The Montreal Canadiens officially announced Claude Julien as their new head coach Wednesday after hiring him to replace the fired Michel Therrien.
"We're getting one of the best coaches in the NHL," Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said of Julien during Wednesday's 37-minute news conference in Brossard, Que.
It's the 13th time Montreal has made a midseason coaching change and first time since the Ottawa Senators in 2008 that a team replaced its coach while leading a division. The 31-19-8 Canadiens entered play Wednesday atop the Atlantic, six points ahead of the Senators, who have four games in hand.
The Canadiens opened the season with a 13-1-1 mark but have been listless over the last two months, going 18-18-7 since since their outstanding start and 2-6-1 record in their last nine games.
"We were not playing our game, there was something missing" Bergevin said of the team's recent play, adding Canadiens president Geoff Molson didn't have a role in the firing of Therrien. "Yes, we had some injuries but you know how tight the NHL is today. There were signs something was not going right."
'I like the direction the team is going in and the potential it has.' — Claude Julien on returning for a second stint as Canadiens head coach
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, Julien said his contract is for five years after the end of this seasonHe said his original plan after being fired by the Boston Bruins last week was to wait until the spring before thinking of his future.
That all changed with Bergevin's call.
"We hit it off when we worked together at the world championships," said Julien, who coached the Canadiens between 2003 and 2006.
"He's a good manager, a good man and it's important for me to work for good people. I also spoke to Mr. [Canadiens owner Geoff] Molson and I realize I'm going to a good organization. And I like the direction the team is going in and the potential it has."
Julien confirmed he is going to keep Therrien's assistant coaches, at least until the end of the season.
Bergevin told reporters he doesn't believe Therrien lost star goaltender Carey Price on Dec. 16 after he allowed four goals on 18 shots and was pulled in a 4-2 loss to the visiting San Jose Sharks. Price appeared to glare at Therrien as he reached the bench and walked to the dressing room.
'Carey is the best goalie in the world'
"We pulled him to send a message to the players," Therrien said afterwards, while Price said, "I was just pissed," when asked about his stare.
"The only one that could answer that question is Carey," Bergevin added Wednesday. "He bounced back the next night with an outstanding performance [making 20 saves in a 2-1 win at Washington].
"Yes, since then, he's had some ups and downs, just like the rest of our team but I believe … Carey is the best goalie in the world and his game will be on track consistently before you know it. Do I have full confidence in Carey Price? No doubt."
Julien, 56, returns for his second stint as Montreal's head coach. He also took over after Therrien was fired for the first time in January 2003. Julien was let go three years later after compiling a 72-62-10-15 record.
'He's a great coach'
After a brief stint with New Jersey, Julien thrived in Boston, taking the Bruins to a Stanley Cup title in 2011 and reaching the final two years later. He was named the NHL's coach of the year in 2009, is the winningest coach in Bruins history with 419 victories and has 997 career NHL regular-season wins.
"With his track record," said Bergevin of Julien, "he's a superstar. He's a great coach and his record speaks for itself."
But Boston missed the playoffs in each of the last two years and Julien was fired last week with the Bruins again struggling for a post-season spot.
Claude Julien's playoff record
- 2003-04 with Montreal: 4-7
- 2007-08 (Boston): 3-4
- 2008-09 (Boston): 7-4
- 2009-10 (Boston): 7-6
- 2010-11 (Boston): 16-9 — won Stanley Cup
- 2011-12 (Boston): 3-4
- 2012-13 (Boston): 14-8 — lost Stanley Cup final
- 2013-14 (Boston): 7-5
Bergevin said Wednesday he didn't base his decision to fire Therrien on Boston parting ways with Julien, who ranks seventh among active NHL coaches with a .603 win percentage.
Under Therrien, Montreal missed the playoffs last year after a hot start, with a serious injury to star goalie Carey Price contributing to the team's collapse.
Decimated by injuries
"The mindset hasn't changed. It's to make the playoffs and once you're in, anything is possible," said Bergevin, adding Julien brings with him credibility, experience and a familiarity with the Montreal market. "There's elite teams in the league, maybe put Washington and Pittsburgh in that mould. After that, everybody's really tight."
With the March 1 trade deadline approaching, Bergevin told reporters he wouldn't deal a young prospect for a short-term fix.
"You make your team in July [and] you hope to stay healthy," he said, without noting this season's long-term absences of forwards Alex Galchenyuk (knee) and Andrew Shaw (concussion-like symptoms) along with defenceman Andrei Markov (groin)." The team is still without defenceman Greg Pateryn (ankle) and forwards Brendan Gallagher (hand) and David Desharnais (knee) for the foreseeable future.
There have been calls for Bergevin to improve the Canadiens up the middle since Tomas Plekanec and Michael McCarron have combined for eight goals in 76 contests this season but the GM said not to expect the arrival of a top centre.
"Elite centremen are not available," Bergeron said, "so it's not going to happen."
The Canadiens return from their five-day bye week to host Winnipeg on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET.