The Canadiens had lost six of their previous seven matches but it was the manner in which they were losing that was most disconcerting. Uninspired play except for when the first line would step up. A loss of focus and confidence. The feet were no longer moving. Carey Price was playing like a shell of himself. The team had admittedly lost their identity. At his press conference Bergevin confirmed that he believes that the roster as it stands today is strong enough to contend. And so if the players were not the problem, there was only one move for Bergevin to make and that was letting go of Therrien. That conclusion was made after the pair of losses on the weekend to the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins.
Bergevin revealed that he felt that a change was coming regardless of the recent addition of Julien to the head coach market. That “there was something missing, something not right and a change needed to be made”. It was truly a perfect storm that led to Julien returning to Montreal. The Bruins deciding to make their coaching change while the team had days off and took the opportunity to instate Bruce Cassidy. The Canadiens falling apart at the same time, having lost to the Washington Capitals and Edmonton Oilers over Super Bowl weekend before laying an egg in Colorado against the worst team in the NHL. Then they could barely squeak out a victory against the Arizona Coyotes before falling to again twice on the weekend. The bye week presented the ideal time to make that change but the Canadiens are truly fortunate that the Bruins decided to act just a week before they did.
Interestingly, Julien was hired without even a formal interview as Bergevin stated that he did his homework in advance. Bergevin had began a list but with Julien’s availability, no one else had been formally contacted and interviewed. As the new head coach, Julien brings instant credibility to the Canadiens as Bergevin said “In my opinion with his track record he’s (Julien) a superstar”. Few around the NHL would disagree. He coached the Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011 and lost in the 2013 final to the Chicago Blackhawks. He won gold medals as part of the coaching staff at the 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup of Hockey. This is not about the Canadiens recycling coaches. This is about giving the Canadiens the best opportunity to win and that is with Julien behind the bench. Much to the dismay of the rest of the Atlantic division:
As Bergevin said, he brings “credibility, experience, a proven winner”. Behind the bench Bergevin expects that he will be “strict, fair, firm” and hold the players accountable. Julien is known for being defense oriented and a players coach. However, it should also be noted that despite the Bruins record this season, they were leading the NHL in possession metrics under his tutelage. Julien has evolved along with the NHL which is why he has been so successful in his career.
As for what Bergevin believes Julien will adjust on the ice, the general manager refused to answer such questions, referring them as to ones that only Julien will be able to answer. However, Bergevin said that in regards to improving the roster on the ice, he will not mortgage the future and trade his top prospects for short term gain. That list of prospects is apparently “less than five” and so that means that Mikhail Sergachev and Noah Juulsen are certainly not going anywhere. That they are in the long term plans for the Canadiens, especially with their aging defense. One of goaltenders Charlie Lindgren/Michael McNiven is likely on that list and probably Michael McCarron as well since his size and potential do not come around everyday. Any conversation that involves his top prospects lasts “about 20 seconds”. Unless the asking price comes down, do not expect Matt Duchene or Gabriel Landeskog to be in a Canadiens jersey any time soon.
Speaking via conference call this afternoon, Julien revealed that it was not his intention to return to coaching in the NHL until after the season had ended. However, coaching the Montreal Canadiens for a second time was an offer that he could not refuse. That he believes that the Canadiens are in a very good position with Price whom in his opinion “is the best goaltender in the world”:
The fact that an elite coach wanted to come to Montreal is a very encouraging sign to the players, management and fans. Miracles cannot be expected but this roster is not as bad as they have played over the last six weeks. Are they as good as their phenomenal start out of the gate when they were 13-1-1? Perhaps not but when everyone is on the same page and brings their ‘A’ game the team is difficult to defeat. Fans and media will have to wait until Friday afternoon’s 4pm practice to see what lineup changes Julien may make but he was clear on what his overall intentions are:
Julien also confirmed that signed a five year contract plus the end of this season. Financial terms were not revealed. Coincidentally or not, his contract is timed to end with that of Bergevin’s. Julien is not in Montreal for a quick fix. He is here for the long haul. As well, all of the assistant coaches will remain at least through the end of the season. If Julien feels that any changes need to be made then that will only occur in the off-season.
It is time for a new Julien era in Montreal. Many felt that he did not get the proper chance under Bob Gainey’s watch as he was never Gainey’s man. What is certain is that Julien’s potential as a head coach was evident back then. That it came as no surprise that he went on to great success and a fine coaching career. Sometimes though, things have a way of working out for the best. His teams from 2003 through 2006 were not nearly as talented as the current edition of the Canadiens. There was no real window of opportunity for a Stanley Cup back then. Now is truly his time, and the right time to return to Montreal.
Welcome back Claude.