Marc Bergevin made a monumental and shocking decision on Tuesday by firing head coach Michel Therrien and bringing in former Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien to replace him. It was the first coaching change to come under the Bergevin regime and, in many ways, an unexpected one.
Last season, amidst the team’s free fall out of the playoffs, Bergevin memorably stated “it’s on me” after Montreal’s epic collapse. But with the Canadiens still sitting atop the Atlantic Division, he decided to cut Therrien loose and move in a new direction.
So, what may have changed Bergevin’s mind?
The Canadiens were struggling down the stretch...again
Heading into the bye week, the Montreal Canadiens once again found themselves in a downward spiral. Despite having a healthy Carey Price in net, the team couldn’t seem to find its footing after a blistering 13-1-1 start to the season. Sound familiar? Though the Canadiens did run into some injury trouble early on, the squad was fairly healthy come January 1st and yet they continued to have trouble winning games.
Since the new year, Montreal has posted a 9-10-2 record, winning consecutive games just once in that time span. During the same stretch, the Canadiens found themselves held off the board five times, four of which occurred in their last five games. Additionally, the penalty kill was lingering at an atrocious 76% during the past 21 games.
As it became clear that Therrien was failing to pull the team out of the tailspin, Bergevin had to act to salvage the rest of the season and prevent a repeat of last year.
The perfect replacement was available
The head coach of the Canadiens needs to meet a certain criteria. The coach needs to be bilingual, ideally have previous coaching experience, and thick enough skin to thrive under pressure in a hockey-mad environment. Much of the argument for sticking with Therrien came from the lack of adequate replacements.
That was until the Boston Bruins so helpfully parted ways with a coach who met each requirement. Julien is no stranger to the city, having previously coached the team from 2002-03 before being let go in 2006. From there, he went on to last nearly 10 seasons with the Boston Bruins, leading them to a Stanley Cup in the process. More impressively, Julien possesses a .623 total career winning percentage, and a .560 winning percentage in the playoffs to boot. His teams are always among the best in the league in terms of shots and scoring-chance control.
A coach with Julien’s pedigree wasn’t going to remain unemployed for long, forcing Bergevin to make a quick decision regarding Therrien’s future behind the bench.
The bye week advantage
Giving a new coach time to adjust is an inconvenience when it’s going on during the season, but the timing for this new hiring was perfect. The bye week gave the Montreal Canadiens both a break from their tough schedule and a chance to break out of their recent slump.
It also allows Julien to make his way to Montreal and figure out the logistics of settling in a new city, without having to coach a new team or run practices at the same time. It will give the new coach the opportunity to get to know his new squad and meet with players prior to Friday’s practice. When it comes to mid-season firings, this one had perfect timing.
Bergevin’s legacy as the Canadiens GM is in play
Bergevin is hedging his bets on Julien’s ability to right this ship because his legacy hinges on it. In the five years that Bergevin has been the general manager of the Canadiens, the team has managed to get past the second round just once, bowing out in the Eastern Conference Finals during an exciting run.
Bergevin has made plenty of adjustments to the roster, including pulling off a blockbuster deal that brought in Shea Weber last summer, and seems to believe that this year’s team has the potential to go all the way. But if the Canadiens can’t compete in the playoffs, all eyes will turn to the man in the GM’s seat, and questions will be asked about whether he is the right person for his job. Hiring Julien earns Bergevin a grace period to prove that he has indeed built a legitimate contender.
No more excuses
In the end, Bergevin had run out of options. The team was icing a a roster tailored to Therrien’s desires, reinforced by a new leadership core and a healthy Carey Price in net. And yet the frustration remained. The same problems from last season started to resurface in this year’s squad, and the only constant was the man behind the bench.
It’s worth considering that if Bergevin wasn’t going to relieve Therrien of his duties, he could have quickly found himself out of a job as well.
After all, he had done everything he could to create a team specifically for Therrien’s system, and the coach still couldn’t get the desired results. Bergevin had to make the right call; by prioritizing winning over loyalty. By doing so he may have re-instilled a level of confidence from the fans that had been dwindling in recent years.