Claude Julien will not be heading to Florida; Julien will not be going to Brooklyn, either; and as expected, he certainly is not singing “Viva Las Vegas.” In a bizarre and shocking turn of events, the Montréal Canadiens on Tuesday fired Head Coach Michel Therrien and immediately hired Julien. Julien was relieved of his duties by the Boston Bruins a week prior to being hired by the Habs. Therrien was in the fifth season of his second tenure in Montréal. He becomes the fifth coach to be relieved of his duties so far this season.
Michel Therrien took over as Canadiens’ Head Coach in 2000 after the organization fired Alain Vigneault. Therrien had his first run at success in the 2001-02 season where he led the Habs to an upset of the top-seeded Bruins in the postseason before bowing out in the second round to the Carolina Hurricanes. He was let go halfway through the next season, and finished his first stint with the club at 77-77-23-13.
After a couple of successful seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate), Michel Therrien was promoted to Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in December of 2005. In 2008, he led the Pens to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to be defeated by the Detroit Red Wings in six games. After starting the next season off well, the Pens hit a skid, and Therrien was relieved of his duties in February of 2009, replaced by Dan Bylsma. The Penguins exacted revenge on the Red Wings that spring. In his tenure in Pittsburgh, Therrien went 135-105-32.
In June of 2012, the Montréal Canadiens gave Michel Therrien another shot behind the bench. Therrien led the club into the postseason in three of four seasons, the pinnacle of which was a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to Alain Vigneault and the New York Rangers in 2014. After starting goaltender Carey Price was injured in late November of 2015, the Habs failed to reach the postseason in 2016.
So far this season, the Canadiens are 31-19-8 with 70 points, good for first place in the Atlantic Division.
First place, you say? That sounds wonderful! Why would a coach be fired for leading a team in first place?
I’m so glad you asked! While the Habs began the season hot, the squad has struggled so far in February, posting a record of 1-5-1. Heading into a five-day “bye” week, the organization felt now was the best time to pull the trigger before heading down the stretch towards the playoffs. Canadiens’ General Manager Marc Bergevin released a statement to NHL.com citing the need for “a new energy, a new voice, [and] a new direction.” There is much to be desired with Bergevin’s statement, but it seems as though Therrien has failed lately to get the most out of his players (doesn’t this sound eerily familiar to Julien’s firing last week?). Montréal had upgraded this summer after convincing Alexander Radulov to come back to North America, and acquiring Andrew Shaw at the 2016 NHL Draft. The Habs even dealt offensive-defenseman P.K. Subban for shut-down blue liner, Shea Weber who is also capable of generating offense in his own right, boasting a clap bomb that makes even Zdeno Chara tremble in his skates. The point is, despite the Habs working with an arguably better squad than recent years’ past and a healthy Carey Price, fifth in the Eastern Conference is not where the full potential of the bleu-blanc-rouge lies.
Enter Claude Julien. It’s déjà vu – the last time Therrien was let go by the Habs, Julien took over Therrien’s job. Here we are, 14 years and one month later and Claude Julien is replacing Michel Therrien behind the Canadiens bench again. In 997 games behind the bench for the Habs, New Jersey Devils (one season), and Bruins, Julien is 538-332-10-117. He has led his respective squads to the postseason eight out of twelve opportunities, including defeating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games for the Stanley Cup in 2011. Julien was also the recipient of the Jack Adams Award in 2008-09, given to the league’s top coach for the season. Despite all of his success, Julien had failed to lead the Bruins into postseason action two seasons in a row (2014-15 and 2015-16).
While this fire-and-hire comes as much of a shock to the hockey world, after the fact, it makes sense. As offered earlier, Therrien seemed to have failed in bringing out the full potential of the current Canadiens team. Meanwhile, just a week after Julien was let go, Julien became the best option in the bench-boss market. He brings almost 14 years of head-coaching experience, and plenty of post-season experience to a team expecting to clinch a playoff berth (assuming everyone remains healthy) with just 24 games remaining on the schedule. As an added bonus – but pretty much a requirement in the region – Julien is bilingual, speaking both English and French, something that is extremely important to the rich, cultural history of the Province of Quebec. Au revoir, Therrien; nous saluons le retour, Julien!
Finally, with an assist in Tuesday night’s 4-0 Penguins’ victory of the Vancouver Canucks, Pens’ Captain Sidney Crosby sits just one point shy of 1,000 points. The Penguins face off against the Winnipeg Jets Thursday evening in Pittsburgh where Sid will have an opportunity to reach the milestone at home. Crosby Watch is now in highest-gear. Stay tuned!