A few days after Ryan Spooner voiced his honest, true feelings about a relationship with former head coach Claude Julien that wasn’t all that functional, third line winger Frank Vatrano echoed some of those same sentiments. In a Thursday morning interview with Toucher and Rich, the 22-year-old Vatrano admitted he “didn’t have the best relationship with Claude” during their two seasons working together. One of the reasons that Julien was ultimately fired in Boston was the difficulty integrating younger players into Boston’s roster as the Black and Gold were clearly starting to rebuild things, and Vatrano felt like he wasn’t always put in a position to best succeed in deference to veteran players.
This season has been a different story with Vatrano gelling with Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes as an effective, productive third line under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, but last season it was customary to see Vatrano playing his off-wing, doing time on the fourth line and not seeing many reps on the power play.
Those are not good fits for a natural born goal-scorer that has 10 goals for the Black and Gold in 29 games this season, and potted over 40 goals between Boston and Providence in his first pro season last year.
“For me, I didn’t have the best relationship with Claude. But that comes with time. Obviously now with Butch [Cassidy] here I have a good relationship with him having been with him last year,” said Vatrano. “Obviously Claude had his guys and he trusted the guys that he’d had for a while. It’s something you can understand especially if they had a good relationship with him. At the end of the day I didn’t have the best relationship with him, but I think he liked me as a player. I liked playing for him while he was here.
“He had those other guys that were ‘his guys’ in those spots where it was a spot you thought you could be playing in. It’s tough when [Julien] had those relationships with those guys that had been there. You thought you’d maybe proven that you deserved to be used in those spots, but maybe it comes with seniority and all that stuff. That’s the kind of stuff that happens.”
It’s been a whole different world for Vatrano, Spooner and a number of other players since Cassidy took over for the fired Julien eight games ago. Young guys are put in prime positions to succeed, and more than one Bruins player has said they have “a green light” to create offensively that hadn’t previously been there under the more conservative Julien.
“Right when I signed out of college [Cassidy] was my coach in my first year as a pro and he was great to me. Right away he put me in spots where I could do what I do best, and he put me in a spot where I could succeed,” said Vatrano. “Now that he’s here in Boston it’s going to benefit me hugely. Now he’s the head coach and he knows where to use me where I’m going to be successful in the league.
“The game of hockey is changing, especially the NHL. You look at every team that’s been successful, and even if you look at Pittsburgh last year, and there is a lot of youth in the lineups. It’s just exciting for the game when young guys are in the lineup and they’re playing with speed and confidence. I think it just makes the game even better than it was when you had to be 6-foot-5, 230-pounds to play the game. Now you see smaller guys getting into the lineups and being successful, and it just shows how the game is changing.”
The bottom line is this for the Bruins: The more younger guys like Vatrano and Spooner that come out and admit there was an issue, then clearly there was a disconnect between Julien and the young players despite the protests of so many Claude apologists in the Bruins media. It’s all been stunningly obvious in the last eight games as the Bruins have collectively played better, harder and with much more confidence and freedom than they did under a coach at the sagging end of an exceedingly great 10-year run in Boston.
It was time for a change behind the Black and Gold bench, and the words and actions of players like Vatrano and Spooner are just further confirmation of what had become stunningly obvious to many people around the team.