A week after getting fired after nearly a decade as head coach of the Boston Bruins, Claude Julien has landed on his feet, being named today as head coach of Boston oldest and most bitter rival, the Montreal Canadiens, replacing Michel Therrien. To summarize, the Bruins still do not seem to have a plan going forward, and they just gave their biggest rival a coaching upgrade, looking like fools in the process. This is where we are right now.
Bruins fans could see this coming from miles away. It had long been speculated that the Bruins had held off on firing Claude in the past to block division rivals like Montreal or the Ottawa Senators from getting him. Julien has been constantly rumored to be a coaching candidate for the Habs, considering he has been their head coach before, and considering he is one of a handful of bilingual NHL head coaches. In 2011, when Randy Cunneyworth was named interim head coach of the Canadiens, the organization apologized and promised the permanent head coach (it ended up being Therrien) would be able to speak French.
This is a good move for Montreal. They are a playoff team that has struggled as of late, and perhaps a coaching change is what they think they need to kick start to put them over the top. As I mentioned last week, the Claude was fired by the Bruins, it was Michel Therrien who got fired by Pittsburgh in 2009 before they won the Stanley Cup under Dan Bylsma. The Canadiens have a great goaltender in Carey Price, and a great defensive defenseman in Shea Weber who seems like Julien’s kind of player in the tradition of Zdeno Chara, and they think this coach combined with these players could be the mix they need to win their first Stanley Cup since 1993 (the last Cup win by any Canadian team).
For Boston, this is more of what I was talking about last week. The Bruins did not fire Julien sooner because they did not have a better plan and they were afraid to see him coaching a rival. Now, they still do not have a better plan, winning streak that includes a win over Montreal under Bruce Cassidy notwithstanding, and Julien is coaching a rival. While the Bruins are stuck in the middle, Bruins fans are stuck seeing their team’s all time winningest head coach (Julien passed Art Ross, who has an NHL trophy named after him and who named the Boston Bruins, on the franchise win list last season) behind the bench for the Montreal Canadiens of all teams. The thought crossed my mind the other night when the Bruins played the Habs that if the Bruins win, Claude could be Montreal’s new coach, but the reality is just now sinking in, even though I understood this could and probably would happen on an intellectual level for years.
Ultimately, blame for this falls back in Cam Neely and Don Sweeney. They tried to prevent this from happening, and it still happened, and Bruins fans are still stuck with them while Julien is coaching a real contender and Peter Chiarelli is running the loaded with young talent Edmonton Oilers. There have been worse time to be a Bruins fan, but the fact that the people who made the franchise respectable for the first time in decades are gone makes me concerned about how soon things will get better.
Now that the Olympics have come and gone, NHL hockey is back. Here are some thoughts about the NHL as we approach the trade deadline and the playoffs.
The United States came away without a medal because a team coached by Dan Bylsma couldn’t get past Claude Julien’s defensive system or Tuukka Rask’s goaltending. Bylsma’s Pittsburgh Penguins looked like the best team in spring of 2013 in the NHL until they faced Julien, Rask, and the rest of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Bylsma’s Pens scored only two goals against Tuukka in their four game sweep at the hands of the Bruins. Bylsma’s Team USA roster, which had led the tournament in scoring up to that point, did not score a single goal against Team Canada in the semifinals and were shutout once again in the Bronze Medal Game against Team Finland. Bylsma’s reputation as good hockey coach is based on winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 when he inherited a team that had been in the Stanley Cup Finals the year before and from a strong performance on 24/7 in 2010, but the sweep last spring and the collapse in the Olympics could and should cause his stock to plummet.
The fact that Rask proved to be just as effective without Julien means that he’s a great goalie and not just a pretty good goalie with the benefit of playing in Julien’s defense-first system. Tuukka was the biggest factor in Finland earning a medal in Sochi, and the biggest factor in the Bruins reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last year. Rask arrived on the scene in the NHL too late to be selected by Finland (who is historically stacked with goalie talent as a country) for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but when then-USA backup goalie Tim Thomas struggled, Rask was the kid who carried the B’s into the playoffs, and Rask was the one who outlasted 2010 Olympic MVP Ryan Miller in a thrilling six game series against the Buffalo Sabres. Tuukka is entering the prime of his career and he has shown time and again that he can hold his own and then some with the best goaltenders in the world. Rask’s Bruin teammates Patrice Bergeron of Canada and Loui Eriksson of Sweden may have had great tournaments and earned more valuable medals, but Rask’s Bronze Medal performance was one for the ages.
