players that will galvanize when the heat comes in? Yes, no question about it,” said Sweeney. “And whether or not the younger players that we currently have will develop that is to be determined, and a lot of times you do have to experience it. It’s not fun when you do make that type of mistake and you have to grow from it and you feel like the pressure is on you. But hey, that's the business. You signed up for it and if you can’t do it, then it’s my job to make sure we find players that, and we grow players in that regard, that are capable of doing that.”

“Because that’s what it takes to win. Ultimately, that’s what it takes to win, and that’s what our fans expect; that’s what they identify with, so we need to make damn sure that we act accordingly going forward.”

Like their bench boss and general manager, long-time players like Bergeron, Marchand, Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask are on board with the climb back to the top.

“We have players that have significantly invested in this organization long-term and had a lot of success,” said Sweeney. “They have been emphatic that they’d like to climb the mountain again and that’s a good testament.”

“Sometimes when you get there, you’ve climbed it once and you don’t want to go back. Other people are like, ‘sign me up,’ and that’s what we need more of. We need more players that when they get to the line, that they know how hard the climb is, they’ve experienced it… and we have a good group of core guys that have done that. And the rest of the guys need to either jump on board and become and grow and want to do that, or they won’t be here.”

“From an organizational standpoint, that’s what I stand for. That’s part of the reason why I was hired. I’m driven that way. I want players that are internally driven. You can be externally motivated; believe me, there are a lot of good things about this game that can motivate you. But, boy oh boy, you better be internally driven in order to have success in this league.”

From the front office, down to the players and the organization, that drive is what will need to propel the Bruins forward.

“I’m not any less driven in terms of finding the fixes, excited about knowing we have a coach that can lead us through what I still consider a transition period, and being very, very excited about what lies in front of us,” said Sweeney. “With the players we have and the core of our group, and how driven they are.”

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