Julien Takes Habs From Good to Mediocre

On Feb. 7, 2017, the Boston Bruins were fourth in the Atlantic Division. They fired their head coach Claude Julien, and one week later, he was back behind the bench and sitting in first place in the division. This is because the Montreal Canadiens, shockingly, fired their head coach Michel Therrien while in first place. It was also the second time in the franchise’s history that Julien was replacing Therrien.

Claude Julien
Claude Julien (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

Julien was coming into his second tenure with the organization and there was renewed optimism in Montreal with more stability at head coach. Ownership went so far to give him a five-year extension, worth $25 million. The contract made Julien the third-highest paid coach in the National Hockey League. Despite winning the division, they would wind up losing in the opening round to the New York Rangers in six games. Since then the road for Julien has been a bumpy one to say the least.

Julien’s Questionable Decision Making

The Canadiens went bold before the start of last season by trading away top prospect Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for forward Jonathan Drouin. The thought was that it would give Julien a small, pesky and talented forward that would resemble the one he had in Brad Marchand. The problem was, in Boston Marchand had a centre to play with in Patrice Bergeron. The Montreal native struggled in his first year with the team as he was asked to play both roles.

Things hit a low point last season when Julien’s coaching decisions were coming into question. With the team struggling to score goals, he dropped Drouin down to the third line to play with defensive forward Jacob De La Rose. To have one of your more talented players resorted to a checking line, felt obscurely out of place.

Julien Had Too Much to Overcome

The amount of depth on this team has recently come into question. Every team goes through injuries, but the Canadiens unfortunately lean heavily on two players and both of them went down last season. They loss both star goaltender Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber for an extended period of time. Julien was left to pick up the pieces and find a way to compete each game.

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien
Canadiens head coach Claude Julien (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

He struggled to get any of his players going and could not manage both casualties. The losses were too much to overcome and in his first full season behind the bench the Canadiens finished with a dismal 29-40-13 record. It was the second time in three years that the team failed to make the playoffs. There was also no denying that he had major problems with one of the team’s most skilled forwards Alex Galchenyuk. Things were were made public, and it got so bad that one hockey agent claimed in a tweet that Julien did not get along with any Russian players. The relationship came to an end when he was shipped to Arizona for forward Max Domi this offseason.

Habs Are Starting the Season Fresh

There are a lot of areas that the Canadiens will need to improve on this season. They will need to focus on retooling their depth and talent in the organization. They were rewarded with the third pick, and drafted a big centre in Jesperi Kotkaniemi to address a need down the middle. The Canadiens lacked any sort of cohesion with their lines and it showed throughout the season. A key focus for Julien and his assistants, will be managing the roster more efficiently. The roster has not changed much from last season other than a motivated Carey Price.

“At the end of the day, I know how I feel about my game and I know I could have played better,” Price told Kevin Woodley of NHL.com. “I always feel like that regardless, but I know I can play better than that and I know my teammates will be looking to perform better this season as well.”

If Price can play up to the caliber we have seen in the past than it will make Julien’s job a lot easier. Coming into his second full season with the team, it will interesting to see what adjustments are made to ensure they are a playoff contender. A good coach knows how to utilize his players to the best of their abilities. Julien will have to use every coaching techniques he knows to get the most out of his players, to help this team win.