The decision to bring back Claude Julien back as head coach earlier this week was widely praised. Do our writers feel the same way about the change behind the bench?
Gordon Black: This was a move that many were expecting, and for good reason. There are endless points in the debate over Michel Therrien’s ability to coach, but at the end of the day he was not getting the job done and the team seemed to be giving up on him after five years behind the bench as a less-than-progressive boss. What is far less up for debate is the ability of the man who will be taking his spot.
Julien returns to the Habs for a second time with a great deal more experience, and as has been pointed out ad nauseum, a recent Stanley Cup victory. He is universally respected around the league and will be especially motivated to show up his old bosses in Boston.
Aside from the immediate benefits usually associated with increased motivation to play for a new coach, the greatest benefit of this change will be increased possession. It is not that possession-focus is simply a better system than dump and chase (this is subjective), it is that Montreal has players who will greatly benefit from a more complex system (Radulov, Galchenyuk, Markov, etc).
Once again, Bergevin got the guy a lot of other teams were after, and once again, did it without costing the team valuable assets. If this works out – and I believe it will – the question that remains is whether Julien is the solution, or Therrien was the problem.
Hilding Gnanapragasm: More often than not, when a coach is fired it is more a symbolic move than anything else, designed to temporarily stave off rabid fanbases and media pundits. It is the General Manager’s answer to questions he doesn’t have answers to.
Marc Bergevin is not your average General Manager. Following the disastrous 2015-16 season, many felt Therrien’s firing was a foregone conclusion. Instead, Bergevin firmly stood behind his widely-hated coach and then proceeded to trade the fans’ favourite player in P.K. Subban. Point being – Marc Bergevin is not swayed by popular opinion.
So why fire Therrien now? Simple. Julien was available. Bergevin was not going to fire Therrien for the sake of firing him, but now, the crafty GM sniffed out an opportunity to make an upgrade and he wisely pounced. The Canadiens can only draw from a tiny pool of experienced NHL coaches, so when the best of that bunch became available, Bergevin had to take action. In a weird way, the Habs’ current slump couldn’t have come at a better time. Had the Canadiens been on a winning run, chances are Julien would be cashing another team’s cheques today. The planets aligned and the table was set for Bergevin to make this move. Luckily for Habs’ fans, he answered the call.
Brian La Rose: I didn’t see this coming. Given Bergevin’s surprising loyalty to a coach that has only lost in Sylvain Lefebvre at the AHL level, I thought he’d have stuck with Therrien a bit longer at least and would have given him a trade or two in the coming weeks to see if that would be enough of a shakeup. Instead, Bergevin pulled the trigger now (and messed up our plans for a Writers Weigh In column about Therrien along the way).
I’m a bit skeptical that this is going to magically turn things around like many are hoping for. One of the common criticisms of Therrien was his constant demanding to play a less than offensively-creative system. That’s not going to change here with this move. There may a few tweaks under Julien but the Habs aren’t going to be drastically changing the way they play. It’s going to be a different voice preaching a very similar message.
Is Julien an upgrade on a coach over Therrien? I’d say so and I’m a firm believer in taking any upgrade you can get, as big or tiny as it may be so from that standpoint, it’s a good move. But I don’t think Julien’s going to come in and magically get the Habs playing the way they were at the beginning of the season though. Their struggles over the last few months are much deeper than just the head coach although as usual, it’s the coach who winds up being the fall guy.
Alex Létourneau: Frankly, I’m not all that surprised Therrien got the boot. I figured there was a 50/50 chance he’d make it through the bye week. However, I had no expectation of Julien taking over from Therrien (again). I didn’t even entertain the possibility. But here we are.
I don’t think this is a bad hire. And I don’t think Julien gets enough credit as a coach. In his first two stints as a coach in the NHL, he was railroaded by general managers who both fired him and took over the reins after performances they deemed below expectations. With Gainey in Montreal, I’ll give the organization the benefit of the doubt, but Julien essentially had one full season with the Habs, and it led to a second round playoff exit. Julien’s almost one year stint in New Jersey was simply baffling. Fired three games before season’s end and replaced by Lou Lamoriello while in second place in the conference. That’s a hard pill to swallow. He was a success in Boston, and I think Canadiens fans don’t need a refresher on his achievements.
