As expected, the Bruins announced Thursday morning that Claude Julien will return as coach in 2016-17, albeit with at least one significant change among his coaching staff.
Doug Houda, long Julien's bench assistant in charge of the defensive corps during games, will not be back after spending 10 seasons with the club. General manager Don Sweeney also said he is assessing other potential changes on the staff, part of an overall team-wide review he is conducting after the Bruins failed to make the playoffs for a second year in a row.
Houda, 49, came aboard as an assistant coach when Peter Chiarelli was named the club's general manager and Dave Lewis the new coach in the summer of 2006. A former NHL defenseman, he was retained when Lewis was let go after a year and was a favorite among players throughout his 10 years on Causeway Street.
Like all of Julien's assistants other than Bob Essensa this year, Houda did not have a contract beyond 2015-16. Sweeney and Julien in the coming days and weeks will decide if they want to extend the contracts of assistants Doug Jarvis, 61, and Joe Sacco, 47.
'Doug Houda will not be back,'' said Sweeney, shortly after confirming that Julien will be back on the job for his 10th season as bench boss. ''All the coaches, with the exception of Bob Essensa, who has a contract in place, do not have contracts. Claude and I, organizationally, we are looking at a bunch of different things that we are going to continue to assess in the next few days, rather than just sort of be cut-and-dried, we want to make sure we are making make the best decisions for us—the necessary decisions going forward—and that's top to bottom.''
''Doug Houda is a great coach,'' added Julien. ''Doug Houda will coach again in this league. The players loved him. We are discussing here, as a management group, about moving forward and bringing some people in here that can help certain elements of our game…and that was the decision made on Doug and that's what we are continuing to discuss right now, our personnel in place. As was mentioned earlier, we weren't expecting to be here at this point and probably not ready for all the answers.''
If nothing else, the move not to retain Houda will change the tone, and perhaps the content, of the message delivered to the players. The fact that he was so well-liked in the room might have worked against him, in that a team with back-to-back postseason misfires might want to go with a sterner, less player-friendly approach in hopes of avoiding a third playoff DNQ.
Neither Sweeney nor Julien offered names of candidates to fill the vacancy. One logical name would be Bruce Cassidy, coach of the Providence Bruins, who are now about to enter the AHL playoffs. Otherwise, there is a near-limitless number of candidates working with clubs throughout the NHL and minor professional leagues.
In order to coax an assistant away from another NHL club, it might be necessary to offer the candidate an associate coach's position here, because typically coaches are not allowed to make lateral job moves as a way to jump to another club.
Meanwhile, Sweeney firmly backed Julien's return for a 10th season.
''I emphatically believe that Claude is a coach who can take us through what I'll describe as a bumpy transistion period this year,'' said Sweeney, named GM a year ago in the wake of Chiarelli's dismissal. ''We've got work to do. I have work to do.''