Bruins take hard-line leadership approach
In times of crisis, organizations look to their leaders for guidance. As CEO, Charlie Jacobs sets the culture of the Bruins. His employees follow his lead.
On Wednesday, during his news conference to explain the firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli, Jacobs positioned the bar as high as it gets.
“I said that for us not to make the playoffs would have been a failure,” Jacobs said, referring to his January declaration. “So here we are, out. I want to clarify my comment about the playoffs. The expectation is for us not only to get into the playoffs, but to play and compete for the Stanley Cup, not just to get in.”
In some ways, Jacobs could say nothing else. These are the big words of every executive in his position. The Cup is a yearly pursuit, and rightfully so. If any organization targets lesser goals, it is doing its customers and business partners a disservice.
The tone of Jacobs’s words, however, did something besides defining the organizational standard. By identifying his target with such defiance and emotion, Jacobs declared that anything short of their goal would be judged swiftly and critically. Chiarelli paid for this shortcoming with his job.
Jacobs and team president Cam Neely have chosen this leadership style. They demand results. When results are not met, they make their displeasure known and hold employees accountable. Jacobs and Neely showed on Wednesday that they are in charge. The people below them on the masthead are expected to fall in line.
It is a hard and joyless management approach. It is also a thing of the past.
USA Hockey prints a poster that hangs in rinks across the country as a reminder to its coaches. The poster includes the following phrases:
“Be a relationship counselor between a player and their love of the game.”
“Information not humiliation.”
“Never be a child’s last coach.”
“Feed forward = guidance, not criticism.”
“Make it fun first.”
“Be demanding, but never demeaning.”
“Never take a player’s performance personally.”
Hockey was once a sport where fear and intimidation ruled the rink. GMs blustered. Coaches screamed. Players were sent to the minors holding only their equipment bag instead of an explanation.
It doesn’t work that way anymore. In the new normal, everybody gets a trophy. It is a coach’s mandate to pat a player on the back instead of booting him in the rear. A player expects a full dissertation on why he’s being scratched — that is, if a coach even has the freedom to exercise benchings in the first place.
The culture has changed, regardless of whether you like it or not. Players know nothing besides positivity and encouragement.
This doesn’t just apply to hockey. The leaders at the top companies (think of Google, Facebook, and Apple) inspire their employees to think big, achieve, and succeed.
Today’s 20-somethings, be they hockey players or engineers, are uncomfortable working in an environment of fear where they’re knocked around for falling short of expectations. If all they hear is negativity, discouragement, and blame, they shrink instead of grow.
Claude Julien learned in the old school. As a player, he was never told why he was being sent to the minors. As a coach, Julien recognized that today’s players expect full disclosure as well as encouragement.
In February, the Bruins lost four straight games. After a 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary on Feb. 16, Neely expressed his disappointment to colleague Kevin Paul Dupont.
“I’ve been frustrated at times in the past,” Neely said, “but for the most part our team’s compete level and effort level has always been there. So, yeah, I’ve not been to the ‘disappointed’ stage before. Given the expectation of the team, the expectation of what we have of individual players . . . we aren’t where we should be. The fans here deserved more than what they’ve received.”
The Bruins lost their next game to Edmonton in the shootout, 4-3. On Feb. 19, Julien acknowledged the dark mood around the organization had crept into the room. Players were skittish. Their nerves showed on the ice.
“Guys are feeling the heat,” Julien said. “They’re feeling the stress of the expectations. I’ve been trying to get these guys not to relax as far as the game’s concerned, we’ve still got to play better. But just mentally, we need to be a little bit more relaxed to be able to execute and think properly out there.”
It’s reasonable for an employer to expect his investment to be the best team possible. It is fantasyland to think the top club wins every year.
The goal is to make the playoffs. Once that happens, it comes down to luck and goaltending. They’re usually one and the same. Luck becomes far more amplified in a seven-game series than it does over an 82-game sample size.
Every championship team is lucky, from the Tim Thomas-guided 2011 Bruins to last year’s Kings, who only advanced to the Final after a Game 7 overtime bounce off Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy. The latter is the definition of getting lucky.
