It’s a coin toss whether the NHL will open the 2012-13 season on time, but the Bruins on Monday opted not to leave their bench open to chance, signing coach Claude Julien to a long-term contract extension.
The club did not reveal terms of the deal, but Julien had one season remaining on his contract, and an extension in the three- to five-year range would be likely. Julien has coached five seasons on Causeway Street, won a Cup in 2011, and this will be his second extension since joining the club in June 2007.
The move again demonstrates general manager Peter Chiarelli’s preference to run a stable, defense-centered franchise. Julien collected his 228th victory with the Bruins last season, ranking him fourth all time in Boston, and he soon will eclipse both Don Cherry (231) and Milt Schmidt (245). He also owns a 36-27 (.571) postseason record in Boston, ranking him No. 1 here in playoff victories.
Both Julien and Chiarelli will be available to the media Tuesday at the Garden. The club made neither available Monday.
Chiarelli, entering his seventh season as Boston’s GM, in the summer of 2006 signed Dave Lewis to a four-year contract, then dismissed him the following summer after a disheveled, if not shapeless, 35-41-6 season that now stands as the last season the Bruins failed to make the playoffs.
In Lewis’s wake, Julien immediately implemented a solid, dependable, and winning defensive game, one that helped captain Zdeno Chara win a Norris Trophy in 2009 as the game’s top defenseman and also aided Tim Thomas in twice winning the Vezina Trophy (2009, ’11) as the game’s No. 1 backstop. Chara is returning for a seventh season, his sixth under Julien, while Thomas weeks ago informed Chiarelli he needs time away from the game and perhaps will retire with one year remaining on his contract.
Tuukka Rask is expected to take over the No. 1 goaltending duties and he likely will be backed up by the untested Anton Khudobin. If that’s the case, Julien will enter his next season behind the Boston bench with a pair of goaltenders who have combined for all of 52 NHL victories, all but five of those owned by Rask. Front-to-back defense again will remain his coaching mantra.
Julien, 52, in 2011 guided the Bruins to their first Cup in 39 years, his club going 16-9 in the postseason and three times winning the seventh game of a series (Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver) to move the franchise beyond its long-faded Big Bad Bruins era of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
The media release issued by the club made no mention of Boston’s assistant coaches, including Doug Houda, Geoff Ward, Doug Jarvis, and Bob Essensa. Throughout the NHL, clubs typically extend the deals of assistant coaches whenever the top man re-ups. That could be the case here, despite the fact Ward, in particular, has felt some heat for the club’s oft-woeful power-play record.
For all the success the franchise has had under Julien, the popgun man-advantage has been a lightning rod for criticism, much of it directed at Ward, the power play just one of his responsibilities. With the trade deadline approaching in February 2011, the sputtering power play led Chiarelli to make a bold move to acquire experienced point man Tomas Kaberle from the Maple Leafs. As bad as the power play was prior to Kaberle’s arrival, it only grew worse, much worse, ultimately leading the Bruins to let him go after the season on the same day they acquired Joe Corvo from Carolina. And with the hard-shooting Corvo aboard, the power play sputtered through most of 2011-12.
Boston’s 2012-13 season is slated to open Oct. 11 in Philadelphia, but the collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15. If a new deal is not in place, a lockout would be likely, what would be the third in league history. But whenever the game goes back on, Julien will be back on the job for perhaps the next 5-6 years.