We’re 2 months into the season and I think it’s fair to say that Claude is off the proverbial “hot seat.” Taking that a step further, I would argue that he has turned in the single best coaching performance in the league this season. From the tail end of last year straight through mid November, the dialog was around not if, but when Claude would get the axe. We’ve all heard it, and in many cases have probably said it. He can’t coach youth, he’s too stubborn to change, he’s lost the room, etc. Hell, we had Felger imploring management to fire the “lame duck coach” ASAP.
Let’s all take a moment to step back and firmly shove our collective feet into our mouths because Claude is a masterful bench wizard who has done a kick ass job with a less than ideal roster.
I think it’s fair to say the Claude of old had a difficult time trusting young players, and for good reason. Until last year he was blessed with a ton of experience and talent in all areas of the ice. This gave the staff the unique luxury of slowly integrating young players within a stable and defined system. Did he sometimes have an inexplicably short leash with young players? Yes, absolutely, however we have seen last season’s poor finish and subsequent offseason moves force his hand, resulting in a full systemic adjustment. While many of us believed Claude didn’t have the patience to bring along a young roster, we’ve seen him do just this during the first 2 month’s of the season.
With a defensive group relying heavily on guys with little to no NHL experience and 2 aging studs thought to be on their way out, we all recognized that this season had the potential to be a defensive shit show, and it certainly was early on. Following some early bumps we have seen Claude and the staff really buckle down on the young guys and they seem to be developing and learning at a faster rate than expected, with the likes of Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow contributing to a defensive unit that appears to be getting stronger and more reliable by the game. Additionally we’ve seen increased roles for Spoons, Pasta (when healthy), Frank Vatrano, Joonas Kemppainen and Landon Ferraro, all of whom look to be steady contributors in their first full NHL seasons. Generally speaking Claude appears to have embraced youth and has shown a newfound ability to get the most out of his young players.
In terms of his ability to manage the roster and make in game adjustments this season’s edition of Claude is a cut above the rest. In previous seasons Claude could roll out the same line combos every night and know exactly what to expect. He was like the Eddie Money of the coaching world. Show up, play “Take me Home Tonight” and “Baby Hold On,” sit back and let the ladies underwear rain down. It was a tried and true routine that worked every night. This year has been a different story with question marks sprinkled throughout the lineup. As a result we’ve seem Claude try out a number of different line and pairing combinations in an effort to establish a consistent rhythm and balance. As it stands, I think we’re starting to see some consistent patterns with the combinations and goaltending rotation. For example, it’s fair to say the Bergeron/Marchand marriage is here stay, as is the silky smooth super European combo of Sweet Lou and David Krecji. Aside from that, the entire lineup is up and the air, and I absolutely love it.
A lesser man would likely struggle to manage this uncertainty, however Claude seems to embrace it as flexibility. As a result he is able to set his lineup based on performance and compete level in games a practice with the understanding that players can be flexed into different roles and lines depending on situations and performance. We saw this just the other night against Edmonton with Landon Ferraro flexing into a first line wing spot alongside Marchand and Bergeron, chipping in with a 3rd period assist. Additionally we’ve seen Kemppainen flex into a 3rd line center role shifting Spoons to the wing, providing a defensive buffer and enabling Spoons to remain on the ice in 5v5 situations. This is in stark contrast to last season where we would have seen a guy like Spooner receive limited even strength shifts in favor of a more defensive alternative (i.e. Kelly, Campbell or Talbot). While this may have stabilized things in our own zone there is an obvious offensive sacrifice leaving a high-level goal scorer on the bench. This season however we are seeing a staff approach the game with much more fluidity and have found ways to adjust lines on the fly to address immediate needs without sacrificing major components of the game. As a result we have seen a very high level of adaptability and resiliency, which has translated to a number of wins in varying situations.
With that I would like to personally thank Big Sweens and Sea Bass for having the patience to let Claude work through things with essentially a new team. As it stands, this team is on pace to record 101 points on the season and appears to be a solid playoff team who is one or two small tweaks away from making some serious noise this spring. Given the state of affairs heading into the season the work done by Claude and his staff is even more impressive and is indicative not of a lame duck coach who has lost the room, but rather a tactically astute leader at the top of his game.
As always get in touch with us on Twitter @bruinsextra or reach me directly @mccarey18