With the announcement that Dan Bylsma was relieved of his head coaching duties with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, every coach around the NHL should be looking over their back shoulder entering the 2014-15 season. This includes the Boston Bruins Claude Julien, who in the wake of two Stanley Cup appearances in three years, may be on the hot seat if the Bruins exit the playoffs early again next spring.
Julien has been one of the most successful coaches in Bruins history, sitting second on the club’s all-time win list. He inherited a team that was struggling to find an identity following Dave Lewis‘ disastrous season with Boston. And in his time, Julien has turned the team into a perennial powerhouse, making the playoffs in each of his seven seasons. But, only twice have the Bruins made it past the second round of the playoffs, and this number becomes an area of concern for Boston management and ownership.
For Bylsma, the Penguins were his first ever head coaching job in the NHL. He took a middling Penguin squad midseason and turned them into a Stanley Cup champion. In five full seasons at the helm in Pittsburgh, Bylsma never finished lower than second in his division, and guided the Penguins to the playoffs every year. But, like Julien, the struggles came in making a deep run in the postseason. Bylsma made it past the second round only twice like Julien, winning the Cup in 2009 and then a year ago being swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In a league so driven by postseason performances, the struggles of both of these coaches makes it a plausible scenario that the two most successful teams in the Eastern Conference could have new coaches next season. Julien will not be fired this offseason, and nor should he be. The Bruins have recognized a problem in their roster, lacking overall team speed that could not match the likes of the Montreal Canadiens. But, as seen so many times before, an organization cannot replace an entire roster of players, so the coach or General Manager often is the first to go.
For Julien, another early exit from the playoffs, or a prolonged slump in the regular season can see his fate sealed like that of Bylsma. Coaches can have a lackluster regular season and keep their job with a serious run at the Cup. But for a team to reach its potential in the regular season and then collapse in the playoffs is a recipe for disaster. Just ask Bylsma as he looks for another job this summer.