Mon May 30 04:33pm EDT
Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy's Sean Leahy and Greg Wyshynski are previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks— on the ice and off the ice.
For all of their success, all of their impact, all of their accolades, the head coaches for the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins have spent more time on the hot seat than a lifeguard in Rio.
Claude Julien was on the "hot seat" after the Bruins allowed the Philadelphia Flyers to rally from 3-0 to eliminate them last postseason, and was on it again as recently as December 2010. Alain Vigneault has been on and off the hot seat for years, with Dave Gross of Postmedia placing him on it at the start of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
Vigneault was reportedly on the hot seat last year after losing to the reviled Chicago Blackhawks in back-to-back playoff years. Anything less than a Western Conference championship puts the heat up high on Vigneault, who has two years left on his contract.
Both of them have a Jack Adams Award — Julien in 2008-09 and Vigneault in 2006-07 — and both got their start behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens. Vigneault was a minor-league teammate of Julien's in their playing days, too.
One guy looks like the actor with the bellowing voice at your local Shakespeare playhouse. The other guy looks like your uncle after he was laid off from his traveling insurance sales gig.
Neither of them have coached in a Stanley Cup Final. Until now.
Which team has the better coach: Boston or Vancouver?
Julien's first head coaching gig was with the Habs in 2002-03 at age 42, coaching them for three seasons. He went to New Jersey for one year (2006-07), infamously getting bounced with a week to go in the regular season. Boston hired him the next season, and he's been behind the B's bench since 2007.
He's a defensive systems coach, which has been his calling card when the team's balance of strong D and counter-attacking offense overwhelms opponents, and the target of his many critics when the goal-scoring would go chilly. When the system works, and the players commit to it, Julien's style can produce victories like the Game 7 win that sent to the Bruins to the Final. From the Boston Herald:
Defenseman Andrew Ference(notes) talked about the team's willingness and ability to adhere to the Julien system -- which it may have executed better in Game 7 against Tampa Bay on Friday than in any game during the coach's four-year tenure. "It's individual character in the team," said Ference. "You can't have just 90 percent of the guys on board. That doesn't work; I think there's enough proof of that around. We have a team, from the first line to the fourth line, that respects each other. And when you respect each other, you do what you're told and you do what everyone is expected to do.
"That's been a constant. We've proved it to ourselves time and time again. When we've strayed from (the system), gotten away from it, we've lost or gone through rough patches. The proof is in the pudding. We're not knuckleheads who can't learn that."
If nothing else, Julien's been the calm in the storm this offseason — refusing to make drastic moves for shock value, staying the course, managing the emotions. His patience with rookie Tyler Seguin(notes) paid off; his confidence in his own system allowed the Bruins to overcome the Tampa Bay Lightning's scheme that eliminated the Penguins and Capitals.
Yes, the power play stinks; is that on Julien or the players making it look putrid?
Stubbornness worked through three rounds; will it work again in the fourth?
Vigneault got his first NHL head coaching gig in 1997-98 at 36 years old with the Canadiens, remaining there until 2000-01 when he replaced by Michel Therrien. The Canucks hired him in 2006-07.
With the 2010-11 Canucks, Vigneault's like a poker player who was given a seemingly winning hand off the draw — the good decisions he makes from that point on are going to be underappreciated; and anything he does to undermine that success will be magnified.
Unlike Julien, he put his stones on the chopping block this postseason with a bold move: Benching Roberto Luongo(notes) for Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks — a game he'd end up playing in after Cory Schneider's(notes) injury — in order to clear his keeper's head. Since then, Luongo's been arguably the most consistent goalie in the playoffs after he won Game 7 for Vancouver.
To his credit, he holds himself accountable should the Canucks not win the Cup:
Vigneault said if the Canucks were not to succeed he should be held accountable given that he has played a role in player acquisitions.
"When the Canucks chose, for example, to grant long-term contracts to guys like Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler(notes) and the Sedin twins, I had my say," Vigneault said. "It's now up to me to be able to win with these guys."
His team has shown a knack for succeeding no matter what style the opponent throws at them. That versatility traces back to their coach's style.
Boston, but only slightly.
Julien's an easy target. His system's an easy scapegoat. But his detached and confident approach seems like the right one for this collection of players. He's managed his roster well, and frankly it's a roster with less "sure things" than the one wearing the whale.
Julien's not a perfect coach; neither of them are. But he's as much a reason as any that the Bruins are playing for the Cup this season.