Monday, November 24, 2008

Claude Julien: King of the Hub?

We’ve reached the quarter pole of the 2008-09 NHL season, and there’s no way that Claude Julien isn’t the league’s Jack Adams Award winner in waiting. That’s Coach of the Year for all of you people who want to turn the NHL into the NBA (and I know there’s nobody like that who is even allowed onto this particular web space) by crushing the old traditions that made the league great. I mean, seriously, how’s that revenue spike doing that came in from changing the Prince of Wales Conference into the Eastern Conference? So good that the premier sports entity in this country, ESPN, turned down broadcast rights to the NHL for $60 million after the last lockout. To put that in some perspective, the NFL’s last television package was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 billion.

But I digress, back to Claude.

He’s even managed to find a way to beat The Frogs on a semi-regular basis and had all of Quebec’s nerves completely frayed going into Game 7 last year. And that with a roster that had a grand total of two 20-goal scorers (Marco Sturm, Chuck Kobasew), worst in the 16-team postseason field, the Anaheim Ducks No. 8 defenseman taking a regular shift (Shane Hnidy, who is still terrible) and a goaltender who got paid almost $4.5 million to be the team’s No. 1 and ended up opening the bench door all season (Manny Fernandez, who is still horrendously overpaid).

Claude’s been even better this year, driving the Bruins to the top of the Eastern Conference. Boston leads the 15-team field in goals scored and goals allowed – it’s pretty easy to go 14-3-4 in your first 21 games when you do that. The Bruins have added young talent (Blake Wheeler, who is an absolute stud, and David Krejci, who looks like a keeper so far), old faces (Patrice Bergeron, who is a plus-4 in 17 games) and have even managed to survive more disastrous signings by Mr. Magoo (Michael Ryder for one, the demoted Peter Schaefer and his $2.1 million he’s making in Providence for another). All of this has been thanks to Julien’s attention to detail and his insistence that Boston gives maximum effort every night out, making its style of play something that the team’s blue-collar, hardcore fan base wants to see.

Perfect example of what a genius this guy is: north of the border Saturday night, Milan Lucic was told not to fight Georges Laraque. That’s like telling Oprah not to yo-yo diet or Roseanne Barr not to be obnoxious – borderline impossible. Laraque wanted revenge for Lucic’s pounding of Mike Komisarek in the Bruins’ 6-1 thrashing of the Habs on Nov. 13, a fight where Lucic dropped Komisarek with a right hand that put Andy Brickley in serious danger of witnessing a Jack Edwards orgasm in the broadcast booth. Julien is smart enough to know that Laraque is a fourth-line butcher and that Lucic, who went on to score a goal in the second period on Saturday, is just a little bit more valuable to his team. Julien assigned Shawn Thornton, who’s about as graceful on skates as Terry O’Reilly ever was, to fight Laraque should he come looking for a beef.

No shock that Boston ended up winning the game in shootout, 3-2, and served notice to the rest of the league that the Bruins are for real. They have one man to thank for that.

(Editors Note: 'The Great 8' penned this one, I swear we're going to give him posting rights anytime now. When will then be now? Soon.)

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