On a team full of winners, there isn't a bigger one from the team's Stanley Cup run than coach Claude Julien.
Julien accomplished what Don Cherry, Terry O'Reilly, Mike Milbury, Brian Sutter and Pat Burns, among others, couldn't. Steer the S.S. Spoked-B to a Stanley Cup.
The oft-criticized and much-maligned coach stuck to his guns and stuck it to his critics who could barely get the words "Stanley Cup-winning coach" out of the mouths they used to bad mouth him all season. Don't like Julien's defensive style, steadfast fidelity to struggling veteran players, or alleged lack of adjustments? Too bad. You can kiss Julien's Cup, and probably another three-letter word because after breaking the Bruins' 39-year Cup drought, his way is here to stay.
Julien coaxing this team to the Cup was one of the greatest coaching jobs in the history of Boston sports, on par with Belichick's work with the 2001 Patriots, the gold standard for coaching influence. Unfortunately, the conspiratorial fallout from "Spygate" took some of the sheen off that unlikely Lombardi trophy. Last I checked there wasn't any one falsely accusing Julien of having taped the opposing team's morning skates.
We can all agree that Julien is not Scotty Bowman or Toe Blake. But go back and look at the nine teams Bowman took the Cup with and you'll see names like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, and Nicklas Lidstrom. None of Bowman's titles could be described as will over skill, even if that is far too simplistic an approximation of how the Bruins beat the Canucks.
The point is that Julien's performance behind the bench was like John Williams conducting the Boston Pops, pure maestro in a town famous for them.
We are blessed to have the coaching brainpower that we do right now in Boston sports. It's unmatched. All four coaches of the Big Four professional sports teams have won titles. Belichick (three) and Red Sox manager Terry Francona (two) have won multiple championships and figure to win more. Celtics coach Doc Rivers is so good that opposing players praise him and want to play for him. Then, there is Julien, the ugly duckling who is only the winningest playoff coach in Bruins history (33 wins).
You could argue that Julien had to do the most with the least to get his title. Yes, he has a Vezina trophy goalie in Tim Thomas and a future Hall of Fame blueliner in Zdeno Chara, outside of that he has some very good to good players -- David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Dennis Seidenberg, Nathan Horton. But no great ones.
Julien didn't have a franchise player drop from the heavens like Belichick. He didn't inherit a team that was one managerial meltdown shy of playing in a World Series like Francona. He wasn't rewarded for his prior efforts with a pair of hungry-to-win, Hall of Famers to add to an All-Star forward like Rivers was.
After arriving in 2007, Julien inherited a Bruins club that hadn't won a playoff game post-Y2K. Four seasons later they're hanging a banner in TD Garden, and they did it without Marc Savard, the team's most preternaturally gifted offensive player.
Sure, Julien has his faults. He is no guru of goal on the power-play. Gregory Campbell in front on the PP was a new low. The man-advantage was pathetically woeful all season long, and completely inept for most of the playoffs, finishing 10 for 88 (11.4 percent).
But the Bruins were 5 for 27 in the Cup Final, equaling their power-play goal tally from the previous three rounds combined. The Canucks vaunted power-play was kept to 2 for 33 by Boston's penalty-kill.
For all the carping about Claude preventing Tyler Seguin from scoring 50 goals this season, what about the development of players like Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Brad Marchand under Julien's watch? Marchand, the Dustin Pedroia of pucks, blossomed in his rookie season under Julien, who did a good job of not letting Marchand's antagonistic tactics get out of hand while not reigning him in so hard that Marchand lost the edge that defines his game.
Seguin is going to be a star. He should have gotten more ice time on the power play. His skill is otherworldly, but he's only 19 years old. He should be viewed for what he is, not what he will be. Julien used him as the offensive equivalent of defensive specialists like Daniel Paille and Campbell, spotting him here and there when the situation called for it.
The playoffs are grown man territory, which is why Seguin sat for Game 3 of the Cup Final in favor of Shawn Thornton. That was one of the many master-strokes of Julien this postseason.
There was pairing up Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, starting with Game 3 of the Montreal series. There was The Timeout in Game 4 of that series with his team trailing 3-1 and headed for a 3-1 series deficit, an ice intervention that saved the season.
There was sticking with Recchi, who had been pointless in eight games, before he finished the last six games of the Final with seven points (3 goals, 4 assists). There was elevating Rich Peverley to the first line in Game 4 of the Cup Final to replace the fallen Nathan Horton. Peverly responded with a pair of goals in a 4-0 win.
It was only fitting that it was the fourth line of Paille, Campbell and Thornton, the line that Julien was often derided for rolling out, that turned the tide early in Game 7 after the Vancouver Canucks came out buzzing around the Boston end. Some thought Julien's allegiance to that checking line would result in him landing on the unemployment line.
Instead, like the Cup run, it only validated his line of thinking all along.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.