Once you digest everything involved in the monumental decision Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin finalized on Tuesday, there are two things that stand out above all else.
The first is that Bergevin wasn’t going to let Claude Julien, who was the best (French-speaking) coach on the market, slip out of his grasp. Especially not with Michel Therrien taking his Atlantic Division leading Canadiens into a death spiral over the last few weeks.
With respect to Stanley Cup-winning coach Ken Hitchcock, his inability to address most Quebecers in their native tongue disqualified him from the race. And whether you agree with that mentality or not, Canadiens owner Geoff Molson made it clear—after Randy Cunneyworth’s (disastrous) interim run as head coach in 2012—that so long as he was calling the shots the team wouldn’t again break from the tradition of having a coach who could communicate in French.
But that doesn’t mean Bergevin would’ve hired just anyone who fits that all-important criteria.
Bob Hartley and Patrick Roy have been available for months. Guy Carbonneau has been on the market for years. But none of them are even close to having Julien’s pedigree as an NHL bench boss.
Julien’s numbers speak for themselves. With 538 wins and 117 points accumulated in overtime/shootout losses in 997 regular season games, he’s been nothing short of excellent in his stints with Montreal, New Jersey and Boston.
“And he won the Stanley Cup [with the Bruins in 2011],” said Bergevin in the press release the Canadiens sent out following Tuesday’s bombshell announcement.
“I am convinced that he has the capabilities to get our team back on the winning track,” he added, bringing us to our second key takeaway: this move only reinforces how invested Bergevin is in having the Canadiens contend this season.
It’s the path he set out on last summer, when he made the decision to trade 28-year-old P.K. Subban for 31-year-old Shea Weber. That was a key sign he was willing to sacrifice the future for a chance to win now.
Bringing in Stanley Cup winner Andrew Shaw and the KHL’s most dominant player over the last four years in Alexander Radulov were strikes made in the same vein. And Bergevin wouldn’t have fired Therrien now, after passionately defending him through a failed 2016-17 campaign and referring to him as his “foxhole friend,” if he had any intention of throwing in the towel on his team’s chances to follow through on his vision.
“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,” said Bergevin. “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.”
We might not have to wait the full 14 days between now and the NHL’s trade deadline to see what Bergevin does next. Several sources contacted over recent weeks have intimated he’s been active on all fronts, looking for ways to bolster the Canadiens’ offence and to potentially add a puck-mover to his defence core.
Meanwhile, Julien returns to Montreal to settle unfinished personal business. He had a 72-62-10-15 record in 159 games from the moment he last took over from Therrien as Canadiens coach in January of 2003 until the one that saw him fired in January of 2006. You’d have to think he’d not be jumping straight over to the team he had his most intense rivalry with for 10 years as Bruins coach if that wasn’t a factor.
You also have to believe that he skirted the opportunity to pick and choose from various future coaching opportunities that would come with far less daily pressure than he’ll face in Montreal because he also believes in the Canadiens’ chances to win now.
We’ll find out for sure when Julien speaks for the first time about his new role in a scheduled conference call on Wednesday.
His new captain, Max Pacioretty, had his say when he spoke with Sportsnet’s David Amber on Tuesday evening’s edition of Hockey Central.
“I feel it’s on the players,” Pacioretty said.
The Canadiens have two more days of rest before coming out of the bye week for a Friday practice scheduled for 4:00 p.m. ET.
Then they’ll try to break the spell that’s seen them lose six of their last seven games when they welcome the Winnipeg Jets to the Bell Centre on Saturday afternoon before heading to New York for a game against the Rangers on Tuesday and returning to Montreal for one against the New York Islanders on Thursday.
“We know that as a group we have to be all-in right from the start once we get back from this break,” said Pacioretty.
Bergevin’s decision on Tuesday only ramped up the pressure for his players to follow through.