Frustrated and in search of answers after his team missed the playoffs for a second straight season, general manager Don Sweeney on Thursday resolutely backed Claude Julien and confirmed the veteran bench boss will be back in 2016-17 to begin a 10th season as coach of the Bruins.
The long shadow of Julien’s success here, including a Stanley Cup victory in 2011 and another trip to the finals in 2013, proved too much for Sweeney to dismiss. Sitting next to Sweeney at a morning news conference at TD Garden, a tired-looking Julien, 55, talked with pride about coaching here, and with equal courage noted he remains determined to help the Bruins get back on Cup-bound track.
“I emphatically believe that Claude is a coach who can take us through what I’ll describe as a bumpy transition period this year,’’ said Sweeney, named GM a year ago in the wake of Peter Chiarelli’s dismissal. “We’ve got work to do. I have work to do.’’
That work will include changes, beginning with the coterie of Julien’s longtime assistant coaches. Sweeney revealed that Doug Houda, who arrived here a year before Julien as one of then-coach Dave Lewis’s assistants, will not have his contract renewed. Sweeney and Julien then both made it clear that more changes are possible among the assistants, only one of whom, goalie coach Bob Essensa, has a contract beyond the just-expired 2015-16 season.
All of which means both Joe Sacco, 47 and Doug Jarvis, 61, could be on the move, if Sweeney and Julien decide more changes are necessary to reinvigorate a club that for two years in a row came within a goal here or there of claiming the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
‘‘Doug Houda will not be back,’’ said Sweeney. “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 the best decisions for us — the necessary decisions going forward —and that’s top to bottom.’’
“Doug Houda is a great coach,’’ added Julien, who had Houda as a fixture on the bench, overseeing the club’s defenseman pairings. “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 to jettison Houda will change the tone, and perhaps the content, of the message delivered to the players. The fact he was so well liked in the room might have worked against him. A team with back-to-back postseason misfires might now seek a sterner, less player-friendly approach in hopes of avoiding a third playoff DNQ — something that hasn’t happened to Boston since the mid-1960s, prior to Bobby Orr’s arrival in September 1966.
Neither Sweeney nor Julien offered names of candidates to fill Houda’s vacancy. One logical name would be Bruce Cassidy, coach of the Providence Bruins, who next week will enter the AHL playoffs with some of the players coached here by Julien, et al this season. If Cassidy were promoted to the varsity, it is also possible that Sacco, on Julien’s staff for only the last two seasons, could take over the Providence bench.
Meanwhile, with an earnest Sweeney saying he will work to upgrade a roster that was weak on defense and frustratingly inconsistent on offense, Julien will have another crack to add to his club record number of victories. He said he welcomes the challenge.
“Challenges . . . make you a good coach,’’ he said. “And I want to be a character person. I want to be a character coach that wants to be here. And even if we have to go through some bumpy roads, I’m more than willing to do that because I love this city. I love the fans and I love the organization.’’
Julien’s contract, signed late in Chiarelli’s tenure, no doubt was a factor in his being retained. He is believed to have two years remaining on his deal, worth upward of $3 million per season. Upon arriving here in 2006, Chiarelli signed Lewis to a five-year deal as coach, only to fire him after 82 games, with ownership left to pay the ex-Red Wings assistant through the first four years of Julien’s tenure. Julien is among the handful of most respected coaches in the game, which is the main reason Sweeney kept him aboard, but money is what most concerns the Delaware North ownership group.
Charlie Jacobs, son of Jeremy Jacobs, who bought the team over 40 years ago, will hold a news conference at the Garden on Wednesday, with team president Cam Neely, his trusty face of the franchise at his side.
What will they have to say?
“Well, that will be a question for Cam and Charlie,’’ noted Sweeney.
“I mean, that’s standard for them [to hold a presser]. This was my first time going through the exit [process] and the disappointment of an end to the season, being [GM]. We just took a few days here — that’s just me, in terms of taking time to assess what needs to be done with the plan moving forward . . . they’ll address the organization with where they expect us to get back to and go from there.’’
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.