What would it take for GM Marc Bergevin to eject coach Michel Therrien from their self-described “foxhole” and change coaches for the Montreal Canadiens?
It’s something we’ve all pondered, but his loyalty to the coach seemed indissoluble. That is, until Valentine’s Day 2017, when we received our answer:
It would take Claude Julien being available to replace him.
The Canadiens shocked the hockey world and shook up the Eastern Conference on Tuesday by firing Therrien after five seasons and hiring Julien, who was himself fired by the rival Boston Bruins on Feb. 7.
We all knew he wouldn’t be out of work long. But how many of us actually thought the Canadiens would drop the hammer on Therrien to hire Julien for his second stint with the Habs?
From the team:
“I would like to sincerely thank Michel for his relentless work with the Montreal Canadiens over his eight seasons behind the bench, including the last five seasons when we worked together. The decision to remove Michel from his coaching duties was a difficult one because I have lots of respect for him. I came to the conclusion that our team needed a new energy, a new voice, a new direction. Claude Julien is an experienced and well respected coach with a good knowledge of the Montreal market. Claude has been very successful as an NHL coach and he won the Stanley Cup. Today we hired the best available coach, and one of the league’s best. I am convinced that he has the capabilities to get our team back on the winning track,” said Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin.
Claude Julien, 56, enters his second tour of duty as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens after assuming the role of head coach from January 2003 to January 2006 with a record of 72-62-10-15 in 259 regular season games at the helm of the team (holding a .531 winning percentage). Claude Julien has coached 997 regular season games in the NHL (Montreal, New Jersey and Boston), including the last 10 season as the Bruins bench boss (2007 to 2017). Throughout his NHL career, Julien managed a record of 538 wins, 332 losses, 10 ties and 117 overtime losses for a .603 winning percentage.
Julien was relieved of his coaching duties with the Boston Bruins on February 7 after compiling a record of 419-246-94 in 759 regular season games, and a .614 winning percentage behind the Bruins bench. He led his team to the Stanley Cup Championship in 2011 and also reached the NHL Stanley Cup finals in 2013. He also led the Bruins to the President’s Trophy in 2013-14 after racking up 117 points in the standings. In 2008-09, Julien was the Jack Adams Trophy recipient as the NHL’s head coach of the year and, on March 7, 2016 he reached yet another milestone when he became the winningest coach in Bruins history with 388 wins. Julien, who earned his 500th NHL win on February 13, 2016, also holds the Bruins record for most playoff wins with 57.
With a career 997 games, Julien ranks 27th among NHL head coaches (11th among active head coaches) and 21st with 538 wins (10th among active head coaches). A native of Orleans, Ontario, Julien began his coaching career behind the bench of the Hull Olympiques in the QMJHL back in 1996. Compiling a record of 141-109-16 in four seasons in Hull, he led his team to the Memorial Cup in 1997. Julien also led the Hamilton Bulldogs from 2000 to 2003, earning a selection of AHL coach of the year in 2002-03. On the international stage, as a member of Team Canada’s coaching staff, he won gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and captured yet another gold medal at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Julien inherits a Canadiens team that has been trending downward from its torrid start. The Habs are 31-19-8 for 70 points, but the second-place Ottawa Senators trail them by six points and have five games in-hand. After a 13-1-1 start, the Canadiens have gone 18-18-7.
The first real sign that Therrien could be in trouble came two days after Julien was fired, when Bergevin held a meeting with Max Pacioretty, Carey Price and Shea Weber without Therrien present.
Five days later, Claude Julien is their new head coach.
It’s impossible not to consider the history here. Almost eight years ago, on Feb. 15, 2009, Therrien was fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins after getting middling returns from the previous season’s conference champions. Dan Bylsma was hired. The Penguins, re-energized, won the Stanley Cup a few months later.
Are the Canadiens that kind of team? Well, no. But the structure that Julien’s system can provide will bolster the back end and certainly help Carey Price, who is statistically having his worst season in four years. To say goalies have thrived under Julien in Boston would be an understatement.
What a glorious moment for the Canadiens. What a (potentially) humiliating moment for the Boston Bruins, as Julien’s Beantown backers will watch him push for a championship with their most hated rivals. What an interesting twist in the Eastern Conference, which may no longer be the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins coronation it appeared to be … depending on how Bergevin continues to bolster this group at the trade deadline.
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