A week to the day after being dumped by the Boston Bruins, Claude Julien spent Valentine’s Day with an old fling, and has signed on as the new coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
Because of course he did.
In what will have to be considered one of the most shocking switches in recent hockey history (though another move by the Habs, the P.K. Subban for Shea Weber traded legitimately shocked me when it happened), Julien will replace Michel Therrien as the team’s coach effective immediately. Oddly enough, this is the second time that this exact thing has happened in Canadiens history. It’s also worth noting that the Canadiens, who are on their bye week, remain in first place in the Atlantic Division and though they have dropped six of seven games in the month of February, probably just addressed their biggest weakness with this hiring, and the Black and Gold let it happen.
That is certainly something.
Under contract for the remainder of this season and next season, nobody could hire Julien -- or even talk to him -- without the authorization of the Bruins. The Canadiens were one of multiple teams to have contacted the Bruins with a request to formally interview Julien for a coaching spot, too. A source confirmed that the Vegas Golden Knights asked, which made all the sense in the world, to be honest, and it’s believed that the Florida Panthers expressed some interest as well. But nothing could offer the immediate satisfaction or opportunity like the one presented by the Habs.
That said, it’s still a shock. Like Hulk Hogan joining the NWO kind of shock.
For one, I did not see the Habs cutting ties with Therrien this quickly. I know that sounds crazy to those in Montreal, but this team was still in first place and a Therrien firing after another postseason failure would have been the easiest route, you’d think. But Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin is under the gun and passing on the chance at a coach like Julien is a fireable offense. Secondly, I was convinced that Julien was going to wait this out and see what opportunities presented themselves this summer, and spend some time with his wife and children in the meantime. Breaks haven’t been all that common in the Julien household, so I thought this was a guarantee, to be honest. And lastly, I did not think that the Black and Gold would allow this team to hire him.
Off the hook for the remainder of Julien’s salary with the Habs’ hiring of the 56-year-old, the B’s front office allowing this to happen is a bold statement that says they’re not afraid of going toe-to-toe with Julien in the future. They respect him, sure, but they’re not afraid of the challenges he could present. (It also would have been weird for them to say, ‘Hey, we think you’re not good enough to coach our team, but we don’t want you coaching that team because you could probably do well’.)
It also speaks to the idea that while these two parties (Julien and the front office braintrust of general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely) had their issues, that the working relationship established was a healthy one, and that they understand his desire to continue working in the NHL.
With the Canadiens, Julien gets an immediate opportunity with a solid team.
What he doesn’t get, however, will be a shot at the Bruins for the remainder of the regular season.
That would have to wait until a playoff series.
One that both the Bruins, in the midst of a two-year playoff drought, would love to see. But one that Julien, who as a prideful coach would love nothing more than to be the B’s, might want even more.