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Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien

BOSTON (CBS) — The message from Claude Julien to Brad Marchand was simple during their eight seasons together.

“When I stop talking to you, that’s when you should be concerned,” Marchand recalled Julien telling him.

Julien was maybe a little tougher on the speedy left wing than other players, but Marchand came to realize what Julien was trying to accomplish. Julien believed Marchand could be more than a fourth-liner, more than a punk with a big mouth, more than someone who might eventually go on to a journeyman career.

“I learned a lot,” Marchand said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday. “You go through a lot of different things but I think the biggest thing he preached to me was how to be a good pro and how to be consistent. That’s one thing he talked about a lot was consistency. And if you want to be in this league a long time you have to be able to play and bring your best game every night, or close to it.”

Marchand’s success story – he has 94 goals in 191 games since the start of the 2015-16 season and will be an All-Star this season – is one example of how Julien’s tutelage brought the Bruins from the doldrums to the 2011 Stanley Cup title, the 2013 Eastern Conference title and 419 regular-season wins (the most in Bruins history).

It’s also an example of how Julien, who will make his return to TD Garden as coach of the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday for the first time since he was fired by the Bruins last Feb. 7, continues to affect the Bruins even while shepherding their most hated rival.

Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Torey Krug … they all learned how to play the sport the right way and become not just regulars in the lineup but high-end stars. Bruce Cassidy, who replaced Julien on an interim basis and then returned this season as the full-time coach, has done a masterful job of continuing the improvement of the veteran players and finding new ways for them to approach the game and have more success in a different NHL environment. And, of course, Cassidy has integrated younger players into the lineup with near flawless execution, sometimes having as many as six or seven rookies dressed for a game.

But many of the players that have surprisingly driven the Bruins to sixth in the overall NHL standings this season got their start with Julien and had the seeds planted for their eventual improvement by the man from Blind River, Ontario.

Even the current Bruins player most associated with Julien’s distrust of younger players and a poster child for why general manager Don Sweeney decided to move forward with a new coach, Ryan Spooner, understands what Julien’s motivation was in being a little tougher on the lightning quick center.

“I just think that he saw some skill in me and maybe he got frustrated at times because I wasn’t really playing to the best that I can be,” Spooner said. “Sometimes it’s kind of easy as a player to look back on it and say he didn’t like me, but I don’t think that was the case. I think that it was a coach that saw some potential in me and maybe he was just frustrated that I wasn’t playing quite how he wanted me to. So that’s on me.”

You can throw Milan Lucic and Johnny Boychuk into the above-mentioned list of players Julien nurtured, and you can see that the Bruins’ success wasn’t predicated on the front office just giving Julien ready-made, veteran NHLers. There was development. Sometimes it took tough love and maybe a benching for Marchand here or a healthy scratch for Lucic there.

Cassidy’s stint behind Boston’s bench hasn’t lacked for those types of scenarios. Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork can tell you about getting scratched, and even Pastrnak can tell you about losing third-period ice time when his competitive level wasn’t where the Bruins needed it. Spooner can tell you about Cassidy’s decision to scratch him in the playoffs.

There’s no doubt the Bruins needed Cassidy’s offensive mind to help them take the next step in their rebooting process. The game has changed and Julien was a little to set in his ways. Cassidy will be the first to admit, however, that a lot of what the Bruins do defensively hasn’t changed since the Julien days. Players continue to add to their game (Julien might be shocked to see Spooner actually hitting opponents and Pastrnak managing the puck better) but their growth wasn’t stunted during Julien’s reign.

Just as the 2011 Cup winners owed a lot to the work of former general Mike O’Connell and his staff for some of the players they put in pace, some of the Bruins’ current success owes a debt of gratitude to Julien. He’s left the Bruins and gone to probably the worst place anyone who wants a little love from Boston could go, but his message still resonates with the Bruins.

His fingerprints are still visible on the players he helped make what they are today.

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Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

There are tough decisions that have to be made in life.  However, there is probably no tougher decision than trying to pick just four Boston Bruins players in team history to make up the team’s metaphorical Mount Rushmore.

It’s times like these where writing about the Boston Bruins just isn’t fair.  The Bruins have been around since 1924, meaning there’s 93 years worth of players to comb through.  And I’m supposed to pick just FOUR of them?  Talk about a difficult task.

So, let’s think about this realistically.  Two spots are automatically filled, and I know that if you’re a Bruins fan, you know who those players are.  So that leaves two spots left.  How do we go about choosing those remaining two?

“Duh, look at their goals and assists, dummy!”  Well, career numbers are obviously important, and something that plays into the decision.  But, in a physical game like hockey, sometimes careers are ended short.  In fact, that happened to one of our automatic selections, too.  So that can’t be the be-all-end-all factor.

“Success is all that matters.  Who won more Stanley Cups?”  Yes, that does have some truth to it.  As Ari Gold said in the TV show Entourage, “there’s no asterisks in this world, only scoreboards.”  But hockey is a team sport.  Some of the best players in NHL history never won a Stanley Cup.  So while success is a key component, it can’t be the only part in the decision.

“Who’s name do you associate with the Bruins most?  Who’s had the biggest impact on the organization as a whole?  Who looked best wearing the Spoked-B?”  Geez Louise, all good points…except for maybe that last one.  So, bottom line, there are many factors to be weighed here.

