MONTREAL â€” The Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and brought back former Boston Bruins bench boss Claude Julien to help put life back into their slumping team.
Julien became available when he was fired in his 10th season with the Bruins last week and Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin was quick to snap him up. It is believed that a handful of other teams were also interested in the 56-year-old coach.
The Canadiens opened the season with a 13-1-1 mark but have been listless over the last two months and have a 2-6-1 record in their last nine games. There was fear of another collapse like last season, when the club went from first place to out of the playoffs after star goalie Carey Price was injured.
Speculation had been building that Therrien would be let go. He ended up being replaced by Julien for the second time in his career. Therrien’s first stint with Montreal from 2000-03 ended when Julien took over from 2003-06.
The move was made with the Canadiens on a five-day break. Bergevin is scheduled to hold a news conference Wednesday morning at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, Que., while Julien will speak with reporters via conference call in the early afternoon.
Julien is to run his first practice Friday afternoon and coach the next day in a matinee against the visiting Winnipeg Jets. The Orleans, Ont. native is to work his 1,000th NHL game Feb. 23 against the New York Islanders.
“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,” Bergevin said in a release. “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.”
Team owner and president Geoff Molson added in a tweet: “Michel Therrien, merci beaucoup pour tout, thank you for giving everything you had to our team.”
The Canadiens are coming off a pair of losses to teams that have gone on winning runs since changing coaches: St. Louis and Boston.
“As a player, especially as the captain, you feel guilty,” Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty told Sportsnet. “Ultimately if we had performed better, especially as of late, then you don’t force management to make a decision like this. We definitely have been underperforming as of late. But I feel it’s on the players.
“We’ve seen around the league this tends to be the result when teams don’t step up and perform. I have nothing but great things to say about Michel and that’s what makes this pretty tough for me.”
The question is whether Montreal would have made a move if Julien had not become available. However, he fits the team’s needs in bringing experience, a history of playoff success and an ability to communicate with fans and media in French, which is all but compulsory for a Canadiens coach.
He inherits a team that considers itself ready for a Stanley Cup run now with Price in goal and with veteran Shea Weber, acquired in an off-season trade that sent P.K. Subban to Nashville, anchoring the defence.
His first tasks will be getting Price out of his own slump and finding a balance on the forward lines, particularly getting young talents Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher on track.
That Julien decided to return to the Canadiens was surprising to many hockey observers who felt he was unfairly fired his first time in Montreal â€” his first NHL coaching job â€” when he was replaced by former Canadiens GM Bob Gainey despite a 19-16-6 record at the time.
New Jersey topped that the following season, when their former GM Lou Lamoriello fired Julien just before the playoffs when he had a 47-24-6 record after 79 games.
Julien thrived in Boston, taking the Bruins to a Stanley Cup in 2011 and reaching the final two years later. He was named NHL coach of the year in 2009.
But after key personnel and management changes, the Bruins have not been the same team in recent years. They missed the playoffs the last two seasons and were in danger of making it three in a row when they axed Julien and promoted Bruce Cassidy to head coach.
Julien was the NHL’s longest-tenured coach at the time.
It is an older, more confident Julien who will guide the Canadiens this time around.
There is less certainty that Therrien will be picked up by another team even though the Canadiens are in first place in the Atlantic Division. He had a record of 271 wins, 198 losses, 23 ties and 50 overtime losses in 542 career regular-season games with the Canadiens and ranks fourth on the team’s all-time list for games and wins.
He led the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference final in 2014.
Therrien also guided the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup final in 2008, but was replaced by Dan Bylsma late the next season. He worked in television until the Canadiens gave him another chance in 2012.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press