Leafs’ Firing of Mike Babcock Similar to Bruins’ 2017 Firing of Claude Julien

ezgif-4-32c55a600fda.jpg

PHOTO CREDITS: (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj

When the news that Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock had been fired and that the Head Coach of the Toronto Marlies, Sheldon Keefe, had been hired as the new Head Coach of the NHL club, the opinions throughout the entire NHL universe – especially on Twitter, filled everyone’s feed.

The release of Babcock from the organization is a surprise, considering the expectations placed on him when he was hired by the team in 2015, but at the very same moment, it was expected. As of November 20th, the Maple Leafs are 10th in the Eastern Conference with a sub-par record of 9-10-4 and they have lost six consecutive games dating back to November 9th. Toronto has the team to win games on paper, but when those victories fail to come to fruition, it eventually falls on the Head Coach and that is the case here.

Mike Babcock started his NHL coaching career with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002-03, leading them to a 40-27-9-6 record and the Western Conference Championship, losing an eventual Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals to the New Jersey Devils. In 2003-2004, the Mighty Ducks missed the playoffs altogether and Babcock was subsequently fired in June of 2004.

A full season later, in July 2005, Mike Babcock was hired by the Detroit Red Wings who were coming off of a dominate 48-21-11-2 record but were eliminated in the second round. From 2005-06 to 2008-09, Babcock led the Red Wings to four-straight 50-plus-win seasons – culminating it all off with a Stanley Cup Championship in 2008 and a Western Conference Championship in 2009.

For the entire ten-year tenure that Mike Babcock spent in Detroit, the Red Wings made the playoffs – adding to their incredible streak of 25 playoff berths that began in the 1990-91 campaign, tied for the third-longest playoff appearance streak in NHL history, behind only the Boston Bruins (29 seasons from 1967-68 to 1995-96) and Chicago Blackhawks (28 seasons from 1969-70 to 1996-97) and equal to the St. Louis Blues (25 seasons from 1979-80 to 2003-04).

From July 15, 2005, to May 8th, 2015, Mike Babcock coached the Detroit Red Wings in 786 regular-season games with a combined record of 458-223-105 along with a 67-56 record in 123 postseason games with the franchise, solidifying himself as one of the best coaches in the NHL. Add that with his two Olympic Gold Medals (2010, 2014), IIHF World Championships Gold Medal (2004) and his World Cup of Hockey Championship win (2016), Babcock proved that he is one of the best bench bosses in the game.

However, after repeated first-round exits, the Red Wings organization relieved the Manitouwadge, Ontario native of his head coaching duties and only a few days later, the now 56-year-old agreed to an eight-year, $50 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in an intense bidding war. Babcock’s ’15/’16 campaign with Toronto was a dismal one, as the Maple Leafs finished last in the Atlantic Division with a 29-42-11 record. Immediately, however, Babcock coached Toronto to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season – losing to the Washington Capitals in six games.

In 2017-18, the Maple Leafs took even larger strides en route to a 49-win season but fell short in seven games to the Boston Bruins. Last season, the Leafs managed to win 46 games for another 3rd place finish in the Atlantic Division, setting them up for the rematch against Boston, but once again, they came up short losing in another Game Seven.

With a virtually similar roster, the Maple Leafs entered this season with even higher expectations and they have not met them whatsoever as mentioned at the beginning of the article. Toronto has struggled to score first in any game and they constantly find themselves chasing the game in almost all aspects. Their defensive game is extremely lacking and the goaltending after Frederik Andersen is almost non-existent. The Toronto Maple Leafs are not good right now and it all fell on Mike Babcock, resulting in his departure from the organization.

In response, the Toronto Maple Leafs also announced the hiring of Sheldon Keefe, the Head Coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies since the 2015-16 season, as the 31st Head Coach of the NHL franchise. Sounds oddly familiar to the Boston Bruins back in 2017.

Boston Bruins Déjà Vu?

Replace the names of “Mike Babcock” with “Claude Julien” and “Sheldon Keefe” with “Bruce Cassidy” and you essentially have near-identical stories, sort of. Rewinding to the 2016-17 regular-season, the Boston Bruins were in a similar situation to the Leafs of today. Prior to ’16/’17, the Bruins failed to clinch a berth in the playoffs for two straight seasons, even though they just narrowly missed by only a few points in both scenarios.

