WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It's one thing to declare one's devotion to a team and it's another thing to back up those words.
Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien chose to prove his commitment to Boston by waiting out the organization twice -- when the Bruins searched for a general manager and when new GM Don Sweeney took time to evaluate the entire operation -- and it paid off.
Sweeney and the Bruins reciprocated Julien's dedication by announcing last week the coach and his entire staff would be retained to start the 2015-16 season. The Bruins fired GM Peter Chiarelli, who hired Julien in 2007, on April 15 and promoted Sweeney from assistant GM on May 20.
Julien, in his first public comments since the Bruins' front-office shakeup, said Wednesday he was hopeful throughout his wait he'd be given a chance to get the Bruins back on the right track. Julien signed an extension last fall that will start with the upcoming season.
"I said right from the get go when I met with [upper management], I understand the business, you have to allow the GM time to assess and make decisions and he's got to feel comfortable too," Julien said. "So as much as it wasn't a lot of fun or easy, it wasn't frustration. It was more about understanding the situation. I understood it. I spoke with Don quite a few times and we talked about different things. So it wasn't just about one situation, which is the coach, it was about the whole situation of coaches, trainers, everything else. We went through the whole scenario of what was important for him to know. And he had to make some decisions."
The Bruins were 351-192-79 in Julien's eight seasons. They won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and the Eastern Conference in 2013. In 2013-14, they won the Presidents' Trophy but lost in the Eastern Conference Second Round to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. This season, the Bruins had 96 points, the most ever by a team that failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Boston struggled through injuries and down years by several key players. Although the Bruins' perennially stingy defense ranked eighth in the NHL at 2.45 goals allowed per game, their offensive production ranked in the bottom third of the League all season. Boston, which was third in scoring in 2013-14, finished 22nd with 2.55 goals per game in 2014-15.
Sweeney emphasized a desire to make changes to the Bruins' style that would increase their offense. Part of his assessment was determining whether his ideas and Julien's philosophies could mesh and make the changes happen. It turned out Julien and his staff were one step ahead of the GM.
"They meshed right away because you know when you talk philosophical approaches, every year so far, and it will continue to be that way, we make adjustments in our game. The game evolves, the rules change. Again, the personnel of your team changes," Julien said. "So you make adjustments accordingly, and ironically enough, two days after the season was done, the coaching staff, we met, we'd already made some adjustments that we felt would probably be something that we'd like to see in our game. And Don happened to come in and we talked about those things. So we said, 'Well, we've already done the work on that.' So it just goes to show that we were seeing the same things and we were pretty well on the same page."
Without abandoning the defensive structure Julien said other teams try to emulate, the Bruins want to be able to attack quicker and cause the opposition more anxiety.
"There was a time where our transition game was good with the way teams were forechecking," Julien said. "Teams' forechecks have changed a lot, so we've got some other things 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, 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."
The personnel Julien has to coach will be different. Unrestricted free-agent forwards Carl Soderberg, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille have been told they won't be back. The Bruins may not be able to re-sign unrestricted free agent defenseman Adam McQuaid. Defenseman Dougie Hamilton and forwards Brett Connolly and Ryan Spooner are restricted free agents. Hamilton in particular could require a contract that will force the Bruins to make other maneuvers in order to clear space under the NHL salary cap.
Continuity behind the bench should be beneficial; Julien is the longest-tenured coach with one team in the NHL, after Mike Babcock left the Detroit Red Wings to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"It just means that I'm probably the next one to fall off the totem pole, right? That's basically it," Julien said. "I'm going to try to make it last as long as I can, to be honest with you. As I've said before, I love Boston, I love the city, I love the fans. What a great group of fans that we have. They love their team and everything that I've seen around this city from all the sports teams around, this is a great city to be in. So I feel privileged to be here."