BOSTON, MA -- On the day Claude Julien was relieved of his coaching duties (a.k.a. fired), people throughout the hockey world predicted that he would not spend much time on the unemployment line.
As we came to learn, those people were correct as Julien was hired to take over the reigns of the Montreal Canadiens one week later in a move no one saw coming.
There had been speculation that Montreal could be a destination should Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin decide to cut, now-former coach Michel Therrien free, but it was a notion that was thought to be a reach.
First, Julien remained on Boston’s payroll. Any team that wanted to approach the 56-year-old coach would need to ask Boston management for permission to do so. It was thought that there would be no way Boston would agree to letting Montreal, the Bruins’ arch-rival, speak with their former bench boss.
Second, Boston is in third place in the Atlantic Division and trails first-place Montreal by just six points. It was thought this alone would be enough for the Bruins to turn down any request from the Canadiens.
Third, why would a first-place club fire its coach? Yes, Montreal had gone through a bit of a rough patch recently, but they remained at the top of the division’s standings with 24 games to play in the season. The Canadiens, it was thought, would not look to replace their coach at this point in time.
So, when the Canadiens released the announcement Tuesday afternoon that they had hired Julien, the first thought that came to mind, ‘Ok,’ the second thought - the first one was of shock - the second thought to come to mind was, ‘what were the Bruins thinking?’ Did they think Julien would turn down to the offer to return home to coach a team that may have a chance at winning the Stanley Cup this season?
Overall, the one question that most Bruins fans seemed to want answered more than any other was, how could Julien go to, of all teams, the Canadiens?
“When I was let go by the Bruins, I felt that maybe I should sit back, let the season finish and maybe go from there,” Julien said during his first conference call as coach of the Canadiens. “That was my initial thought, but I always said, even to my wife, that unless something comes along that I can’t turn down, that would be something I’d be looking for.
“Obviously, it happened quickly and as I mentioned, (I was) disappointed because we’ve been here (Boston) for 10 years and there’s a lot at stake and you talk about your kids and your family and a lot of times that’s even more important, well it is more important than the work, so when Marc (Bergevin) called me and started talking to me about the situation, it kind of intrigued me so (I) certainly listened to him and by the end of it, discussing it with my wife, we felt it was a good move, not just business-wise as I mentioned but also family-wise.
“Being from Ottawa, we’re going to get a little closer to family, parents, and everything else, so that certainly weighed into the equation but also our direct family, our kids and how it would impact them so we really thought that it was the right decision to make. So, although it was a little bit quicker than expected, sometimes you have to make some adjustments in your life and we’re making them and we’re happily making them.”
There you have it. It was the proverbial Godfather offer that Julien couldn’t refuse and it was two-fold. It was the offer to coach an Original Six team again and let’s face it, there is not a coach on earth who would not jump at the opportunity to be the man behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens, but more importantly, for Julien it was the chance to be closer to home and family. The man who guided the 2011 Bruins to the Stanley Cup values family above everything else so it is a sensible decision for him.
Boston fans can be sure that Julien will never forget his time in our city.
In 10 years, he won a Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s Coach of the Year in 2009 for seeing his club finish first in the Eastern Conference. As mentioned, Julien became a Stanley Cup champion in 2011. The following season, his team won the President’s Trophy for finishing first overall in the League and in 2013, he returned to the Stanley Cup Final.
For the nay-sayers who always like to repeat the myth that Julien does not like young players and cannot develop them, Zdeno Chara won the Norris Trophy for being the NHL’s best defenseman in 2009 and Patrice Bergeron just happened to win three Selke Trophies as the League’s best defensive forward (2012, 2014, 2015). Tuukka Rask won a Vezina Trophy as the circuit’s top goaltender in 2014. Not to mention, Tim Thomas’ Vezina Trophy and Jennings Award (fewest goals against) in 2009 and Brad Marchand going from a fourth line player in 2011 to an NHL All-Star in 2017.
“For me, it’s just time to move on,” said Julien, who signed a five-year deal, that kicks in next season, worth $25 million with Montreal. “I wasn’t sitting at home, hoping they would lose because I have too much respect for all those players who were enormous for me in my career in Boston. You know, having won (the) Stanley Cup with the Bergerons, Krejcis, Charas, and Marchands, just to name a few and Tuukka was there as well. There are a lot of good people (in Boston), I would say probably every guy in there is a good person and I never had any issues with any of them so you sit there and you want them to succeed.
“Having said that, I’m with another team now. I need to succeed with that team and there’s obviously a rivalry that exists between those two organizations (and) I intend to keep that rivalry going but on the ice, not off the ice because (I have) too much respect for those players.”
Almost from the moment the Canadiens announced Julien’s hiring, many people have commented to me on social media or have come up to me to express their sincere hopes that the man who stood behind Boston’s bench since 2007 will enjoy success in Montreal.
Naturally, they do not wish it to be at the expense of the Bruins, but they will cheer for Julien from a distance and that is to be expected, however, what will be expected even more will be the loud ovation Julien receives the first time he steps behind the visitor’s bench at TD Garden, be it as a playoff opponent this season or in a regular season contest next year.
Although he has gone to the a team you love to hate, Claude Julien deserves to be honored with a video tribute at TD Garden and he deserves to be greeted with a standing ovation for what he did for you and your favorite team. Just as Julien said thank you to Boston in a statement he released on February 9, he deserves to hear Boston say thank you in return. There is no doubt the fans will do that for the man that helped turn Boston into the City of Champions.
Merci, Claude, et Bonne Chance!
Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period. Follow him on Twitter.