The Montreal Canadiens Fire Head Coach Claude Julien

Earlier today, the Montreal Canadiens announced that they have relieved head coach Claude Julien of his duties. Associate coach Kirk Muller, who took over as interim head coach back in August when Julien was hospitalized because of chest pains and underwent heart surgery, was fired as well. Dominique Ducharme has been named the interim head coach, and the team also added Alex Burrows as an assistant coach (insert your favorite biting joke here).

Julien was hired to be the Canadiens’ head coach a week after the Bruins fired him in February of 2017. His Bruins contract ran through the end of that season, and then the Canadiens signed him to a massive five-year, $25 million contract. That made him one of the highest-paid coaches in the NHL, and it runs through June 2022. Over the course of his most recent stint with Montreal (he had previously coached them for three seasons before moving onto the New Jersey Devils and then the Boston Bruins), Julien went 129-83-35. As for Muller, he had been an associate coach with the Canadiens since June 2016. This was also Muller’s second stint with the Canadiens, as he was previously an associate coach with them from 2006-2011.

Meanwhile, Ducharme has been an associate coach with the Canadiens for the past two seasons. He has no prior head coaching experience. Last but not least, Burrows has been working as an associate coach with Montreal’s AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, since retiring from playing in 2018. This will be his first coaching job in the NHL.

Was This the Right Move For the Canadiens?

The short answer here is yes. I was frankly surprised Julien was hired in the first place and didn’t think it’d go well. The Canadiens have a lot of young players, and Julien isn’t known for being the best with them. It appears as though I was right. It was clear his message wasn’t getting through to the players, and the style he demands they play was just not right. That’s not a knock on him (although he probably should be at least a little willing to change the way he operates), as not every coach is going to be right for every team. But it is the truth. 

Yes, he was not the Canadiens’ only problem. I don’t think anyone will argue that. For the first few years of his tenure, he didn’t have much to work with. He has a lot more this year, but Carey Price is not playing up to his standard (he’s still elite, just having a bad season and had average numbers for the past few years due to having no help in front of him) and the team as a whole has really floundered lately. So, it’s not all on him. But, his unwillingness to change his ways made it hard for Montreal to take that next step. A new voice was clearly needed.

While I feel bad for Julien, who, as mentioned above, had to have heart surgery back in August and then still chose to come back despite being at a high-risk for becoming seriously ill should he get COVID-19, this was the right move.

Is Ducharme a Good Pick?

I admittedly don’t know a ton about Ducharme. But, from what I do know, he seems like the right choice as an interim coach. For starters, he’s from Quebec, which is strongly preferred for obvious reasons by the Canadiens. As for his coaching style, he’s an excellent power-play strategist. So, he’ll inject some much-needed life and creativity into what is currently a very stale offensive strategy. He’s also known as being flexible yet methodical, which will be a huge help for the Canadiens. There has been a lot of talk recently, including from captain Shea Weber, that the feeling around the team is heavy and needs work. Ducharme should do a good job of changing that. 

The biggest question surrounding Ducharme will be how he handles the promotion to head coach. He’s been an associate for a long time now, so he should be ready. But, you never know, and so it’ll be interesting to watch it unfold. The Canadiens have a lot of potential. They got off to a hot start this year, but have since cooled off dramatically. They’ve lost six of their past eight, including three to the Ottawa Senators, who are in last place in the league. In theory, Ducharme should be able to help them turn that around. If he does, he has a good chance of having that interim tag removed this off-season. If he can’t, expect the Canadiens to look elsewhere for their next coach.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this feels like the right move for the Canadiens. Julien just wasn’t the answer for them. His unwillingness to change and reputation for not being great with young players just doesn’t make sense for them. There seems to be a lot of optimism around Ducharme, who will free the offense up. That should allow them to thrive.

As a Bruins fan, I love to watch the Canadiens struggle. But, putting that bias aside, this was a necessary move so the team can take that next step (unfortunately for me). The Canadiens are currently clinging to fourth place in the North Division, which is not strong. As long as Ducharme does what the Canadiens hopes he will, they should be able to hang in there and secure a playoff spot. But, we’ll just have to wait and see how things go over at least these next few weeks before drawing any conclusions.

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

Featured image courtesy of James Guillory/USA Today Sports.

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