It’s curious to see what kind of tweaks he’ll make to the lineup and what kind of moves we’ll see on deadline day to reinforce the lineup. I understand the “sky is falling” atmosphere that’s buzzing out of Montreal and comparisons are being made to last year’s catastrophe. Fine, but Julien is walking into a team who is first place in their division, and is healthy with a few days to work with players and coaches before Saturday’s contest. Things could be much, much worse. He knows the organization, he’s bilingual, he’s coached nearly 15 seasons in the division and he’s a winner – he’s expected to slide into the role. This team is capable of going on winning runs, we’ll see if Julien can coax another one out them.
And if somehow you haven’t read this yet – the last Time Michel Therrien was fired this late in the season he was coaching the Penguins, and they went on to win the Stanley Cup after his firing.
Norm Szcyrek: To me the handwriting was on the wall that Therrien was going to be fired. The team just lost six out of seven games including three shutouts going into the bye week. That five day rest period should now be known as the “bye bye Therrien” week. Practically all of the players looked listless during these games, especially their superstar goaltender Carey Price. Bergevin could have waited until the offseason for a head coaching change, with the hope that the team came out of their slump. However doing so would risk the team not responding positively under Therrien and plummeting out of a playoff spot. That would have been unforgivable considering the strong start the team had in October. Waiting to make this move also would have risked Julien being hired by another team, as interest in talking to Julien was reportedly underway.
Some fans have an issue with Julien being a retread coach given his previous tenure with the Habs. Some fans say they disrespect Julien due to his whining antics behind the bench while coaching Boston, particularly in games against Montreal. I believe Julien has learned a great deal coaching pro players since he was fired from Montreal as a rookie coach. His inclusion with the Team Canada coaching staff for the World Cup and Olympic tournaments is a testament to his skill, contributions and respect from his peers. Based on all these points, I believe Julien will be a vast improvement as the head coach. At least he deserves a chance to right the ship and get the most of his players.
With regards to Therrien “losing the room”, to me it appeared that the players tried to follow his system but I think they saw the results weren’t positive and so they were just going through the motions. That’s a fault of Therrien’s style, where he’s very static to the point of stubbornness of adjusting it. After the team had a strong start in October, other teams took notice of the team’s style and made adjustments to counteract it. Therrien didn’t appear to change his strategies and this is why I believe their record declined.
Bergevin once said, some players get you to the playoffs, and some get your through the playoffs. To paraphrase him, I say some coaches get you to the playoffs, and some coaches get you through the playoffs. Therrien was the former, but the Habs needs the latter. With Julien’s Stanley Cup win in 2001, they now have that piece of the puzzle.
Dave Woodward: If you were of the view that the Canadiens needed new leadership behind the bench, Julien’s firing in Boston represented an opportunity. Mid-season coaching changes are sometimes deferred due to a lack of qualified candidates. In my view, Julien’s hiring cannot reasonably be characterized as anything other than an upgrade on Therrien, particularly at this phase of Therrien’s second tenure with the Habs. This statement is not intended as an indictment on Coach Therrien as much as it is a recognition of the league-wide respect for and accomplishments of Claude Julien.
Julien coached the Bruins to a Stanley Cup in 2011 and very nearly won again in 2013. For an extended period during his tenure, Coach Julien coached one of the toughest and most consistent teams in the NHL. Moreover, by all accounts, he is a character guy who communicates well with players and the media. Julien’s first tenure with the Canadiens was, with the benefit of hindsight, pre-empted prematurely. The Canadiens are now a more talented team than they were at that time. Coach Julien has the opportunity now to take an underachieving group currently in free-fall, and conceivably lead the team to a deep playoff run. Do Habs fans feel that this is more likely under Julien than Therrien? No question in my mind.
All coaches are eventually tuned out by the players and reach their best before date. Only the players can say definitively whether Therrien’s leadership had reached that point. If so, the change was imperative and any team could do a lot worse than Julien, particularly when the change occurs at mid-season. If Therrien had not been tuned out and the players were merely going through a mid-season slump/ funk, Julien is still a fine NHL coach who will provide good leadership the rest of the way, and very possibly for years to come. I like the move.