Besides Rask, the best player for Team Finland was 43 year old Teemu Selanne, who played in his record tying sixth Winter Olympics and was named the MVP of the Olympic hockey tournament. This is just another accolade for Teemu, who is in the midst of his victory lap of a final NHL season. The Finnish Flash served as captain for Team Finland for the first time in 2014 and has 24 goals in Olympic play including four from the Sochi Games. He is poised to help the Anaheim Ducks make another playoff run this spring, after helping them win the franchise’s only Stanley Cup championship in 2007. The Ducks are among the NHL’s best teams, and Selanne might have enough left in the tank to make southern California go Cup Crazy once more. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Teemu has had a great career, but it’s not over just yet.
Alfie’s time. Another aging veteran player who shined in the Olympics is Swedish forward Daniel Alfredsson of the Detroit Red Wings. Alfie is 41 years old, and just added a Silver Medal to his collection to go with the Gold one he earned in Turin in 2006. Alfredsson was a face of the Ottawa Sentaors for much of his career, and was the NHL’s longest tenured captain prior to signing with the Red Wings in the summer of 2013. Like Jarome Iginla, who I wrote about a few weeks ago, Alfie has done almost everything you could possibly want to do in a hockey career except win the Stanley Cup. He’s over 40, but he can still play at a high level. The Wings are in a tough division and a tough conference, but it’s the same division and conference Alfie has played in his entire career. The Bruins, Habs, and Leafs don’t scare him, and he commands a lot of respect from the players and coaches of those teams. It’s just another storyline to look out for this spring.
Sabres trade Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to the St. Louis Blues. We’ve already had the first major trade of the season. Ryan Miller, the star goalie and face of the franchise in Buffalo was traded to St. Louis. It’s a sad time for Sabres fans, but they’re trying to rebuild, and Miller is a free agent at the end of the season, and it’s not fair to him to waste the prime of his career on a roster where he doesn’t have a chance to win. In return, Buffalo is getting a pretty good goalie in Jaroslav Halak, but this trade really makes the Blues one of the top teams this spring. St. Louis has been building towards something big for a few years now, and this trade just might be what it takes to put them over the top. Miller will join fellow United States Olympians David Backes and shootout hero T. J. Oshie in an attempt to being Lord Stanley’s Cup to the Show Me State for the first time. Miller, who sad on the bench in Sochi behind Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, will certainly have a chip on his shoulder when the Kings come to town in what has become one of the best rivalries in the Western Conference. It should be a lot of fun to watch.
Canada wins Gold, but they really want a certain silver Cup. 1993, the year that the Montreal Canadiens defeated Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings, was the last time a Canadian team won the last game of the season and got to hoist the Stanley Cup. The following year, Mark Messier and the New York Rangers defeated the Vancouver Canucks in seven games and a streak of American teams dominating the NHL began. If the regular season ended today, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the only two Canadian teams in the tournament. The Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets are close, but currently a couple points out of the final playoff spot in the very tight Western Conference, and the Ottawa Senators could get back into it with a little winning streak, but the once mighty Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have struggled mightily this season. It’s been a rough stretch for Canadian hockey fans. The Flames probably should have beaten the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, and the Canucks were heavily favored before losing in seven games to the Bruins in 2011. The Oilers were lucky to be in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, but they have failed to reach the playoffs since then. Hockey fans are passionate and territorial by nature, and Canada takes hockey more seriously than any other country on the planet. It must be sickening seeing cities like Anaheim, Los Angeles, Tampa, Dallas, Raleigh, and Denver winning the Cup when fans in those cities didn’t pay attention to hockey a generation ago. It might not happen this year (and quite frankly, I hope it doesn’t since the Habs and Leafs would have to get past my beloved Bruins to so), but someday the Stanley Cup will return to Canada, and it won’t be just to hand it off to the American team that won it on the road.
Shame on you, Mr. Jacobs. I’ve written on here before about my love for hockey and my love for the Boston Bruins, but sometimes it’s just so hard to love them. It’s not because of the players on the ice. Those guys are great. I love the black and gold uniforms with the classic Eight Spoked B logo. I love the physical play that is synonymous with the Boston Bruins. I love Bruins fans. They get it. The amount of love I have for the Bruins’ players and fans is equal to the amount of hate I have for the Bruins’ owner. Jeremy Jacobs is an old, cheap, scumbag that could make Mr. Burns look charitable. He underspent on the team for years and locked the NHL players out three times to squeeze more money out of them. He lives in Buffalo and clearly only cares about making money. He’s lucky to have bought a hockey team in a market that loves it’s hockey or he’s never be able to get away with what he does. In a league where many teams struggle to sell tickets, Bruins tickets are hard to come by these days. What he’s doing now is making it so the regular hockey fan can’t afford more than one or two Bruins games a year, if that. Season ticket holders were notified of a huge increase in ticket prices for 2014-15, and they are rightfully outraged. Since 2008, prices will have more than doubled. Jacobs almost got the 2012-13 season cancelled like he did in 2004-05, and we would have been too fed up to come back if the team weren’t so good. This is the thanks we get for supporting a team when we probably shouldn’t. I want hockey to be successful and I want the NHL to do well, but guys like Jeremy Jacobs are the reason normal people can’t stand rich people, and are in the way of the NHL growing into a more mainstream sport. Shame on you.