In the last nine seasons, seven champions won at a higher rate in the playoffs than the Presidents’ Trophy winners during their respective regular seasons. The 2013-14 Kings and the 2005-06 Hurricanes were the exceptions. In other words, Cup winners go on playoff tears that are unsustainable by the best regular-season teams over 82 games. This isn’t just about having a good team. It’s also about having good luck.
The good teams succeed because they minimize the effect of luck. They build depth throughout their roster to account for the injuries that are certain to take place. They emphasize puck possession to put themselves in the best position to score more goals than they allow. They employ difference-makers in goal.
The Bruins are not a good team. They have to get faster. They’re short on depth. But they have the most important piece for playoff success. Tuukka Rask (28-19, 2.11 goals-against average, .930 save percentage) has better postseason statistics than Henrik Lundqvist (44-48, 2.23, .922 following Game 1 against Pittsburgh), Carey Price (19-21, 2.72, .910 following Game 2 against Ottawa), and Jonathan Quick (45-31, 2.22, .923).
The 2014-15 Bruins wilted under the heat. The pressure is only going to rise.
IN NO RUSH
Bruins contract means Chiarelli can take time
Peter Chiarelli can afford to be patient. According to ESPN, Chiarelli had three years remaining on his contract with the Bruins. This will keep him from bidding for what is currently the only open spot: Toronto.
The executive who will replace Dave Nonis, a friend of Chiarelli’s, will be involved in a major rebuild. There’s a lot of work to do in Toronto, starting with finding takers for Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, and Phil Kessel. That won’t be easy.
The next Toronto GM will also be responsible for executing president Brendan Shanahan’s vision. This is akin to the situation Chiarelli faced in Boston under Cam Neely. It didn’t work out well for Chiarelli. He would have no interest operating in a similar working environment in Toronto under Shanahan.
Another position could be available in Ottawa. GM Bryan Murray has said this might be his final season because of his diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer. Chiarelli was formerly assistant GM in Ottawa to John Muckler and is an Ottawa native. However, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk delayed Chiarelli’s transition to Boston in 2006. The Senators are stocked with good young players and one of the league’s difference-makers in Erik Karlsson, but it’s difficult to see Chiarelli working for Melnyk again.
New Jersey, San Jose, and Florida are the likeliest organizations with future openings. Lou Lamoriello is 72. Doug Wilson is under watch because the Sharks missed the playoffs and he couldn’t convince Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau to waive their no-trade protection. Dale Tallon has good young players in Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Aaron Ekblad. But the Panthers need to win to increase ticket sales.
Chiarelli was patient in Boston, even to a fault. He will not change now.
Nolan didn’t stand much of a chance
Tim Murray had every right to sack Ted Nolan in Buffalo. It is only fair for an incoming GM to choose his coach. Nolan was Pat LaFontaine’s hire when the ex-Sabres president told GM Darcy Regier and coach Ron Rolston they were no longer needed.
But Murray stretched the notions of disbelief when he noted that better performance from the Sabres could have extended Nolan’s stay behind the bench. “I didn’t foresee us being a 30th-place team,” Murray told the Buffalo News. “Certainly after the trade deadline, trading out guys, I had a big part in that. There’s no question, and I own that. If we finished 24th and showed great improvement, is it possible this wouldn’t have happened? I guess it’s possible.”
Not even Scotty Bowman could have squeezed a 24th-place result out of the crew Murray assembled. Buffalo started the season with Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth in goal. Neither is a No. 1. Tyler Ennis was the Sabres’ only forward who could have qualified as a top-six man elsewhere. Andrej Meszaros was a top-four defenseman.
It only got worse. Murray sent Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford to Winnipeg in the Evander Kane blockbuster. Kane has yet to play a game for Buffalo after undergoing shoulder surgery. Enroth went to Dallas. Neuvirth went to the Islanders. Murray traded Torrey Mitchell and Brian Flynn to the Canadiens. Chris Stewart was shipped to Minnesota.
