In a somewhat surprising move, Marc Bergevin made the decision to climb out of the fox hole and fire the only coach he’s had work under him as a general manager (GM), Michel Therrien. His choice to replace Therrien was the recently fired, former Bruins bench boss Claude Julien. Somewhat surprising, yet somewhat expected at the same time due to the reports of the GM meeting with team leaders, then having a separate meeting alone with Therrien.
Rivers of ink have been used to report on this decision. Some disliked Therrien from the beginning but I would argue that he was effective. He led the team to the playoffs immediately after the 2012 debacle, and getting as far as the Eastern Conference Finals in 2014. His regular season record during this tenure was 194-127-37 for a .612 winning percentage. His playoff record fell well short of that success rate at 23-23 for a .500 winning percentage.
However, Therrien’s downfall would seem to be that his effectiveness at relaying his message and having the players buy into it came to an end. The Canadiens had been a shell of their former selves since the New Year began and were unable to build any momentum from game to game.
The power play provided some signs of life, yet the penalty killing unit dropped down the standings due to an efficiency rating that sank like a stone. As Carey Price stated “the team lost its identity”. When your biggest star makes statements like that publicly, it is usually a sign that a coaching change will be forthcoming.
This left Marc Bergevin with difficult decisions as the team entered the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) mandated five-day break after an embarrassing loss to the division rivals, Boston Bruins. It was a loss punctuated with a lack of intensity, drive, or will to win by much of the team.
Many Canadiens fans are celebrating the move. It can be argued that it is a move that would not have happened if the Boston Bruins had not fired their Stanley Cup winning coach the week before. Having the option to hire a coach of that caliber does not present itself often. Marc Bergevin said so himself in the press conference announcing the hire saying, “According to his resume, he’s a superstar, his record speaks for itself”.
So, when Bergevin was faced with questions about his own coach, he made the decision. This decision will have a direct impact of the success, or lack thereof for this season. With only 24 games remaining in the 2016-17 NHL regular season, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of time remaining to relaunch the Canadiens. In that regard, the Canadiens still hold on to first place in the Atlantic Division after their break. The team is poised to refocus on their game and enter the playoffs in a favourable position.
Julien has stated that helping to guide the players to bring a sense of pride into their play will be his first priority. This can only help to relaunch what is an already talented group of players. Simply having a fresh voice at the helm of this ship should be enough to do just that.
His most difficult work will be to build the penalty-killing unit back to respectability as it sits now ranked 22nd in the league with an abysmal 79.4 percent efficiency. Julien has relied on a solid defensive system in his time in Boston, and it is to be expected that he will again in this tenure with the Canadiens.
Perhaps some of Julien’s most important work in his first few weeks will be to help relaunch Brendan Gallagher’s production. Despite his best efforts, which happens every shift, Gallagher seems to be cursed with a lower production level this season. Regardless of his young age, Gallagher is an inspirational on-ice leader. His production in the Habs top six is essential to the team’s long term success.
Notwithstanding Julien’s status as one of the top coaches in the NHL today, he cannot score goals, stop pucks, or play defense. The onus will fall onto the players to execute the new coach’s game plan. That alone may not be enough to get this team to the top. Marc Bergevin still has work to do to provide enough tools for the new coach to build into a true contender.
Edited by Donna Sim