Boston started the new season off rough, failing to gain any momentum or put together any winning streak(s), accumulating a 26-23-3 record throughout the first 55 games of the year. The B’s were on a pace to miss the playoffs once again and for the Bruins ownership, that is not acceptable with the roster they have, so they fired the man who has control of the lineup – Claude Julien.

Rewinding the tape even further, Claude Julien had one of the most successful tenures of a Boston Bruins coach in the history of the franchise. In fact, Julien is the all-time most-winningest head coach in Bruins history, winning 419 games in 759 regular-season games played. In addition, Julien was the Head Coach for 98 playoff games – the most out of any other Bruins coach, winning 57 games – another franchise record. Wrap all of that in a pretty bow called the Stanley Cup because it was Claude Julien that ended the 39-year Stanley Cup drought in Boston.

However, the league was changing and Julien’s defensive-minded style was just not cutting it anymore so General Manager Don Sweeney made the decision to release CJ of his duties in February 2017. Instead of naming a new Head Coach immediately, the Bruins named Bruce Cassidy the Interim Head Coach as he was serving as Julien’s assistant coach for the first time after being the Head Coach of the AHL’s Providence Bruins for the previous five seasons.

Cassidy brought in new ideas and upped the intensity during practices to get the guys to rally behind him. Cassidy came into the role as an almost exact opposite to Julien, coaching a more offensive game while staying defensively responsible. At the time, Cassidy also had experience and chemistry with a few of the younger players on the roster from his time with the P-Bruins, giving him additional advantages.

Backed by the veterans in the lineup, the Boston Bruins indeed rallied behind Bruce Cassidy, winning 18 of their final 27 games, earning a playoff spot against the Ottawa Senators. Even though the Bruins were eliminated in six games, it was a breath of fresh air to go 18-8-1 after Claude Julien was fired and to make an appearance in the postseason. On April 26th, 2017, Bruce Cassidy was officially promoted as the 28th Head Coach in franchise history.

Since then, he has brought the Bruins to a 50-win season in his first full year as coach followed by a 49-win campaign last year that ended up bringing the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup Finals berth for the first time since 2013. Cassidy has done an excellent job adjusting and adapting to challenges in the lineups during the season and even mid-games. He has done a terrific job battling against injuries, slumps, and tough teams to earn the respect of being a top coach in the National Hockey League.

Will the Toronto Maple Leafs become a contending team, make the playoffs, and find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals in a few seasons under the guidance of Sheldon Keefe – possibly, but this could very well end up doing nothing or even doing more harm to this struggling team. Boston had a talented roster behind them and had heart – some may debate if those exist for the Maple Leafs.

Boston and Toronto have a lot in common. The method of relieving old-school coaches for younger, new-school coaches is proving to be yet another similarity. Only time will tell to see if the Toronto Maple Leafs can turn their season around and be a contender for the Boston Bruins.

To close out, here are a few statements from current Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy and former Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien on the firing of Mike Babcock:

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 154 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Bruins Need The Same Intensity And Execution As Game Two For Success

Bruins-Leafs-Game-1-goal-celebration.jpg

(Photo: Adam Glanzman / Getty Images)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Like my article on the Bruins needing to stay healthy in order to meet expectations in the playoffs this year, this title may seem pretty obvious to some. However, as obvious as it may be, it is true, after all. Just take a look at the footage from Games One and Three, the games that the Bruins have dropped in the series so far.

Game One saw the Bruins come out thinking it was going to be easy. Brad Marchand confirmed that after the game that this group thought it was going to be “easier than it was out there.” In that game, the Bruins came out of the gate buzzing, jumping out to an early lead on the power play.

Not long after, the game quickly shifted as the Bruins settled in and turned on cruise control far too early. Opportunities came and went on the heels of one or two passes too many rather than quality shots on Freddy Andersen. Lackadaisical effort and puck-management led to Tuukka Rask being hung out to dry on more than one occasion. Bruce Cassidy’s game plan of trying to slow down the Leafs, either through matching their speed with the Bruins’ legs or physicality, went completely out the window as Mike Babcock’s team was able to get through the neutral zone with complete ease and get behind the Bruins in several instances.

