The Runner Sports

Montreal Canadiens Hire Claude Julien

Were things getting a little stale in the NHL for you? Doubtful, but if you by any chance started to nod off here in February before the playoff push got really intense, the Monreal Canadiens were sure to spice things up for you. A week after being fired by the Boston Bruins, the Montreal Canadiens announced the hiring of Claude Julien Tuesday. A nice little valentines day gift for their rivals to the south.

The move required the immediate firing of their own head coach, Michel Therrien to make the hiring possible. Therrien had gone 271-198 (23 ties & 50 overtime losses) in his eight-year tenure with the Canadiens. His first stint coming from 2000 through the midway point of the 2002-2003 season. His most recent stint, spanning from the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season to just beyond the mid marker of the 2016-17 season. In his last four and a half years behind the bench for Montreal, Therrien led the Canadiens to a 194-118-37 record. Despite a pair of top finishes in the last four years, the Canadiens had reached the Eastern Conference Finals just once. And the disappointing 6th place finish a year ago no doubt hung heavy in the air of Centre Bell despite currently having the team atop the Atlantic Division. With Julien newly available and the Habs in the midst of a skid in which they’ve lost 10 of their last 13 games, the move was made with seemingly little hesitation.

The northern ties are not an absurd connection for Julien. The Blind River, Ontario, Canada native spent the majority of his playing career in CHL before a brief stint that culminated in a 14-game appearance for the Quebec Nordiques spanning two seasons. Julien, despite being most well known for his time behind the bench in Boston, even has direct ties to Montreal, having coached there for two seasons from 2002-06. His run never materialized into anything more than a conference semi-final appearance. This will actually be the second time that Therrien has handed over the Montreal reigns to Julien.

Montreal GM Marc Bergevin had nothing but positive things to say in what he remarked was a difficult decision to make in an interview with NHL.com:

“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.”

Claude had recently become the winningest coach in Boston Bruins history (419-246-94), and despite a Stanley Cup victory in 2011, the good wills had fallen on thin ice over the last three seasons. The team orchestrated back-to-back collapses, losing 9 of their final 14 games in consecutive seasons to miss the playoffs. And while upper management decisions no doubt handcuffed Claude in the waning days in Boston, the talk was that his messages had begun to fall on deafening ears.

Still, perhaps inspired by runs created by newly vacated roles behind the bench in St. Louis (5-1 since firing of Ken Hitchcock) and even the Bruins (3-0 including a 5-0 shutout of Montreal on Sunday) not to mention the hottest trend in sports is winning a championship after firing your head coach apparently, the message was clearly to bring in a fresh energy. And that’s exactly what Claude Julien can achieve. He has experience with most of these players both as an opposing coach, but also as a direct leader for a few. He spent the revitalized World Cup of Hockey behind the bench next to Mike Babcock for team Canada.

Heavy speculation was that the toddler franchise in Las Vegas would pin Claude as their top target in their coaching search. They’ll have to look elsewhere.

The flip-flop also adds a new spark of fire to one of pro sport’s best rivalries. These teams already needed little flint to ignite the powder keg, and the change for Julien will be the latest firestarter. Even though the team fired him, AND would have had to give Montreal permission to hire him, it won’t stop the Boston fanbase from pitting it as the latest atrocity in a long line of bad blood. Sadly, the two sides do not meet again this regular season. Any immediate showdown would require a playoff matchup, and once semi-checked out Bruins fans certainly appear to be all in on the playoff push to make that happen.

Tyler Arnold

Tyler Arnold

I am the founder and editor-in-chief of The Runner Sports. I've been an avid sports fan since I was a child and have turned that love into a profession. I will watch, comment, and break down anything I can get my hands on, from football to white water rafting in the Olympics. Your visit means a lot to me, so thank you for your readership.
Tyler Arnold