An emotional Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin met with the media Wednesday morning in Brossard, a day after firing head coach Michel Therrien and replacing him with Claude Julien.
Looking dapper as ever in a blue suit and fancy tie, Bergevin told a packed news conference room that he wanted to first read a prepared statement so he wouldn’t forget anything.
“As you know, I made a major change yesterday in the Montreal Canadiens organization when I decided to relieve Michel of his duties,” Bergevin said. “I’m sure you will understand it was not an easy decision, but I’ve always said I will make the best possible decision for the Montreal Canadiens given the situation and that’s the reason why I made the decision yesterday.
“Michel and I worked very closely together over the past five years. We fought some big battles and experienced strong emotions together. And above all, we always demonstrated integrity in our dealings with each other and with the Montreal Canadiens organization. Those who know me, I am engaged body and soul with my team. I will never think twice about going down in the trenches and fighting alongside them, players and coaches. This is what I’ve always done with Michel and I will do with Claude and this is why the decision was all the more difficult.
“Our working relationship has always been marked by intensity, sincerity and emotion and our meeting yesterday was no different,” Bergevin added. “Today, I would like to publicly express my gratitude to Michel and thank him for everything he has done for the Montreal Canadiens. He’s a great coach and I wish him every success in the future. That said, I’ve reached the conclusion that we were at a turning point for our team and that’s why I decided to make this change in the club’s best interests. I’m convinced that in hiring Claude Julien we are getting one of the best coaches in the NHL. In my estimation, to this point we have reached, Claude is the best man to help reach our goal. Claude has proved his worth.”
Julien was vacationing with his wife in Vermont when Bergevin contacted him after getting permission from the Boston Bruins to speak with the coach they fired on Feb. 7. During a conference call Wednesday afternoon, Julien said he was originally planning to take the rest of this season off and then weigh his options during the spring. When Bergevin called, Julien said it was an offer he couldn’t refuse, adding he now has a contract that runs for five seasons after this one with the Canadiens.
“It is happening quick, I’m not going to lie about it,” Julien said. “But had it not been an ideal situation, I think I would have refused or not taken it.
“Certainly something that I guess appealed to me, although it was probably quicker than I expected,” he added. “But certainly ready for the challenge and looking forward to it.
Julien was back in Boston Wednesday, packing for the trip to Montreal on Thursday. The Canadiens are in the middle of their bye week in the schedule and will hold their first practice under Julien at 4 p.m. Friday in Brossard before facing the Winnipeg Jets Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre (2 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690). Julien said he won’t make any changes to the assistant coaches who are already in place this season.
The Canadiens are in first place in the Atlantic Division with a 31-19-8 record, but have been slumping since a 13-1-1 start to the season and are 1-5-1 in their last seven games while being shut out three times in the last five. Goaltender Carey Price has also struggled, posting an 8-11-3 record in his last 22 starts with a 3.11 goals-against average and a .895 save percentage.
Bergevin called Price a “proven winner” and added: “He’s one of the best, if not the best in the NHL. To me, there’s no issue there whatsoever.”
You can watch Bergevin’s entire news conference on the HI/O Facebook page.
Bergevin said he called Therrien on Tuesday afternoon to say he wanted to meet with him. The GM then drove from the Bell Centre to Therrien’s home and en route believed Therrien already knew what was going to happen. The GM said their discussion lasted about 20 minutes as he delivered the bad news.
Bergevin appeared to be fighting back tears during a couple of points in Wednesday’s news conference — taking off his designer glasses — when he spoke about Therrien, who had become one of his closest friends since being hired to coach the Canadiens for the second time only a month after Bergevin became GM in May 2012.
“It was hard,” Bergevin said about telling Therrien he had been fired. “It was hard for him and hard for me. Mike is a guy that fought his whole life to get where he is today. He’s a fighter and that’s what makes him a great coach because he does fight. He fights until the end and he fought until the end. And I told him that’s why I respect you, that’s why you’re going to have success moving forward because he’s a fighter. It was not easy. But it’s not about me, it’s not about Michel, it’s not about one player, two players. It’s about the hockey team and the Montreal Canadiens. And at the end of the day, Michel understood and he was very respectful.
“You don’t go to war, you don’t sit in the trenches with a guy for five years and just turn the page, walk away and never talk to him again,” the GM added. “That’s just not the way it works in our business. If you have any emotion, which we all do, fame and money means nothing. We have feelings about people, business. … Mike’s a people guy and that’s why it was difficult.”
When asked what has gone wrong with team recently that resulted in Therrien being fired, Bergevin said: “We’re just not playing our game. We’re not the same team as we were earlier on. There was something missing. The team performance for me showed that there was something not right and the change had to be made.
“I have my own opinion on this and there’s things I have to keep internally how I feel about our team,” the GM added. “But at the end of the day, I just didn’t feel the guys performed the way they should have. Yes, we had some injures. Yes, the guys stepped up, they played well. But you know how tight the NHL is today and we’ve been healthy and there’s signs that there was something not going right.”
When asked how much of a role team owner Geoff Molson had in the decision to fire Therrien, Bergevin said: “Zero.”
Bergevin summed up the Canadiens current situation best when he said simply: “We need to put the team back on track.”
The Canadiens have 24 games remaining in the regular season now to do just that.
(Photo: Allen McInnis/Montreal Gazette)