Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin insists he was looking for a new coach and would have found one even if Claude Julien wasn’t on the market.
“Claude got let go by Boston last week, but I didn’t make my decision based on how Boston operates,” Bergevin said when he met with the media in Brossard Wednesday morning, a day after firing Michel Therrien and hiring Julien.
Bergevin had to ask the Bruins for permission to speak with Julien, who was fired on Feb. 7. There were reports Bergevin had also asked the Florida Panthers for permission to speak with Gerard Gallant, who was fired earlier this season and used to be an assistant coach under Therrien with the Canadiens.
Bergevin didn’t shoot down the Gallant reports, but said he didn’t want to talk about it.
“We need to put the team back on track,” Bergevin said. “We saw what Claude did in Boston. I always said that you can’t win with run-and-gun, but you need to score goals. But it’s not about playing defensive hockey, it’s about being responsible hockey players. I think that goes for all 30 teams.”
The Canadiens are in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 31-19-8 record, but are 1-5-1 in their last seven games and have been shut out three times in their last five.
Hearing that Claude Julien's deal with Habs starting next season is 5 x $5 M average per year. Would put him 3rd behind Babcock and Q in NHL
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) February 15, 2017
Bergevin worked with Julien as part of Team Canada at last year’s World Cup of Hockey, where Bergevin was part of the management team and Julien was an assistant coach under Mike Babcock.
“When you’re meeting somebody, I know it sounds crazy, but within 30 seconds you know that person, how they make you feel,” Bergevin said. “I’m a feel (person) and I felt right away that Claude was a good man, a man of integrity, and his track record speaks for itself. He’s been here before as a rookie coach (in Montreal). He left, won a Stanley Cup in Boston. Ten years in Boston, so he learned a lot. Montreal, as we all know, it’s a tough market. But coming back here just like Michel did, and Michel did very well after he came back the second time around, so there’s no doubt in my mind it will be the same with Claude.”
Pacioretty says players have to take responsibility
Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty was interviewed by Chris Nilan during his Off the Cuff radio show on TSN Radio 690 Wednesday afternoon and said the players have to take responsibility for Therrien losing his job.
“Ultimately, this comes down to the players,” Pacioretty told Nilan. “I was very, very surprised. I thought maybe something might happen because of the recent skid that we went on. But the players have to take responsibility and now there’s no excuse. Everyone has to step up, everyone has to try and be a difference-maker. But you know what? No one in that room feels that the coach was the problem.”
Why do coaching changes work?
Since a general manager can’t fire all his players, a coaching change can be the best way to provide a spark on a struggling team and it often works — at least for a short period of time. The Bruins have a 3-0 record since firing Julien and replacing him with Bruce Cassidy, including a 4-0 win over the Canadiens last Sunday in Boston.
“Players don’t go in the night of the game and say: ‘You know what? It’s not working, I’m not going to go work hard,'” Bergevin said. “I think it’s unconscious things that you do, and after a while — for whatever reason — because it’s a fine line between winning and losing … and when you lose that little edge, it makes a difference where you can’t have success. Sometimes a new coach, a new voice, brings them back to where they should be.”
No other changes to coaching staff
Julien said he won’t be making any changes to his coaching staff this season and will be relying on his assistants to help him out since he will only have one practice at 4 p.m. Friday in Brossard before his first game behind the Canadiens bench Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets at the Bell Centre (2 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690).
“I’d love to be able to talk to the coaches and everything else before I start making a lot of these assessments,” Julien said about his game plan for the Canadiens. “But we’re going to play as a team. I think we’re certainly going to try and play with some pace, but we’re going to try and create some pride in all the aspects of our game, whether it’s defensively, whether it’s offensively, all the elements of the game.
“I think when you play with pride, it makes a big difference. So we’re certainly going to try and create that from inside the dressing room to bring it out on the ice. And all the other little adjustments systems-wise, I am certainly going to make them. But you can’t come in in the middle of the season and change everything. I think we’re going to bring some things along the way that’s going to help us, but we got to make sure we don’t do too much that it hurts us. So I’ve got to have an openness to that and that’s my plan. Certainly a lot of it will be clearer after I talk with the coaches.”
