That’s all it took for Claude Julien to be taken off the coaching market.
It’s a rare occurrence for a coach in the National Hockey League to find work shortly after a mid-season firing. And after 10 years in Boston, no one would have blamed Julien for taking a little time off before evaluating his options for the foreseeable future.
Well, the latest opening was something he couldn’t refuse. The winningest coach in Bruins history is now heading up north to Montreal to begin his second stint with the Canadiens.
“I really felt like I should sit back and let the season play out,” Julien said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, “unless something came along that I couldn’t turn down.”
It’s hard to blame Julien for taking the gig in place of Michel Therrien – again, for the second time in his career with the Habs. Things haven’t been going so smoothly for the Bleu Blanc et Rouge faithful since the start of the new year. Their once dominant lead in the Atlantic Division is now down to six points over the Senators and Bruins and seven over the fourth place Maple Leafs.
The pieces are in place for the Canadiens to make a run, though. From all-world goalie Carey Price to potential Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber and the skillset of players like Max Pacioretty, Alex Radulov and Brendan Gallagher, the Habs have a solid core of top-line players. Their depth outside of that and underperformances from guys like Alex Galchenyuk and Andrew Shaw prove that GM Marc Bergevin needs to address some issues beyond a coaching change.
Bergevin, who called Julien a “superstar coach” crossed off the first item on his list during their bye week in addressing the situation behind the Habs bench. Regardless of whether or not they’ll improve externally, Julien is set to install his system and philosophy when he meets the Canadiens for the first time on Friday.
“I am taking on a good team – I know that much,” said Julien, who signed a five-year extension with the Habs that goes into effect for the 2016-17 season. “It’s up for us to show it.”
Speaking to the media for the first time since his being canned by Bruins GM Don Sweeney eight days ago, Julien addressed his final days in Boston.
Nine days ago, Julien was sitting in his office evaluating ideas on how to get more of his team. The Bruins were two nights removed from a 6-5 loss to the Maple Leafs in a game where they overcame a 4-1 deficit only to fall short during another frustrating night at TD Garden. The very next day, with the Patriots parading through downtown Boston to celebrate their historic fifth Super Bowl win, Sweeney held his infamous press conference regarding his decision to remove Julien from his duties.
Although he wasn’t all that shocked by the way things turned out, especially given the noise surrounding his job security over the past few seasons, Julien was still caught a little off-guard.
“I don’t think it was a shocker, but I wasn’t expecting it,” Julien said during his conference call.
“Anytime a coach doesn’t finish a season or gets let go is disappointing, but I have to respect the decision [by the Bruins].”
Perhaps the Bruins, despite giving the Canadiens and other teams permission to talk to Julien, were caught a little off-gaurd by the news (well at least the fanbase was). But it’s hard to argue against the initial results since the coaching change.
The Black and Gold are in day three of their bye week having won three straight under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, including their recent 4-0 victory of the Habs in their final regular season matchup of 2016-17 – and in what turned out to be Therrien’s final game behind the Montreal bench.
Any hopes of a Julien return to Boston would have to wait until a potential playoff matchup at the earliest – or until the 2017-18 regular season. Although it may feel odd to some, there’s no question that Julien will get a warm reception at TD Garden in appreciation of his successful Bruins-tenure highlighted by their Stanley Cup triumph in 2011.
As tough as his departure was – and as poorly as it was handled by Sweeney, Cam Neely and the front office – Julien spoke fondly of his time in Boston and the relationships he encountered with his players in the locker room. Those feelings though will have to be put to rest whenever the two historic rivals take the ice again.
“There’s a rivalry that exists between the two teams, and I want to keep that rivalry going on the ice,” Julien said.