All that being said, and I’ll probably take some grief over these picks, my Bruins Mount Rushmore features:  Ray Bourque, Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr, and Milt Schmidt.
Ray Bourque

Before there was Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson, there was Ray Bourque.  Bourque played 22 seasons in the NHL, and 20 and 3/4 of those were in a Boston Bruins jersey.  In his illustrious career, which spanned 1612 regular season NHL games, Bourque scored 410 goals and tallied 1169 assists for 1579 career points.  Bourque also had a ridiculous +528 plus/minus rating for his career, only having a minus rating 4 times in his NHL tenure.

Bourque was selected as an NHL All-Star 19 times.  He won the Calder Trophy in ’79-’80 as Rookie of the Year and five Norris Trophies (’86-’87, ’87-’88, ’89-’90, ’90-’91, ’93-’94).  He was in the top-5 for Hart Trophy voting five times.

When it came to goal scoring as a defenseman, there were very few who were more consistent than Bourque in the 80’s and 90’s.  In over two decades, Bourque never scored less than double-digit goals in a season, other than his final year, which we Bruins fans choose not to acknowledge because it took place in a Colorado Avalanche sweater.

Unfortunately, Bourque was never able to bring a Stanley Cup to Boston.  However, he did ultimately achieve every hockey player’s dream of lifting the Cup.  In his final season, ’00-’01, playing for the Avalanche at the ripe age of 40, Bourque put up 59 points, and helped the Avalanche win the team’s second Stanley Cup.  There are no players who deserved to win a Championship more than Ray Bourque, so in that regards, we as fans can celebrate that.
Phil Esposito

Phil Esposito is the reason Ray Bourque went from wearing #7 early in his career to number #77.  And why is that?  Because Esposito’s #7 deserved to be hanging in the rafters among the other Bruins legends.

Esposito didn’t start or end his career in a Bruins uniform.  However, the 10 seasons he spent in Boston were without a doubt the best of his 18 year stint in the NHL.  In those 10 seasons, Esposito won FIVE Art Ross Trophies for leading the league in scoring, including 4 in a row (’68-’69, 126 points; ’70-’71, 152 points; ’71-’72, 133 points; ’72-’73, 130 points; ’73-’74, 145 points).

Teamed up with players like Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, and Bobby Orr, Esposito and the Bruins were a dominant force in the early 70’s.  In 1282 career NHL games (625 of which were with the Bruins), Esposito scored 717 goals and 873 assists for 1590 career points, or 1.24 points per game.  Esposito and the boys were able to bring home two Stanley Cups to Boston in ’69-’70 and ’71-’72.  Both Stanley Cup years, Esposito led the league in playoff scoring.

Esposito’s time in Boston ended on November 7, 1975 when he was traded to the New York Rangers.  Esposito may have finished his career in a Rangers jersey, but he will undoubtedly always be known as a Bruins legend.
Bobby Orr

The best Boston Bruins player of all-time, and arguably one of the best NHL players of all time.  Bobby Orr revolutionized the game of hockey and the defenseman position.  There was no one like him in the game before he joined the league, and there’s been no one like him since.  He was a hockey anomaly, a unique specimen of greatness.

Number 4 Bobby Orr only played 9 full seasons in the NHL.  After those 9 seasons, he only played 36 more NHL games across 3 seasons.  One with the Bruins, and two with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Due to injuries to his knees, his tremendous career was cut incredibly short when he retired at age 30 in 1979.

Orr was the epitome of an offensive-defenseman.  His contributions in both ends of the ice were off-the-charts.  Orr lead the league in assists five times in his career as a defenseman.  After winning the Calder Trophy his rookie season in ’66-’67, Orr went on to win the next eight Norris Trophies for best defenseman in the NHL.  Oh, and for good measure, he chipped in two Art Ross Trophies for leading the league in points in ’69-’70 and ’74-’75, and three consecutive Hart Trophies as league MVP (’69-’70, ’70-’71, ’71-’72).

Orr, like Esposito, was a part of the ’69-’70 and ’71-’72 Bruins teams that won Stanley Cups.  Unsurprisingly, Orr was named Conn Smythe winner for Playoff MVP in both Stanley Cup runs.

There’s a reason why a bronze statute of Orr’s famous goal adorns the plaza outside the TD Garden in Boston, MA.  He is, was, and likely always will be, the best of the best in Boston Bruins history.
Milt SchmidtGreatness recognizes greatness.  Bobby Orr has said that the greatest Bruin of all time was Milt Schmidt.  And it’s hard to argue with Orr.  Putting career numbers aside due to circumstances beyond Milty’s control, the impact he had on the organization is what earns him his spot.

In 776 career games spanning 16 seasons, Schmidt amassed 229 goals and 346 assists, for 575 career points.  While those totals may seem low, you have to take into account that NHl seasons were much shorter when Milty played.  Also, three years of his career in his mid-20s were lost due to World War II.

Schmidt, a member of the Bruins “Kraut Line” with Woody Dumont and Bobby Bauer, helped lead the team to two Stanley Cup victories as a player in ’38-’39 and ’40-’41.  Following his retirement after the ’54-’55 season, he was immediately named head coach of the team.

As head coach, Schmidt brought the team to two Stanley Cup Final appearances.  Then, later in his career as the GM for the team, he won two more Cups during the Orr/Esposito era.  Schmidt’s contributions to the Bruins organization, therefore, are more than just on the ice.  When it comes to overall greatness for the Bruins organization, that is where Schmidt shines.
Conclusion

There are so many players would could have made it on the list.  Older players such as Eddie Shore, Johnny Bucyk, and Ken Hodge could have a place.  More modern players like Cam Neely or Adam Oates were great in Black and Gold.  Current players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron are making a case to be considered someday.  But to me, the four I have picked mean the most to the Bruins organization as a whole.