Claude Julien is gone. The book is closed. Both sides are better off.
So why are we still talking about him? Because my wonderful great friend Mike can be kind of a dummy.
On Sunday, after a discussion about Ryan Spooner’s pointed comments about Julien not liking him, Felger asked, “How was Claude with young players?”
I responded that Julien was generally good with young players, naming David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton, Tyler Seguin, David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron as young players who performed well at a young age under Julien.
There’s one guy on that list who might not belong, and it’s Boychuk, because he broke into the league at 26, but the other guys all hold up. The bullet points:
- Pastrnak (26 goals on the season; 22 at the time of Julien’s firing) is an absolute stud at 20.
- Brad Marchand flourished with 20 goals (and a Stanley Cup) as a first-liner in his rookie year.
- Hamilton was Boston’s No. 2 defenseman at 21 years old.
- Seguin scored 29 goals as a 19-turning-20-year-old.
- Krejci developed into a No. 1 caliber center (and led the playoffs in scoring at age 23).
- Lucic scored 30 goals at 22 years old.
- Patrice Bergeron, when healthy, was Patrice Bergeron.
Felger’s objection, of course, was the mention of Seguin, who scored 30-plus goals in his first three seasons in Dallas (37 twice). With 22 goals through 65 games, Seguin could get to 30 again this season.
We all know the Bruins hesitated to give him the keys as a rookie. They were trying to win and they thought he was too skittish at 18. Yet to act like the Bruins jerked Seguin around the entire time he was in Boston is absurd. They made him a first-liner the next season, skating him with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. As Marchand would later recall of the line, "I was very fortunate to be on a line with two great players: myself and Bergy."
And Seguin led the team in goals. He also helped Marchand finish second with 28. Bergeron averaged over half an assist per game.
The Bruins demoted Seguin to the third line in the 2013 playoffs, when his shooting percentage fell off a cliff from 9.9 percent in the regular season to 1.4 percent in the playoffs. When he finished that postseason with one goal in 22 games -- and yes, amidst character concerns -- they traded him. It was shortsighted based on their view of their championship window and they didn’t get enough for him. That’s indisputable. To say that he didn’t have success under Julien is idiotic.
Speaking of idiotic (and I say this lovingly), Felger uses plus-minus as a barometer for which players are good (don't ever do that; plus-minus serves little-to-no purpose anymore with the information that is available to us). As such, Felger should think that Seguin, who went from having a plus-34 under Julien in 2011-12 to a minus-15 this season, has gotten worse since leaving Julien. Hilarious.
Felger also brought up Phil Kessel, who at 21 was better in Boston (.51 goals per game; .85 points per game) than what he was in Toronto (.40 goals per game; .88 points per game). He made the argument that because Kessel was traded, he was a failure in Boston. Boy, Richard Seymour sure sucked with the Patriots, huh?
This is by no means to suggest that these players loved Julien or even liked him. Quite frankly, I don’t (and you shouldn’t) care that much. It’s about whether or not guys perform, and all of the aforementioned players did.
And more guys belong on that list, with Torey Krug chief among them. Hell, for as much as Spooner didn’t like the guy, Julien got a lot out of him when he gave him Lucic and Pastrnak down the stretch of the 2014-15 season. Julien was no magician with younger players, but there are too many success stories to suggest he was bad with them. Blake Wheeler went from being a 21-goal scorer as a rookie under Julien to an eventual 28-goal-scorer in Winnipeg, but is that really what we're working with in the case against Julien?
Then there were players who weren't great under Julien who just ended up not being great. Alexander Khokhlachev is in the KHL, as the organization preferred letting him to Russia to handing him an NHL spot. Jordan Caron and Matt Fraser failed to make NHL rosters in other organizations upon leaving.
Everything you just read was information, not generalizations. Was Julien more successful with older players than young guys? Of course. Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas will have to apologize for being in their 30s in 2011.
Really, the one argument that can be made unequivocally is that a lot of younger guys were probably better than what Gregory Campbell was for the last year-plus of the former Panther’s tenure in Boston. For whatever reason, Julien and management trusted an older player who was bad rather than rolling the dice with a young guy.
Yet you can “have your guys,” as Julien did, and also have success with young players. You can say the first thing without tying it to a myth.