Looking at Game Three, the Bruins’ intensity was clearly there, for the most part–the B’s once again allowed Toronto to get in behind the defense too many times as a result of being caught flat-footed on the back-check–but the execution was lacking. Turnover after turnover and an inability to execute a clean breakout numerous times killed the Bruins, especially on the penalty kill.

Once again, the first line was a complete zero at even strength as Charlie Coyle was the best forward for the B’s once again, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s good since Coyle is producing and playing well; bad because Charlie Coyle of all people should NOT be the Bruins’ best forward. David Pastrnak is yet to establish himself in this series aside from a wonderful assist on Brad Marchand’s goal in Game Two.

The top trio of Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Pastrnak has combined for only two points at even-strength and four on the power play. They need to break through for the Bruins; their ability to contribute is far too important for the Bruins. Cassidy said it best: the top line is far to talented, far too talented to not be able to break through at some point this series.

Now take a look at Game Two at TD Garden on Saturday. The Bruins were a completely different team compared to Game One; Cassidy’s game plan was executed to perfection as the Bruins came out and absolutely manhandled the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The insertion of David Backes into the lineup and a Boston team that was playing angry after getting its lunch fed to it in Game One created the perfect storm for the Bruins to be able to dominate the Leafs. The B’s stifled the Toronto breakout and attack right off the bat and maintained strong layers of defensive support in front of Rask.

The Bruins flipped the script on the Leafs and played the way they knew how to, matching the expectations that the fans had of the team leading into the series, as well as the expectations they had of themselves. Boston’s effort and execution in Game Two should stand as the blueprint for the remainder of the series, especially tonight in Game Four.

The B’s have their backs against the wall big-time; as cliche, as it may seem, tonight’s game is a must-win. Well isn’t every game in the playoffs technically a must-win if you want to make it to the big dance? That may be so, but this team cannot afford to bring the series back to Boston in a 3-1 hole. The Bruins best chances of coming out on top like we know they can is to bring the same combination of intensity and execution that we saw in Game Two for the rest of the series, take tonight’s Game Four to tie things at 2-2 and go to war in a de facto best-of-three series.

Bruins Cassidy Is Here To Stay As He Nears Two Full Seasons

Boston Bruins vs New Jersey Devils

PHOTO CREDITS: (Matt Stone/ Boston Herald)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj 

On Saturday, February 9th, Boston Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be the main man on the B’s bench for his 164th game – exactly two full 82-game seasons. Recently, individuals around the fan base have been questioning the work of Cassidy and whether or not he is the right head coach for the team moving forward in the years and seasons to come. In the shootout loss to the New York Rangers, Cassidy chose not to put forward Patrice Bergeron in the player-vs-goalie period, once again bringing up the judgement on his decisions.

Then there is the David Pastrnak situation. The Bruins are very much a front-loaded roster when it comes to the offence. Aside from the first line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak, the Bruins do not have much to fall back on when we are talking bottom-nine scoring forwards. David Krejci can put up numbers but always seems to be lacking good wingers at all times. Jake DeBrusk has more recently brought some life to the second line, but a hole remains on the right wing.

During the fast-paced action of a game, Cassidy may put Pastrnak with his fellow countryman, David Krejci and Canadian Jake DeBrusk to “spread out” the offensive firepower. However, not before long, the trio that is a true threat to any team in the NHL is back together and a large pool of centres and wingers are placed alongside Krejci to try and find that seemingly-rare chemistry.

We have yet to see multiple games of consistent Krejci-Pastrnak action unless it is on the power-play which, coincidence or not, is one of Boston’s strongest weapons of scoring opportunities. Krejci and Pastrnak have proven in the past that they can find that chemistry that has been discussed before on many occasions and build some good chances to put the puck past the goal line and into the back of the net.

Although, once they are on together, it brings along a weaker first line, where Marchand and Bergeron lose a highly-skilled scoring player who can make things happen on the ice. Recently in an interview prior to the Kings game on Saturday, Cassidy said that they are going to try out Danton Heinen on that top line. Heinen is not Pastrnak by any stretch of the imagination and has struggled this season after a strong rookie campaign in 2017-18. Cassidy did go on to say that Heinen is more a defensive player and the three of them will not have to worry too much about the top lines of other teams because all of them, especially Patrice Bergeron, are for the most part, responsible defensively.

