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Canadiens moved quickly in hiring Claude Julien

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The Montreal Canadiens seemed to believe that that recently fired Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien was an upgrade over Michel Therrien and the team needed to move quickly to hire him.

Julien was let go just last week but other organizations had reportedly inquired about his services, creating a sense of urgency for the swooning Canadiens if they wanted the best possible coach on the market to take over and spark the team.

Julien won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and is considered one of the league’s top coaches this decade. On Tuesday, the Canadiens pounced on Julien in hopes he can jumpstart the struggling Habs. The Canadiens have gone 1-5-1 in their last seven games and 18-18-7 since their 13-1-1 start.

Montreal reportedly asked for permission to speak with Julien last Sunday. Late last week, general manager Marc Bergevin spoke with the team’s leadership without Therrien present.

Said Elliotte Friedman on Calgary’s Sportsnet 960 on Monday, “I’d be lying or I’d be guessing if I was to say I think Claude Julien is taking over for Michel Therrien. But what I would feel comfortable in saying is that Claude Julien’s availability makes the situation a bit more tenuous than it was before.”

It won’t be immediately clear if Julien can provide that much of an upgrade over Therrien, a coach with a 406-303-23-82 career record and a Cup Final appearance and Eastern Conference Final appearance on his résumé. But there are some stylistic areas where the 56-year-old Julien could bring some improvement.

Habs Eyes on the Prize pointed out that Julien has been able to push the Bruins from a puck possession perspective and helped them overachieve in this area. This could give the Canadiens a better chance at consistent success if he can implement the same structure in Montreal.

The Bruins had a CF% of 55.44% despite their blue line being led by an aging Zdeno Chara, and rookie in Brandon Carlo. Julien took a team that many predicted would be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and had them playing dominant possession hockey, albeit it undone by bad luck.

So how does this help Montreal? Despite a hot stretch to start the year and a few weeks of solid play, the Canadiens this year have been solidly out played for the majority of this season. Montreal sits at a 52.79 CF%, which isn’t terrible but during their run of poor form, they’ve been struggling to produce shots and limit scoring chances against.

Even Carey Price who is an all-world goalie is struggling to keep up with the chances against and the team isn’t able to put the puck in the net, especially on the penalty kill.

Bringing in Julien’s ability to play a system that limits the chances against, with better personnel than he had in Boston is something that should benefit the entire team.

Also, this season, teams that have opted to make coaching changes have, for the most part, instantly improved their play.

The New York Islanders have gone 8-2-2 since Doug Weight took over for Jack Capuano. The St. Louis Blues are 5-1-0 since Mike Yeo replaced Ken Hitchock. The Bruins are 3-0-0 since Bruce Cassidy took over for Julien. The one outlier is Tom Rowe with the Florida Panthers who replaced Gerard Gallant earlier in the season. But the Panthers have started to pick up their pace of late, winning four of their last five games – though that may have more to do with the return of Jonathan Huberdeau.

Will the Canadiens see an uptick in their play because of this choice?

Montreal forward Brendan Gallagher called the coaching change a “wake-up call to the players.”

Habs captain Max Pacioretty indicated he and his teammates felt some level of responsibility.

Though the Canadiens lead the Atlantic Division with 70 points in 58 games, they have a lower points percentage (.603) than the second-place Ottawa Senators (.604). The Sens have 64 points in 53 games and the Habs are currently in their bye week and won’t play again until next Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets. While this period gives the Canadiens a chance to rest, they’ll also probably keep a close eye on the Senators in case Ottawa overtakes them in the standings.

“We’ve got to come back with a lot of energy. It’s going to take everybody doing the right thing over the break to take care of their body to make sure that we come back and make a push,” Pacioretty said after a Sunday 4-0 loss to the Bruins. “Everyone’s just got to dig deeper. It’s easy to come up with excuses — people talk about the schedule or fatigue, but every (team) has to deal with the same stuff. You’ve just got to look in the mirror and man up and just worry about your own game.”

Now that Therrien is gone, the Canadiens players will no longer need to deal with the drama that surrounded their former coach. Last season he ripped a late turnover by former Habs defenseman P.K. Subban and before this season, there was a rumor he trashed the leadership ability of Pacioretty.

Overall, Therrien’s hot seat had been warm since the team faltered after last year’s 9-0-0 start, which could have been a distraction for the players. It’s unclear what the future holds for the 53-year-old Therrien, but this is the second time he has been fired by the Canadiens and the third mid-season firing of his career.

After the move was announced, Canadiens owner Geoff Molson posted a message of thanks to Therrien on Twitter.

One of the more interesting subplots of Tuesday’s news involves the Bruins. Boston’s decision to fire Julien made him available to the Canadiens and gave a divisional rival a potential coaching upgrade. In order for the Canadiens to speak with Julien, the Bruins had to give them permission and according to CSN New England there will be no compensation coming Boston’s way for Julien.

Wrote the Boston Globe:

The Bruins could have turfed Bergevin’s plan. Julien was under contract for one more season. According to ESPN, Julien was due $3 million in 2017-18.

But the fact that the Bruins granted Montreal permission to interview Julien underscores two things. First, they respected Julien enough not to deny him an employment opportunity. Second, they wanted to free themselves of Julien’s remaining contractual obligation, which will be assumed — and extended, most likely — by his new employer.

It is the latest flashpoint in the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, which unfortunately has run its regular-season course in 2016-17. If only we could see the teams clash in the playoffs.

Though the Bruins angle is juicy at the moment, once the Habs return from their bye-week, the attention will quickly turn to Montreal and whether this team, now with Julien, has Stanley Cup potential.

Pacioretty has rebounded from his struggles last season with 28 goals in 58 games. Alexander Radulov has proven himself one of the top playmaking wingers in the NHL. Defenseman Shea Weber’s 13 goals rank second amongst blue liners. Center Alex Galchenyuk has struggled since his return from a knee injury, but still is a solid offensive contributor when healthy.

But really, unless goaltender Carey Price returns to form, it may not matter who is behind the Habs’ bench. Price’s 2.46 goal-against average and .917 save percentage have him on pace for his worst statistical season since 2012-13. If Julien can figure out a way to get Price back to his old self, then this move will have been worth it. If not, the team could continue down its current inconsistent path and lead to questions on whether the Habs’ struggles involve more than just the coach.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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