Claude Julien could not pass up 'ideal situation' with Canadiens

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  • Marc Bergevin
    French Canadian professional hockey defenceman
  • Claude Julien
    Claude Julien
    Canadian ice hockey player
skates against the Montreal Canadiens during Game Five of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on May 10, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Canadians 4-2.
skates against the Montreal Canadiens during Game Five of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on May 10, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Canadians 4-2.

Claude Julien’s plan after being fired by the Boston Bruins last week was a simple one. He was going to take a break until after this NHL season and then assess his coaching options.

During his brief time being unemployed, Julien and his wife went on a trip to Vermont. It was there during their time at Twin Farms in Barnard that Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin got in touch to discuss the head coaching position.

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Julien’s plan had one caveat, however. If there were a job that opened up during the season that he just couldn’t turn down, he would jump back into the coaching game. Enter Bergevin, and now, for the second time in Canadiens franchise history, Julien replaced Michel Therrien as head coach.

“Had it not been an ideal situation I think I would have refused or not taken it,” Julien said on a Wednesday conference call with reporters.

With the Canadiens currently on their bye week, Julien won’t get to meet his new players until Friday. As he starts work on trying to turn around a slide that has seen them drop 12 of their last 18 games, he’ll do so knowing he has plenty of security. This won’t be a job putting out a fire as he’s in for the long-term after revealing that his new contract ties him to the club through the 2021-22 season.

“I’m taking over a team that’s in first place,” Julien said. “We can’t forget the good things the team did at the start of the year.”

Julien, who previously served as Canadiens head coach from 2003-2006, returns as a Stanley Cup champion and a better coach after 10 years in Boston. Once he became available, it was an easy move for Bergevin, despite what he says publicly.

Once he gets on the ice Friday, Julien isn’t planning a drastic overhaul of the Canadiens. Despite their recent struggles, he feels only tweaks are needed in certain areas. Montreal is still in first place in the Atlantic Division, but Ottawa, Boston and Toronto are lurking after making up ground in the standings.

“Little adjustments can make all the difference, so that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

There are a lot of little adjustments to make, however. Carey Price hasn’t been Carey Price for a while. His even strength save percentage is .918 since Jan. 1. While power play has been solid, the penalty kill is only clicking at 76.5 percent over that same time period. The Canadiens are also the second-most penalized team in 2017 (214 PIMs). New coaches have had immediate success this season around the NHL, so Montreal is hoping to get off on the right foot with Julien.

This may not be the first move Bergevin makes to improve his roster. Julien could just be the first part with the March 1 NHL Trade Deadline approaching. The Habs GM isn’t going to make a trade for the sake of shaking things up and certainly won’t mortgage the future to win now, but he two weeks to assess his team under a new coach before having to decide whether he needs to make any personnel changes.

Julien likes the situation he’s entering, and having gotten an up close view to this Canadiens, he has a good idea of what areas need to be shored up.

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“I think they’re a good team. We all know they probably have the best goaltender in the world I would have to say. They’re solid in the backend,” he said. “That’s not to say that we won’t have to fix and make our team better, but at the same time there’s a lot of talent up front — and I know that talent has been a little dried up as far as the scoring goes lately. But we’ve got to fix all of those things. That’s my job.

“I’m here to kind of fix and tweak and do things that’s going to put this team back on track, and that’s what I intend to do. They’ve got good skill. They skate well. They’ve got a good balance of grit and skill and some size — so basically I think we’re gonna make sure that we exploit that and use it to the best of our knowledge and the best of their abilities.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate 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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