May 6, 2012

The Julien Effect: Examining the success of former Bruins

By Jesse Connolly

For the third year running, as was pointed out in a recent entry jam-packed with Bruins stats, no member of the B’s was able to crack the 70-point mark. 

The Bruins have made the playoffs in each of Claude Julien's five seasons as coach. (Getty Images)

It doesn’t take an astute statistician to realize that coach Claude Julien likes to roll all four lines with regularity which, in turn, leads to more balanced contributions from his forwards. The Bruins had six 20-goal scorers in 2011-12 and seven players that notched over 40 points (with Chris Kelly’s total of 39 just missing that mark).

As a whole, it’s pretty evident that strategy has worked out well for the Black and Gold. In 2010-11, Boston averaged 2.98 goals-per-game, good for fifth in the league. In 2011-12 they tied for second with Pittsburgh at 3.17.

However, a few former Bruins enjoyed a wealth of individual success this past season, making a statistical jump that goes beyond a slight uptick in ice time.

Here’s a look at a few recent ex-Bruins that played under Julien in Boston, and how they’ve subsequently performed elsewhere:

Michael Ryder

IN BOSTON: Ryder came up big time and time again for the B’s in the postseason, including last year’s Stanley Cup run that saw him post 8-9-17 totals in 25 games. But during the regular season, the Newfoundland native was often inconsistent. After notching 27 goals his first year (2008-09), Ryder scored 18 times in each of his final two seasons in Black and Gold. He finished with a line of 63-64-127 in 235 regular season games, averaging 42 points per season.

IN DALLAS: After inking a two-year deal for $3.5 million annually, Ryder thrived in his first year in Dallas. The right winger scored a career-high 35 goals and added 27 assists for a total of 62 points.

THE NUMBERS: In his last season in Boston, Ryder averaged just 14:29 of ice time per game, 2:05 of which came on the power play. He scored eight of his 18 goals on the man advantage. This year in Dallas, the 32-year-old forward clocked in at 17:22 of TOI per games, with 2:40 of it coming on the PP. Only seven of his 35 goals came on the man advantage.

Blake Wheeler 

Former Bruin Blake Wheeler led Winnipeg in both assists and points this season. (Getty Images)

IN BOSTON: Wheeler was dealt after two-plus seasons with the B’s to the then-Thrashers at the deadline in Feb. 2011 (along with Mark Stuart) for Rich Peverley. At the time of the trade, he was on pace for a career-low in goals, as he had 11-16-27 totals in 58 games. For his career as a Bruin, Wheeler finished with 50 goals and a total of 110 points in 221 games, averaging almost exactly half-a-point per game.

IN WINNIPEG: The 25-year-old forward enjoyed a breakout season this year with the Jets. Much like Ryder, Wheeler saw plenty of time on the top line and helped Evander Kane hit the 30-goal mark. The Minnesota native finished with 17-47-64 totals in 80 games.

THE NUMBERS: Wheeler averaged 15:12 of ice time per game in his final season with Boston. He jumped up to 19:05 in his first full year with the Jets in 2011-12. That’s good for a 25.5 percent increase in ice time.  The former fifth overall pick also racked up 15 points on the power play this season, which is exactly how many he had during his career with the Bruins.

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Given that he finished sixth in the entire NHL in points, it’d be easy to lump Phil Kessel and his 82-point season in here as well, but No. 81 did so in his third year up in Toronto, making it hard to draw a direct comparison. Statistically, Kessel’s first two years with the Leafs were right in line with his final season in Boston.

In 2008-09, he had 36-24-60 totals in 70 games for the B’s. He followed that up with 30-25-55 in 70 games for Toronto in 2009-10 and then had 32-32-64 in 82 contests for the Leafs in 2010-11.

Like Kessel, many players that have left Boston have maintained the level of production they had while with the B’s. Defenseman Dennis Wideman averaged 0.49 points per game in his three full seasons under Julien. Since then, he’s clocked in at 0.54 for the Panthers and Capitals. Petteri Nokelainen (now in Montreal), Andrew Alberts (Vancouver) and Stuart (Winnipeg) have, for the most part, also chipped in at the same rate with their new clubs as when they were here.

But Julien has also clearly had a positive effect on certain players, in addition to the ones that are still here, as evidenced by their lack of success with other clubs.

Though other influences such as the talent around them and injury problems enter the equation, there’s no denying some players fared far better when they wore Black and Gold. Since being traded to Colorado, Matt Hunwick has just 16 points in 84 games, good for an average of 0.19 per game. In Boston, he had 44 points in 151 contests (0.29 per game).

Chuck Kobasew has missed plenty of time since moving on to both Minnesota and Colorado, but the winger has failed to hit double digits in goals since notching back-to-back, 20-plus goal seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09 for Julien’s Bruins. During those two seasons, the former BC Eagle averaged 0.30 goals per game. Since then, he’s averaged half of that, clocking in at 0.15 goals per game.

So how do you interpret this all? Was Wheeler hindered by Julien’s system or did he just need a change of scenery to come into his own? Is Ryder going from 10 even-strength goals last year to 28 this season in Dallas just a product of playing with top-line talent?

There’s no denying the tremendous impact Julien has had on the Bruins. He’s guided them to the playoffs in each of his five seasons. He’s helped put players in the position to succeed on both an individual level (a la Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron) and as a team – as proven last spring with last year’s Stanley Cup. And it's not like there hasn't been a player that's proven capable of ranking among league leaders offensively under Julien, as Marc Savard was in the top ten for both assists and points in multiple seasons during the bench boss's tenure in Boston.

However, is it fair to say that Julien’s system masks the shortcomings of some players and enables them to excel, while at the same time hinders the abilities of others?

What do you think? As always, feel free to leave a comment below.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.