<
>

Secret of Claude's staying power

BOSTON -- Now in his 15th consecutive season behind the bench with the Nashville Predators, Barry Trotz is the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. The Detroit Red Wings' Mike Babcock follows with nine seasons as coach.

Then there's Claude Julien. This is his seventh season as coach of the Boston Bruins.

Other than these three coaches, since the start of the 2007-08 season (Julien's first in Boston) there have been 69 different head coaches in the NHL, according to Elias. The Bruins are in the midst of a three-game winning streak and playing their best hockey of the season to this point. So why are we discussing Julien's job security?

After the Bruins defeated the Florida Panthers on Thursday at TD Garden, Florida fired coach Kevin Dineen and his staff. Later in the week, the Buffalo Sabres axed coach Ron Rolston and general manager Darcy Regier. Any time another coach is fired, Julien feels his colleague's pain. He knows first-hand what it's like to be fired -- it's happened to him twice during his NHL coaching career, including once right before the playoffs.

And until this past spring, when the Bruins returned to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in a three-year span, it seemed Julien had not received the credit he deserved.

But judging from the number of coaching changes in the league, Julien has built a strong working relationship with Bruins president Cam Neely and general manager Peter Chiarelli.

"I really think it's about communication," Chiarelli said. "[Julien] is a good communicator. He's a modest guy but a good communicator with strong leadership character traits."

Julien describes his relationship with Chiarelli as a comfortable one.

"There's always been a trust factor. There's also been an honest factor that exists between the two of us," Julien said. "We both say what is on our minds, we both work things out and work together on those kinds of things. Everything that goes on is a team concept. We work on things together. If there's something that he may not be happy with, he's going to tell me. And if there's something I don't like, I'm going to say the same thing. That relationship is actually healthy. To me, it's been a comfortable one. Like anything else, there may come a day when there's got to be a split, but hopefully that doesn't come for another 10 or more years, or when I'm ready to retire."

Success breeds happiness, and the Bruins have enjoyed a lot of it during Julien's tenure. Ask either Julien, Chiarelli or Neely and each will explain the reason for that success is due to a strong line of communication throughout the organization.

"He respects other people's opinions within the organization and knows the game changes; trends come and go and you've got to recognize them," Chiarelli said. "While he's true to his foundation, he's also malleable, he can tweak here and there. But he's receptive to talking about that stuff, so the relationship has grown over the years."

Winning aside, like any relationship, it hasn't always been perfect. There's been speculation over the years that Neely has not always agreed with Julien's coaching methods. But they have learned as a group how to put a winning product on the ice, and Julien has survived as the team's coach through it all.

"With Pete, Claude and myself, we all understand each other's strengths," Neely said. "Listening is key, in anything in life really and not just sports. To sit back and listen to what others have to say and by doing that, you're able to grow as a group. I think that's what has happened here."

There have been at least four times during Julien's career in Boston when his job appeared in jeopardy. The more recent occasions include: in 2010, after the Bruins lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference semifinals; in 2011, when the Bruins trailed the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in the quarterfinals; after the Bruins lost to the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs in 2012; and again this past spring when it appeared the Bruins were on the verge of another first-round exit to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Julien has weathered the storm each time.

When asked whether he's ever felt the need to reassure the coach that his job was safe, Chiarelli said he's never had to.

"Coaches take a lot of heat, and coaches [in Boston] take a lot of heat," Chiarelli said. "We've had discussions over the years when it seemed there was more heat. Again, think about it in the context of there's always a line of communication, there's always a running conversation, so nothing surprises us.

"When we're in a bit of a skid, people start thinking it's Claude, but he knows we're working at this together. It's a collaborative effort and it kind of insulates him. He's good about that stuff. He knows in his profession there's a lot of heat, as do I."

Last spring, Chiarelli did something most GMs would not have: He publicly backed his coach by saying that as long as he was the GM, Julien would be the coach. Chiarelli made that comment after the Bruins mounted a historic comeback in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs.

If Boston had lost that series, Chiarelli would have made changes, but the team rebounded and eventually lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals. So why did Chiarelli feel the need to publicly defend Julien?

"There was a lot of speculation and I just felt strongly about him as a coach, and I felt a strong statement was needed," Chiarelli said. "We all know nothing is guaranteed in life, myself included, so I just wanted to put a strong statement out there. I don't always respond to the white noise around, regarding whether it's his job, my job. I just felt it was necessary at that time."

Julien said he's never had a blowout with his bosses.

"We've always had discussions. Whether it's a little more heated, or whatever, it's never gone beyond being strong on our opinions," Julien said. "I'll be honest, it's been a real healthy relationship with Peter. It's as simple as that. He's got to do his job and I've got to do mine in order for us to stay that way."

One positive of Julien's coaching technique is his honesty with the players. Despite his lack of NHL playing experience (only 14 games with the Quebec Nordiques), Julien learned during his 13 seasons in the minors how he would treat players if he ever became a coach.

"I'm speaking from a player's perspective, there's no gray area and that's important as a player to know where your coach is coming from," Neely said. "That's key from a player's perspective, knowing where your coach is coming from and believe it's black or white. Claude has a lot of respect for our players, but he also demands certain things from our players and they know that."

From a team president's perspective, Neely explains he's not the type of executive who busts through Julien's door after a game to give his opinion. When he travels with the team, it gives Neely a chance to have more conversations with Julien. Overall, Neely is satisfied with Julien.

"I look at the time and effort Claude and his staff put in: They work extremely hard, they break a lot of things down, they focus on areas we need to improve upon, which is key. It's easy to work on the things you're good at, but you have to focus on the things that you can improve upon as well, and our staff does that."

Under Charlie Jacobs (son of owner Jeremy Jacobs), Neely, Chiarelli, Julien and the veteran players, the Bruins have built a culture of wanting to compete for a Stanley Cup every season. During Julien's tenure in Boston, the Bruins have reached the playoffs every season and have reached the Stanley Cup finals twice in a three-year span, winning the Cup in 2011.

"The success really speaks for itself," Neely said.