We have breaking news out of the National Hockey League this morning with the Montreal Canadiens announcing that they have fired Head Coach Claude Julien and Assistant Coach Kirk Muller in the wake of the 5-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators in the Shootout on Tuesday night.
Dominique Ducharme has been named as the Interim Head Coach for the Canadiens, while Laval Rocket Assistant Coach Alex Burrows has also been added to the coaching staff, and it remains to be seen what direction General Manager Marc Bergevin opts to go in now.
Claude Julien had one season remaining on his five-year, $25 million contract with the Canadiens.
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While this news may have shocked some, if you follow the media in Montreal closely it has been clear that drastic change was coming with Canadiens fans unhappy with the nosedive their team has taken, going 4-4-2 in their last 10 outings and wiping out what was a stellar start to the 2020-21 NHL season in a competitive North Division.
You also only need to go back to the offseason where Bergevin made a plethora of big moves to improve this team to know that Claude Julien was always going to be on a short leash this year, and so it proved after the Canadiens failed to beat an Ottawa Senators team that have been historically bad this season.
This kind of seismic change has also been bubbling under the surface for quite a while considering that the Canadiens had struggled in a number of areas, scoring just one power play goal in 21 attempts, two consecutive losses to the Sens and three in four losses to the same team, an alarming lack of discipline with Montreal taking a minimum of four penalties a game and six losses in their last eight games probably set the tone for what was to come.
Montreal Canadiens firing Claude Julien proves their desire to win now
After all, Marc Bergevin sent out a very clear message this offseason regarding his intentions for this team by dramatically retooling this roster, making this team bigger, stronger, faster and tougher to play against, while adding a scoring punch in Tyler Toffoli who leads the Canadiens in points with 17 (12 G, 5 A) in 18 games.
Bergevin spent a total of $69.5 million on Toffoli, gritty forward Josh Anderson and hard-nosed defenseman Joel Edmundson this off-season, while he also opted to commit to spending just under $15 million on two goalies this season after trading for Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues before signing the veteran to an extension.
Not only did Bergevin go all out in order to address some pretty big needs for this team, but he also doubled down by signing veteran forwards Corey Perry and Michael Frolik in order to load up on depth and make the Montreal Canadiens a formidable juggernaut both in the regular-season and come Playoffs time.
Basically, Bergevin did his job by significantly upgrading this team and turning them into a legit contender, so it was up to Julien and his coaching staff to squeeze every single ounce of potential and effort out of this team that had been assembled for them.
Well, despite an impressive start to the year where they went 7-1-2, including a 4-0-2 road trip to open the season, the Canadiens have stumbled and fallen over themselves in recent weeks and they are now just about clinging on to fourth place in the North with an uninspiring 9-5-4 record.
This team looked lost and confused under Julien in recent weeks, who was 129-113-34 with the Habs, the effort was there but creativity wasn’t and, as already mentioned, they played undisciplined hockey while stinking on special teams, ranked 20th on the power play (18.2) and 22nd on the penalty kill (76.4), which isn’t going to translate to a successful team either in the regular-season or in the Playoffs.
Montreal made cheap, costly mistakes, there seemed to be lack of adjustments being made from behind the bench and it was clear that this team was struggling to halt the skid, hence Bergevin clearly having seen enough and deciding to make a big change before things spiralled out of control even more.
There isn’t such a thing as an overreaction in a condensed 56-game season where every single game is important and every single loss is more costly, and it is clear that Claude Julien ultimately paid the price for the high expectations set during the offseason when the Montreal Canadiens made it abundantly clear, via their many, many bold offseason moves, that the goal was to be a win-now team this season. And Claude Julien was unable to make the most of the talent at his disposal and now becomes the first major casualty of the 2020-21 NHL season.