BOSTON -- Claude Julien was fired as coach of the Boston Bruins on Tuesday and replaced by assistant Bruce Cassidy.
Julien, 56, was in his 10th season with the Bruins and was the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. He won the Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011 and reached the Cup Final in 2013. The Bruins made the playoffs in each of Julien's first seven seasons, he won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach in 2008-09, and they won the Presidents' Trophy in 2013-14.
Julien was 419-246-94 with the Bruins and is Boston's all-time leader in wins. But the Bruins missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past two seasons and entered Tuesday 26-23-6, tied for third place in the Atlantic Division with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto has four games in hand; Boston has played the most games of any team in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins lost their past two games, including a 6-5 home loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday when they trailed 4-1, rallied to tie, but gave up the winning goal with 1:36 remaining in the third period.
"I wasn't ready to commit on a longer-term basis with Claude," general manager Don Sweeney said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena. "I felt that there was a level of frustration on a wins-and-loss [basis], what he would be subjected to on a nightly basis, and [I] felt that we would be in a better position going forward to allow our players to be assessed on an individual level, and for me as a general manager to be assessed on a personnel level, to make the decisions going forward as to who's part of our group."
Sweeney said he has a list of candidates for a full-time replacement and Cassidy will be among that group. Prior to joining Julien's staff this season, Cassidy spent eight seasons with Providence of the American Hockey League, the past five as coach. Many Bruins played for Cassidy in Providence, including forwards Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano, and defenseman Colin Miller.
Sweeney said he expects Cassidy, who coached the Washington Capitals for 110 games from 2002-03, to increase the tempo at practice and make other changes that will help Boston in its final 27 games.
"Defensively I don't think we'll deviate too much from the structure piece," Sweeney said. "There may be a few tweaks there. Offensively, [Cassidy] was an offensive player, I think he sees the game. Our power play got off to a slow start but has certainly turned the corner. He and the rest of the coaches have been working on that. I think he gravitates toward the players that have a creative mind, along with [the fact that] he doesn't deviate from the structure and accountability-wise."
The Bruins have been inconsistent. Before losing their past two games they had a three-game winning streak, which included a 4-3 victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 26. After a strong start, the Bruins dropped to 13th in goals allowed per game (2.67), although their offense is up to 22nd in goals per game (2.56). Boston's power play has risen to 15th (19.2 percent); the penalty kill ranks second (86.0 percent). The Bruins have integrated nine players who made their NHL debut this season.
"I think the team is not that far off from winning games," Cassidy said. "There was a quote out there that we found ways to lose instead of win. That means you're generally close, so we've got to flip the switch on a few of those plays throughout the course of a game that go in our favor. Whether that's defending a little better, managing the puck a little better, getting a save at the key time, finishing at the key time. How do we do that? We're not going to reinvent the wheel system-wise. I thought there's a lot of good things in place. We're just going to try to tighten up a few areas in our own end in terms of getting pucks back a little quicker, and then hopefully at the offensive end being more opportunistic with our chances."
Although to a man the players said (and Cassidy agreed) that they hadn't tuned out Julien's message, the hope is that a change of voice will provide the spark needed to get Boston back into the playoffs.
"It's a wake-up call to all the players in here, and whatever happens falls on our shoulders," defenseman Torey Krug said. "Unfortunate that Claude has to go a separate way than us. Hopefully it can wake some of us up in here and we can use that as a positive thing. But it's definitely the toughest part of the business, seeing people go like that."