Much to the surprise of many Bruins fans and media, Don Sweeney announced on Thursday that Claude Julien will “absolutely” be returning for his 10th year as Bruins coach. Although many thought this would be the case once the Bruins announced a joint press conference with Julien and Sweeney.
And of course, the reaction was …. negative for the most part, with a couple of notable exceptions (here and here). Words like “complacent” and “clueless” were thrown around Twitterland, among other things. Assistant coach Doug Houda was let go as well. Everyone screamed ‘Scapegoat!!’ Well, I ask you … is the guy who runs the defense, and if that defense was not good, not accountable for that?
But I’m not sure the Bruins are complacent or clueless, or scapegoating anyone. Well, at least not completely.
Here me out…
If the Bruins were “complacent,” would they have jettisoned Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, etc? Would they have traded Dougie Hamilton for picks? Would Julien not have come back last year with a clear mandate to improve the offense? To me that’s not a sign of a complacent team. Sure, it might not be a sign of a smart team or a team with a clue. But complacency? Nah.
The real question here is competency. Is Don Sweeney the guy to get the Bruins back to the playoffs? Will he make the moves necessary to get rid of some dead weight (that wasn’t entirely on him), move some bad deals (some that were on him), and determine what free agents to sign, trades to make, and kids to go with for next season and beyond?
Many say the Bruins dealt away assets for John Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak. And they did. But the B’s have plenty to work with in terms of prospects to either deal or earn a spot on the big club. You all know the list so I won’t rehash it here. But suffice to say the B’s have some ammo with which to make some deals, even though #TradezRHard. And if they land Jimmy Vesey …
It was interesting to note that Sweeney didn’t flat out call Tuukka Rask untouchable during the press conference. Could they trade Tuukka? Sure, but you better get a goalie back. #Obvious
If the Bruins are thinking big (and they have to be, don’t they?), then a move like Rask/1st/prospect to St. Louis for either one of Jake Allen or Brian Elliott makes sense. Both Elliott and Allen are up after next season, and the Blues likely can’t/won’t pay them both. Or maybe to Anaheim for Fredrik Andersen/Sami Vatanen.
Sweeney owned up to the fact that it was on him to improve things for next year, particularly on D, but don’t overlook the forward group either. Tough decisions will have to be made, like resigning Torey Krug, how much to offer Stamkos (KIDDING) and which of the kids to go with. Certainly it’s up to the players to make the club, but they HAVE to make a concerted effort to integrate kids like Frank Vatrano, Danton Heinen, Brandon Carlo, Rob O’Gara, etc. for now and the future. As is determining what you have with Colin Miller and Joe Morrow. Is Morrow your Krug replacement? Liles? Maybe for a year or two until Matt Grzelcyk is ready?
Sweeney is also getting backlash from his “we don’t need a major overhaul” comment. Which is true, to a degree. Your defense needs work, sure. But is getting two defensemen this offseason a “major overhaul?” Trading Chara or Rask falls in the major overhaul category. A couple of D-men? Not quite. Edmonton needs a major overhaul. Toronto too. The Bruins? Don’t think so.
Besides, what other moves can Sweeney make? Buying out Jimmy Hayes or Dennis Seidenberg? Trading Seidenberg? Good luck with that. Do you trade Adam McQuaid? Sure, worth a shot since Kevan Miller obviously has Julien’s trust and they’re the same player.
I get that fans want to blame someone, anyone, for this. It’s been two years now of bland hockey. But really think about who is to blame here. Former GM Peter Chiarelli should get a lot of it from this vantage point. From trading Tyler Seguin, choosing Seidenberg over Johnny Boychuk, the Iginla overage that cost them cap space, and unnecessary contract extensions, Chiarelli was like Godzilla through Tokyo. And Sweeney was left to clean up the mess.
Julien and Sweeney aren’t blameless. Sweeney got hoodwinked on the Hamilton deal (although Zach Senyshyn looks good) and Julien’s decisions leave you scratching your head sometimes. But Sweeney does deserve some time to sort through his predecessor’s failings. But if you think Doug freaking Houda was scapegoated, wouldn’t you have to say the same thing if Julien was gassed?
Look, this team probably isn’t close to a Cup. But they are close to getting back to making the playoffs, despite what you hear from some. It’s up to Sweeney to get this right starting next season, or he’ll be gone. It should be a very, very interesting offseason.