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Sports Stu Cowan: Players forced Canadiens GM's hand in firing of Julien

23:57  24 february  2021
23:57  24 february  2021 Source:   montrealgazette.com

What the Puck: Short leash in short season for Canadiens coach Julien?

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© John Mahoney Head coach Claude Julien addresses players during Montreal Canadiens training-camp practice at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on Jan. 4, 2021. It was impossible to see Julien ’ s facial reactions behind his mask, but there must have been a bit of a smile to finally be back doing the job There’ s reason for excitement following GM Marc Bergevin’ s off-season moves, acquiring backup goalie Jake Allen, forwards Josh Anderson , Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry and Michael Frolik, along with defenceman Joel Edmundson. Add in rookie defenceman Alexander Romanov and the expectations

This season, the Canadiens have had eight players play in their first-ever NHL postseason game: Nick Suzuki, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Max Domi, Brett Kulak, Victor Mete, Jake Evans, Charles Hudon and Alex Belzile. The Canadiens won’t win the Stanley Cup this year, but this unexpected playoff experience for a young team should pay dividends moving forward. Coach Kirk Muller talked Thursday about how the young players are developing a bond with each other and the team while living in the bubble.

a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin watches his team's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second period in Montreal on Feb. 10, 2021. © Provided by The Gazette Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin watches his team's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs during second period in Montreal on Feb. 10, 2021.

This is the third column I have written in the last two weeks about the Canadiens firing Claude Julien, but the first to be published.

When the Canadiens cancelled a scheduled practice two Mondays ago and announced that GM Marc Bergevin would speak with the media at noon, I was pretty sure Julien was gone, so I had the column written that morning and ready to hit publish when the news broke.

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On this week' s Hockey Inside/Out Show at hockeyinsideout.com, our panel — Gazette sports columnist Stu Cowan and Eric Engels of Rogers Sportsnet, along with host Adam Susser — discusses the following topics: What are your first impressions of Claude Julien as head coach? Was the overtime victory over Rangers the turning point in Habs season? Our reader question of the week: Does the recent firing /hiring clear P.K. Subban as being "The Problem"? Would you consider trading Carey Price?

In this bonus episode, our panelists — Montreal Gazette columnist Stu Cowan , Hockey Inside/Out live game blogger Julian McKenzie and comedian Joey Elias

I was wrong.

It seemed like the perfect time to make a coaching change because the struggling Canadiens had a six-day break in the schedule and it would have given the new coach time to work on changes he might want to make to the system, or the lines, during what would be like a mini-training camp.

When the Canadiens announced this past Monday that they weren’t going to practise until 2 p.m. in Ottawa after a 3-2 OT loss to the Senators Sunday night, I figured again that Julien was gone and updated the column I had written the week before and was just waiting to hit publish.

Again, I was wrong.

Then on Wednesday morning, the news finally came that Julien had been fired and that assistant coach Dominique Ducharme would take over as head coach on an interim basis. Associate coach Kirk Muller was also fired with Alex Burrows replacing him on the coaching staff after being an assistant coach with the AHL’s Laval Rocket for the last three seasons.

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Stu Cowan speaks with defenceman Mark Barberio in the locker room after the Montreal Canadiens annual open practice on Sunday. (Marie-France Coallier

On this week’ s show, our panelists — Gazette columnist Stu Cowan , CBC Daybreak’ s Jessica Rusnak, former Canadien Chris Nilan and host Adam Susser — take a

“We feel our team can achieve high standards and the time has come to make those changes,” Bergevin said in a statement Wednesday morning when the coaching change was announced.

The best time for the change was last week — but better late than never, I guess.

After a great 7-1-2 start to the season, it had become obvious something was seriously wrong with the Canadiens and, after going 2-4-2 in their last eight games, a playoff spot no longer looked certain.

Every coach in every sport has a shelf life and Julien’s time had expired. Too many players were unhappy and it was showing on the ice.

Lack of ice time wasn’t sitting well with some top players as Julien continued to roll four lines.

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On this week’ s show, our panel — Gazette sports columnist Stu Cowan , former Canadien and TSN 690 host Chris Nilan, CBC Daybreak’ s Jessica Rusnak and host

On this week' s Hockey Inside/Out Show, our panel — Gazette sports columnists Stu Cowan and Jack Todd, along with Jessica Rusnak of CBC Daybreak and host Adam Susser — discusses Max Pacioretty blossoming as team captain this season as well as these topics: Is Shea Weber’ s lower-body injury a reason for concern? Will the lack of offence from the fourth line be a problem in the playoffs? What do you think the ceiling is for rookie Artturi Lehkonen? Our viewer question of the week: Which player do you think needs to step up the most in the playoffs (besides Carey Price) for the Habs to go all the way?

Phillip Danault, with zero goals in 18 games, has been playing like someone upset that news was leaked he reportedly turned down a six-year, US$30-million contract offer during the off-season.

Making Tomas Tatar — the Canadiens’ leading scorer last season and one of the most popular players in the locker room — a healthy scratch for one game and then benching him in the third period and overtime of another probably didn’t go over well with players when the team was struggling to score goals.

Paul Byron, an alternate captain and highly respected veteran, was placed on waivers and then on the taxi squad in a salary-cap saving move.

Victor Mete’s agent rocked the boat when things were still going well for the team, making the defenceman’s trade request public.

Veteran Artturi Lehkonen, another popular player, was made a healthy scratch for the last two games.

Goalie Carey Price hasn’t responded well to having Jake Allen challenge him for the No. 1 job and has a 5-3-3 record with a 2.95 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage.

“I think we’re pretty much all up in our own heads right now,” Nick Suzuki said after the OT loss to the Senators Sunday. “I think just overthinking it. Playing not to lose and that’s never a good thing to do. At the start of the season, we were real energized and everyone was having fun. That just got away from us.”

Coaches need to make tough decisions, but when those decisions lead to so many unhappy players and the losses keep piling up, it’s time to make a change.

Enter Ducharme, who was hired by the Canadiens as an assistant coach three years ago and has basically been the head-coach-in-waiting since then.

Burrows will bring a fresh voice and a positive attitude behind the bench as Ducharme’s assistant. Burrows only retired as an NHL player three years ago, so the players know him, will be able relate to him, and vice-versa. A positive, fresh voice can only help the Canadiens at this point.

Former Canadiens forward Dale Weise had Burrows as a teammate for three years with the Vancouver Canucks and had him as an assistant coach with the Rocket last season. Weise tweeted Wednesday that he loved Burrows as a teammate and that as a coach he was very detailed and great working with the power play.

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The power play is one of the major things the Canadiens need to fix, ranking 20th in the NHL with an 18.2 per cent success rate with Muller in charge.

The head coach’s job is Ducharme’s to lose. If the Canadiens do well, the interim tag will probably be lifted.

If they don’t do well, the finger will then need to be pointed directly at Bergevin, who is on his third coach in nine seasons as GM.

scowan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/StuCowan1

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