Getting Price back on track
If the Canadiens are going to have success going forward, Carey Price is going to have to start playing better. In his last 22 starts, Price has an 8-11-3 record with a 3.11 goals-against average and a .895 save percentage.
“We all know they got the best goaltender in the world, I would have to say,” Julien said about the Canadiens. “They’re solid on the back end. That’s not to say we don’t have to fix and make our team better. But at the same time, there’s a lot of talent up front and I know that talent has been a little bit dried up as far as the scoring goes lately, but we got to fix all those things. That’s my job.
“I’m here to kind of fix and tweak and do things that’s going to put this team back on track and that’s what I intend to do. They’ve got good skill, they skate well, they’ve got a good balance of grit and skill and some size. So basically, I think we’re going to make sure that we exploit that and use it to the best of our knowledge and to the best of their abilities.
“I am taking on a good team. I know that much.”
The Arizona meeting
There has been a lot of speculation about the hotel meeting Bergevin had during a day off last week in Arizona that included captain Max Pacioretty, Price and Shea Weber, but not Therrien. Bergevin insisted Wednesday that the meeting had nothing to do with Therrien getting fired.
“I just want to make sure that everybody understands and I’m clear on this one,” Bergevin said. “Michel and I had a meeting in the morning and we were talking like we talk every day, and I mentioned I was going to meet some players and to join me. And Michel says: ‘You know what, Marc? Today’s a day off for the team, for the coaches. Maybe you just go alone.’ So Michel was aware of the situation and it was not about Michel Therrien in my conversation. I’m not going to go into details about what we talked about, but it was not about Michel.
“If I want to do a meeting, I think I have a little more common sense I’m not going to sit in the lobby in a hotel. It was a meeting about our team and Michel was well aware and it was blown out of proportion. I just want to be on the record on that one.”
Bergevin won’t trade top prospects
Bergevin insisted he won’t be dealing his top prospects before the March 1 NHL trade deadline, including defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, the Canadiens’ first-round draft pick last year.
The GM wouldn’t say exactly how many top prospects were untouchable, but added it was less than five. Bergevin said if any other GMs ask about Sergachev and the others, “the answer is no … it’s a short conversation, about 20 seconds, just so you know.”
Bergevin added he believes his roster is good enough to contend for the Stanley Cup the way it is now.
“I think we have a very good team, we have strong leadership, good veterans and some young up-and-coming,” the GM said. “So the mindset hasn’t changed. It’s make the playoffs. Once you’re in, anything’s possible. There’s elite teams in the league, you could maybe put Washington, Pittsburgh in that mould. And after that, everybody’s really tight. So once you’re in, you don’t know what could happen. Injuries are part of it … draw in the playoffs, who you get. But the first goal is to get in and we have to get in.”
Hello, Mr. Molson
When Bergevin was asked how much input Canadiens owner Geoff Molson had in the decision to fire Therrien, the GM bluntly answered: “Zero.”
But Julien did get a chance to speak with Molson after being hired by Bergevin.
“I already knew a lot about Mr. Geoff Molson,” Julien said. “Everybody who has met him had nothing but good things to say about him. So that was one of the least of my worries was ownership because I knew what it was all about. But definitely, after I was done with Marc, I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Molson. I felt the same way in talking to him that I’d heard from all the other people that knew him well. I think this is a class organization with class ownership and management and I’m looking forward to it.”
Julien said his family will remain in Boston for the rest of this season since his kids are in school there. He was vacationing in Vermont with his wife when Bergevin contacted him about the Canadiens job.
Shouldering the load
After last season’s disaster, which saw the Canadiens fall apart and miss the playoffs after Price suffered a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 25, Bergevin said: “It’s all on me.”
The GM has made some major changes to the team since then, but his mentality hasn’t changed.
“I’ve done a lot, but it’s always on me,” Bergevin said. “The buck stops with me here, so it’s always going to be on me until the day I move on. It’s not going to change. I’m in the same boat as the players today and Claude coming in. So at the end of the day, we all have some responsibility to share.”
Watch Bergevin’s news conference
You can watch Bergevin’s entire news conference Wednesday in Brossard on the HI/O Facebook page.
(Photo: Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)