There is one Bruin who is one of the best players from his country, but not making the trip to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla didn’t get much consideration for Team Canada this time around, but he’s already earned two Gold Medals, one in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the other in Vancouver in 2010, and there’s only one prize in his career he still needs to achieve: his name inscribed on Lord Stanley’s Cup. I am certain that Iggy will get inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto when his playing career, he is a player so good that retiring without winning the Stanley Cup will seem like an unsatisfying career.
Jarome Iginla is the greatest player in the history of the Calgary Flames. In 2002, the same season he helped Canada win it’s first Olympic Gold Medal in 50 years, he won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s top scorer, becoming the first player in 20 years not named Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, or Jaromir Jagr to win the award. In 2004, he captained the Flames to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games. It seemed at the time like Iginla had a great chance of getting back there again in the near future, but the 2004-05 NHL lockout cost him an entire season in the prime of his career with the best roster around him in Calgary. The Flames slowly declined in the years following the lockout, and found themselves at the bottom of the NHL food chain by the time the 2012 lockout rolled around (The NHL averages one lockout per U.S. presidency over the last two decades. It’s really bad.). When the condensed 2013 season began, hockey fans all around North America knew that Iggy would be the most prized treasure at the trade deadline if Calgary were to get off to a slow start.
When trade talks heated up, Iginla, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, narrowed down his list of teams to which he would accept trades to the four most recent Stanley Cup champions: the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Pittsburgh Penguins. He was right to think those would be the teams that gave him the best chance to win the Cup in 2013, seeing as they would eventually be the four remaining teams in the tournament. The Bruins and Penguins pushed the hardest to acquire Iginla. The Bruins offered two defensemen from their AHL affiliate in Providence, while the Penguins offered two college players, one from Yale and another from St. Cloud State (both schools would end up reaching college hockey’s Frozen Four for the first time later that month). The Bruins were under the impression that they had a deal in place, and former Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward even reported news of the trade on TSN and on Twitter. The next morning, Bruins fans woke up expecting that the news of Iggy’s trade to Boston would still be a reality, but that was not the case. The Flames went back to their franchise superstar, believing the two trade offers to be equal in value, and let him make the decision. The Penguins were one a hot streak at the time and seemed like they were far and away the NHL’s best team.
Iginla chose Pittsburgh in the hopes that he could win the Cup with the man he assisted on the Gold Medal clinching overtime goal in Vancouver against the United States, Sidney Crosby. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma had other ideas and the two never got to spend much time on the same line. The Pens kept winning until they ran into the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Some teams would have fallen apart after having the rug pulled out from under them like that, but the 2013 Bruins were not most teams. They were playing an inspired brand of hockey that Pittsburgh had no answer for, and had a Finnish wall in front of their net named Tuukka Rask. The Bruins swept the Pens in four games, and reached the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years, ultimately losing to the mighty Chicago Blackhawks in the closest six game series in history. Another year of being so close, yet so far for Jarome Iginla.
In the summer of 2013, Iginla became a free agent, and he turned out to be nothing more than a rental for the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose priority was finding a way to fit superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang under the NHL’s hard salary cap. The Bruins were making moves of their own to retool the roster, and Nathan Horton elected to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency, so it made all the sense in the world for Iginla and the B’s to put the trade deadline drama behind them and join forces.
In the short term, Iginla has been as advertised, and the Bruins are better now than they would have been with Nathan Horton. Horton was the type of player to coast through the regular season, but step it up in the playoffs. Iggy gives the same effort every night, and his made linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci look better this regular season. Iginla goes into the Olympic Break with 17 goals and 26 assists, which puts him 2nd only behind Krejci on the team in points this season. Iggy has had a reputation as one of the best fighting skill players in the NHL, which makes him a perfect fit for what Claude Julien’s Bruins try to do. Jarome Iginla was born to be a Bruin, but it took him until he was 36 years old to get there.
While Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and Loui Eriksson are all in Russia trying to earn Olympic Gold for their countries, Jarome Iginla has just one more goal in mind. This month gives him a chance to rest a little bit because there is still a long way to go. He came to Boston for one reason, and he has yet to find it.