By Game No. 82, Matt Hackett was backing up Anders Lindback in net. Johan Larsson and Tyson Strachan were in the starting lineup. Nolan had fulfilled Job 1, which was putting Murray in the best position to draft Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel on June 26.
Plenty of coaches will send their résumés to Buffalo. If Claude Julien’s multiyear extension doesn’t prevent his dismissal in Boston, he’d be among the best candidates to lead Buffalo’s turnaround. McDavid or Eichel will be a good teenage centerpiece for any coach. There are other players with promise, including Kane, Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Zemgus Girgensons.
But the new coach will have to contend with a losing culture. It’s not easy to cleanse the dressing room of loss after loss after loss when it’s been programmed into their heads for an entire season. Buffalo’s next coach will also have to trust Murray. Nolan learned that the hard way.
Stick incident invites trickery
Under Rule 61.3, referee Steve Kozari was correct in tossing P.K. Subban in the first period of Game 1 between Montreal and Ottawa. Subban slashed Mark Stone, causing the Ottawa rookie to fall to the ice in pain and hustle off to the dressing room. Rule 61.3 states that when an injury occurs on a slash, a major penalty must be assessed. The same standards apply to other stick fouls such as butt-ending and spearing. They are governed under Section 8 of the rulebook. Subban’s incident, however, illuminates the possibilities of players faking injuries to draw five-minute majors. Smart coaches will instruct their charges to act as if they are hurt if a five-minute major is a possibility. The game does not need any more fakery. It’s not fair for a referee to be an on-ice doctor and determine the legitimacy of an injury. These rules require amending.
Another coaching search for the Flyers
On Friday, the sun came up and a Flyers coach was fired, which is a regular occurrence. GM Ron Hextall, who inherited Craig Berube, dismissed the third-year coach, as was his right. The Flyers went 33-31-18 despite ace goaltending from Steve Mason and top-flight performances from Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. Hextall will now be seeking the Flyers’ fourth coach since 2007. Given the Flyers’ deep pockets, they’ll be among Mike Babcock’s suitors. Hiring a new coach will be just one of Hextall’s offseason duties. The GM has to freshen a roster, especially on defense, without much payroll flexibility. The Flyers are responsible for three more years of paying Vincent Lecavalier at an annual rate of $4.5 million.
Rental market can prove costly
Healthy scratches for Game 1 of Chicago-Nashville: Antoine Vermette, Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli. In total, the two teams ceded Klas Dahlbeck, Olli Jokinen, Brendan Leipsic, and two 2015 first-round picks for the three rentals. That’s a big price for GMs Stan Bowman and David Poile to have given up for men in suits and ties come the postseason. On the flip side, Montreal GM Marc Bergevin’s deadline acquisitions played big roles in the Canadiens’ 4-3 Game 1 win over the Senators. Flynn scored a goal and two assists. Mitchell scored a goal and went 10 for 15 on faceoffs, including late-game draws during six-on-five play. Bergevin traded Jack Nevins, a 2015 seventh-rounder, and a 2016 fifth-rounder to Buffalo for Flynn and Mitchell. There are no sure bets on the rental market.
Ex-Bruin Dennis Wideman led all players with 30:03 of ice time in Calgary’s 2-1 Game 1 win over Vancouver. Wideman assisted on Kris Russell’s winning goal in the last minute of regulation. Wideman turned into a punchline at the end in Boston. He’s been a horse in Calgary, well worth his $5 million annual salary . . . Babcock’s contract is expiring at the best time. Perpetual moneymakers Toronto and Philadelphia currently have vacancies. Boston could join the group. Sabres owner Terry Pegula is a billionaire. So is Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch. Babcock will name his price and get it . . . Four days after concluding his college career with a national championship for Providence College, Jon Gillies signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Flames. Karri Ramo is unrestricted, which leaves a vacancy behind Jonas Hiller. But Gillies’s first stop will most likely be in Stockton, Calif., the new location of Calgary’s AHL franchise. Gillies has a future as an NHL ace. The Flames do not intend to rush his development . . . Following Subban’s slash, the Senators released practically Stone’s entire medical history to sway the league into suspending Montreal’s ace defenseman. The playoffs are the best.