The lack of depth scoring on the Boston Bruins in February 2019 can also be attributed to the lack of trades by General Manager Don Sweeney and with only a few more weeks until the NHL Trade Deadline at the end of the month, the clock is ticking to make that deal for another scoring player to play on the front end and bring some help to the top-six.

Either way, Bruce Cassidy has done well and continues to do well. In the past few games, the only line that has been reliable offensively has been that first line. In the three games of February so far, Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak have a combined eleven points. After them, David Krejci has two points, Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, and Peter Cehlarik have one, and the rest of the forwards are yet to score a single point in three games.

Dating back to January 1st, the dangerous first line has fifty-three points combined (22 Goals, 31 Assists) with Brad Marchand (7-13-20) leading the way in those 15 games. Only David Krejci has double-digits in points for 2019 and Jake DeBrusk is the next highest with only five points in fifteen games. It does not make the job of Cassidy any easier when they do not have a high quantity of quality players.

Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Tampa Bay Lightning for examples. Both teams have many interchangeable parts on all four lines. Almost every forward on the roster can play on the first line with success and the team will most likely still win games. Do goaltending and defence play a large factor in that as well? One-hundred percent. But the flexibility of those four forward lines makes the job of Mike Babcock on Toronto or Jon Cooper on Tampa Bay a lot easier.

cut (31).jpg

PHOTO CREDITS: (NHL.com)

 

Just like the blame cannot be placed on individuals for a team effort, the blame cannot be solely placed on Cassidy for the position the Bruins are in. On April 26th, 2017, the Bruins named Cassidy head coach of the team – replacing long-time coach, Claude Julien who was fired earlier in the year.

Cassidy coached twenty-seven games for the Bruins, finishing with an 18-8-1 record and leading them to a first-round playoff matchup with the Ottawa Senators in the 2016-17 season, a series that they lost in six games. This led into last season, where Cassidy implemented his faith and passion for the young players of this league, helping lead the B’s to a 50-win season. Bruce was right behind the team for their first-round win over Toronto and stuck by them in the five-game loss to the Lightning. The year for Bruce led to him being one of the three nominees for the Jack Adams Award – awarding the best coach in the NHL for that season. While he didn’t take the award home, the honour of being nominated for it is a great accomplishment.

Again this year, Cassidy has done a great job. It has been a difficult road to manage the struggling youth that once succeeded for him not only in Providence but in Boston during 2017-18 as well, the goaltending challenges of Rask and Halak, and the whole offensive situation that I’ve discussed over.

With the older players such as Chara, Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, and Backes, being surrounded by the younger players such as Pastrnak, DeBrusk, McAvoy, Carlo, and Heinen, Cassidy has had a challenge of who to play with who at what time and when. For a team that seems to have rough nights, still battles back and is able to fight their way to earn a point or at the very least, remain competitive in the ever-so-difficult Eastern Conference.

Bruce Cassidy has a 97-45-21 record with the Boston Bruins since 2016-17. According to BostonGlobe.com’s Kevin Paul Dupont (@GlobeKPD on Twitter), Claude Julien, the man who won the Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011, had a 94-48-22 in his first 164 career games with the Black N’ Gold.

Julien and Cassidy are almost identical in their wins/losses and they have started almost a decade apart from each other (’07/’08 debut for CJ, ’16/’17 debut for BC). Bruce Cassidy is not only a good coach, but he should remain a coach for the Boston Bruins. He has had success and will continue to have success if the right players are on his lineup. Does he make mistakes time in and time out? Of course, not many coaches in any sport are perfect, (unless you’re Bill Belichick on New England) and it is how he can rally behind the team after a loss and turn it into a win. Bruce Cassidy can do that with the best of them.

Check out the available tickets from our advertising partner SeatGiant for your next Boston Bruins game. Click the link below, and when purchasing any event ticket, from the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL to concerts and shows, please use discount code BNGP to save a little money. Thank You! 

-> Click Here For The Boston Bruins 2018-19 Regular Season Schedule and Ticket Info From SeatGiant.com <-