Poor Michel Therrien. He got dumped on Valentine’s Day only to find out that his now ‘ex’ got back together with their ‘ex.’ The same ‘ex’ that he got dumped for 14 years ago. Tuesday, February 14th marked the end of the second Michel Therrien era in Montreal and thus began the second Claude Julien era in La Belle Province.
The firing of Michel Therrien is about 9 months overdue—the truth is, he should have been fired at the end of last season. Instead, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin went to the media to assure them that Michel Therrien wasn’t going anywhere. He attributed the Canadiens downward spiral last season to Carey Price going down with a right knee injury in November. Losing Price for most of the 2015-2016 season did factor into the Canadiens’ finishing near the bottom of the League, but so did Therrien’s average coaching skills.
After beginning his NHL coaching career with Montreal in 2000, Therrien’s second stint as an NHL head coach came in December of 2005 with the Pittsburgh Penguins. His first half-season with the Penguins was poor, with Pittsburgh amassing a 14-29-8 record. The following season, however, Therrien coached the Penguins to one of the most successful single-season improvements in NHL history, finishing with a 47–24–11 record (105 points), a berth in the 2007 playoffs and a nomination for the Jack Adams Award. The following season, the Penguins would make it to the Stanley Cup Finals but eventually lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 6 games. The 2008-2009 season would not be so kind to Therrien. During this time, Crosby was plagued with minor injuries which kept him out of the line-up. After a hot start, the Penguins entered a considerable slide and as a result, Therrien was fired in February 2009.
Therrien would make his return as the Canadiens’ bench boss in June 2012. His first season back was a successful one. The Habs finished first in the Northeast Division after finishing last the year before. In the 2013-2014, he led the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals where they eventually lost to the New York Rangers in 6 games. Marc Bergevin was liking what he saw out of Therrien’s second go with Montreal and rewarded him with a 4-year contract extension, making Therrien the highest-paid coach in the history of the Canadiens. Cut to the 2015-2016 season, the Habs shot out to a 19-4-3 record before losing Carey Price to injury and ending the season with a .500 record and failing to make the playoffs.
Montreal got out to a fast start again this season, going 13-1-1 in their first 15 games, placing them comfortably atop the Atlantic Division. However, the Canadiens have been among the worst teams in the League since the start of 2017 and though they’re still first in the Atlantic, the team has been flat out bad. Price has been substandard, Weber’s cooled off and Plekanec has been a shell of his former self. Are you sensing a pattern here? Michel Therrien is an average coach who looks great when his superstars are firing on all cylinders but has no idea what to do they aren’t. He’s not a player’s coach; that much has been obvious this season. He had issues with Subban’s ‘personality,’ the Carey Price stare down and then the GM and players only meeting that was held last week. The fact that some people have found Therrien’s firing and Claude Julien’s hiring surprising is strange to me.
Even casual hockey observers could see that Michel Therrien was a huge part of the problem in Montreal over the past 2+ seasons. As for Claude Julien, hiring him makes the most sense. He’s been the best NHL head coach over the last 10 years, he comes from the rival Bruins and—he speaks French. Realistically, what other options did Marc Bergevin have? Not Gerard Gallant. He has limited NHL head coaching experience and had already served as Therrien’s assistant coach from 2012-2014. Ken Hitchcock? He doesn’t speak French, is almost 70 and has already hinted at retiring this year. Who else does that leave? Jack Capuano, Kirk Muller? Both don’t speak French and one has limited head coaching experience.
Bergevin needed someone who checked all the boxes to take a team that is sitting in first place with tons of talent and get them back on track. Claude Julien is that guy. There’s no way of knowing if Julien can be the type of coach for Montreal that he was for Boston but at this point, he was Montreal’s best option.