Claude Julien didn’t deserve to be fired by the Boston Bruins, but it may well have ultimately been the best thing for him.
The respected coach, who won a Stanley Cup in Boston and exited as the franchise’s all-time leader in wins, was out of work for exactly one week before finding a new job. That new gig comes with Boston’s bitter rival — the Montreal Canadiens, who fired their own coach, Michel Therrien, and jumped at the opportunity to bring Julien aboard on Tuesday.
People around hockey knew that Julien wouldn’t stay unemployed for long, but a mere seven days? And to his former team’s most detested opponent? What a time to be alive.
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This will be Julien’s second stint as head coach of the Canadiens — he also led the team from 2003 to 2006. (Ironically, he also replaced Therrien the first time around.)
This time, he walks into a pretty enviable situation in Montreal: Not only is the Habs gig one of the most coveted jobs in all of hockey, but Julien’s new team is better than the one he just left behind. Montreal has lost 10 of their last 13 (thanks in large part to a dip in performance from goaltender Carey Price over that stretch), but they still sit atop the Atlantic division by a six-point margin.
Julien, who runs a defense-first system, takes over a team that has been one of the best in the league defensively for much of the season. Assuming Price’s struggles are just an aberration (a good bet considering he’s arguably the best goalie in the world), the Habs are a playoff team that should only improve under Julien’s guidance.
Oh, and did I mention he’s also getting a lot richer?
Bob McKenzie just told us he believes Claude Julien will be making at least $4.1 million, for as much as 5 years. #TSN690
That’s a significant increase from the salary that Julien was earning in Boston ($2.5 million), as well as what the Canadiens were paying Therrien ($2 million) to be at the helm.
If that’s not enough of an indication of the organization’s respect and commitment toward Julien, just look at what general manager Marc Bergevin had to say about the coach during a press conference on Wednesday:
#Habs Bergevin: I am convinced and proud to have gotten our hands on one of the best coaches in the league. (Julien) #TSN690
That admiration and respect from the front office was likely a huge selling point for Julien. It’s something that seemed to be absent (or at least lacking) in Boston as of late.
Over the past few years, there seemed to be a disconnect over the roster quality in Boston between the coach and management — particularly Bruins general manager Don Sweeney and team president Cam Neely.
The front office in Boston has not particularly excelled at bolstering (or even maintaining) that quality over the last three seasons. They’ve done an admirable job constructing a solid pipeline with promising prospects, but very little has been done to make immediate improvements to the NHL roster.
The Bruins were a bubble team that finished on the wrong side of the bubble the past two years. This season, when another bubble team started to slide due to a horrendous shooting percentage and a dip in goaltending, Julien was forced to fall on the sword for a front office that wasn’t willing to give him the upgrades he needed.
Ultimately, the Bruins pulled the plug as he pressed the emergency call button.
(Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)
Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
There’s reason to believe that the 56-year-old Julien’s opinion will hold more weight in Montreal when it comes to roster construction. He may not be the guy signing off on long-term player personnel decisions, but he’ll have a clearer voice with his new bosses. The organization clearly has a tremendous amount of respect for the coach, as evidenced by the commitment that they’ve made to him. When he speaks or calls for help, he’ll most likely be heard.
And not only does the job in Montreal provide Julien with a fresh start and an excellent opportunity to immediately exonerate himself of a lot of the blame he took for the struggles in Boston, it also gives him a wonderful chance to stick it to the Bruins, both in the short and long term.
Boston’s front office may have thought that letting Julien go would buy them more time to correct their own transgressions, but their pressure may now be higher than ever. Julien seeing resounding success in Montreal would be a very poor reflection on both Sweeney and Neely. If the Bruins trend in the opposite direction, it would be disastrous for Julien’s former bosses.
If nothing else, this whole ordeal has been good theater for hockey fans. It’s just a shame that the Bruins and Canadiens don’t have another regular season meeting on the schedule this year. Though with the way this thing has played out so far, we shouldn’t be all too surprised if the hockey gods gift us a Boston-Montreal matchup in this year’s playoffs.