BOSTON -- Despite a whirlwind of circumstances that might sink a lesser team -- most notably an injury to defenseman Zdeno Chara and the trade of top-four defenseman Johnny Boychuk days before the start of the season -- the Boston Bruins have stayed afloat in the standings, in part because of the coaching of Claude Julien.
Through 13 games the Bruins are a respectable 7-6-0, as Julien has again proven he can handle rosters with different levels of experience, age and talent. Through his eight seasons as the Bruins coach, Julien has compiled a 317-171-65 record, won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and has guided the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in seven straight seasons.
He was rewarded over the weekend with a multiyear contract extension by general manager Peter Chiarelli.
"In general I think he's done a very good job," Chiarelli said in response to a question about Julien’s work this season Monday. "This year, there's been a lot of flux I guess with either contract situations or trades, trades within training camp, so he's had to deal with that. You know he's had to deal with some younger players coming up. We're one game over .500. We've played better the last four or five games. He's done a good job. You give a coach a contract extension based on the job that he's done globally. And globally, for us over the years, he's done a very good job."
Julien's success with Boston has also included a second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and a Jack Adams Trophy in 2009. Julien took over a team that had failed to qualify for the playoffs two years running. In the first month of his first regular season, Julien lost center Patrice Bergeron to a career-threatening concussion. The Bruins still made the playoffs and pushed the top-seeded Montreal Canadiens to seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Over Julien's years as coach, the Bruins have succeeded despite injuries to other star players, some controversial trades and even the decision of two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Tim Thomas to take a year off. They responded to a historic loss in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, when they lost a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers, by winning the Cup the next season.
Julien has struck a balance between reward and punishment that's maximized his teams' talents.
"I think since I've been here, we've been fairly successful. But it always hasn’t been great times. There's been some difficult times that we've faced," said forward Chris Kelly, who has played for Julien since 2011. "And I think the thing with Claude is when there's times for him to get upset with us, he does. And when there's times for him to pat us on the back, he does that as well. So I think he does a great job of managing his players and knowing how to get the most out of us."
The Bruins have mostly been a veteran team the past several seasons. Because they typically spend near the ceiling of the NHL salary cap, the Bruins had to start a slight youth movement this season. Already before camp started they knew they were going to get younger up front because of the departures of Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton. Injuries to Chara, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller, in addition to the Boychuk trade, have accelerated a youth movement on the back end as well.
Julien has met his latest challenge head-on.
"Right now we have to bring some young players in at times and develop those guys, and that's something where I think my past experience having coached junior and the American Hockey League, I've dealt with younger players," said Julien, who led the Hull Olympiques to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship in 1996-97.
"So you look at the young players that have come in throughout the years, whether it's been [forward Milan] Lucic as a 19-year-old. David Krejci played his first full season I think as a 21-year-old my first year here. There's a lot of players. We could go on and on and on. And Dougie Hamilton as of late. And you've got to give those guys some confidence, you've got to work with them and you've got to allow them to play. Those are things that you have to be able to accept and excel in as a coach today, because there was a time where years back where it was all about veterans and it was really tough for young players to find their way into a lineup. So we have to make that adjustment, and that adjustment I feel comfortable making because of my past experience as a coach moving up in this field."
Bergeron believes Julien's consistency of temperament helps him with players of all ages.
"I think he's good at finding I guess the strength of every player and finding ways to get the best out of him, whether they're veterans or younger guys," Bergeron said. "I think he started in junior hockey and even the American league, so I think he's dealt with younger players in the past and he's used to that. And I don't think it's anything for him. He's a fair coach, he's a coach that wants the best out of his players and always finds a way to do that. So I don't think it changes from the young guys to the veterans. I think it's just his own style and you've just got to buy in to what he wants us to accomplish as a team."
The Bruins roster should continue to see a changeover the rest of this season and in the years ahead. Chiarelli will probably make trades to bolster his club for a postseason run in 2015 and the current roster includes six regulars that can become unrestricted free agents next summer, plus Hamilton, Krug, forward Reilly Smith and goaltender Niklas Svedberg, who can become restricted free agents.
Chiarelli has proven with this extension that he thinks he has the man to shepherd the Bruins' transitional years ahead.
"Well we've had change every year. It just happened that some of it happened during training camp, which has been a little different," Chiarelli said. "I mean he's done a good job throughout the years and he's shown an ability to go with the flow. And he's got solid foundations and principles and I would anticipate that that would continue. That's why we would want him to be here going forward."