Younger players will get valuable playoff experience when Habs return to play, says Julien

The Habs would have a shot at winning the first overall draft pick if they lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the NHL's return to play tournament.

Montreal Canadiens head coach says tanking for the top draft pick isn't an option

Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien says the team had traded veteran players ahead of the trade deadline expecting they wouldn't have a shot at the post-season. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Claude Julien knows there is a segment of the Montreal Canadiens fan base that would love to see their team lose to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the NHL's return to play tournament.

Losing means the Habs would have a chance to win the first overall draft pick and in turn have an opportunity to select top prospect Alexis Lafrenière.

"That's totally normal, there's no issues there. I think everybody has their opinions and they're entitled to it," Julien said to reporters Thursday by phone.

For some fans, the chance to draft Lafrenière, a player who is from Quebec and that many analysts see as a generational talent, is more valuable than a shot to win the Stanley Cup by advancing in the playoffs.

Following the results of phase one of NHL's draft lottery last week, if Montreal loses to the Penguins, the Habs have a one-in-eight, or 12.5 per cent, chance of winning the first overall draft pick.

But if they beat Pittsburgh, the odds drop to zero.

"Trust me, I'd love to have this player on my team. But there's no guarantee," Julien said.

"The only way to take a step forward is to go out there and play hard and try to win and do the best you can. And if we win, then we're getting better as a team."

Playoffs will be a chance for young players to grow

Julien admits the Habs were not counting on getting an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup this year. If they had known they would be included in the league's return to play tournament, they wouldn't have traded away veteran players such as Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella, he said.

"Unfortunately, we didn't have a crystal ball. We let a lot of good players go just before the trade deadline," Julien said.

But he added that this will be an opportunity for younger players on the roster to gain valuable playoff experience.

The Canadiens have the worst record of all 24 teams invited, and few give them a legitimate chance of winning the Stanley Cup.

These playoffs, however, will be unlike any that have come before, because of the long break for players since the regular season was suspended.

Julien thinks a restart like this could work to the Canadiens' advantage, because the team has a history of starting strong in recent years.

"There's excitement there, there's an opportunity to grow, I think we need to take this situation and run with it," he said.

'No shame' in wearing a mask

As of Thursday, Julien said no Canadiens players have tested positive for COVID-19.

The NHL's plan is to have the players and staff in a hub city in an isolated bubble once play begins. And this month, teams are expected to begin training camps in their home markets.

During this time, they will be able to mingle freely with the local population. But Julien believes his players will act responsibly.

"From what I'm hearing from the players, they're taking this very seriously, they're diligent in keeping themselves safe, they know the danger of it for them, for their teammates, for their families and everyone else,"

Personally, Julien says he's been taking precautions by wearing a mask and gloves when he leaves his house.

"I've had no shame of wearing a mask," Julien said.

The NHL hasn't revealed its final rules and safety protocols for playing games yet, but Julien says he'd support wearing a mask while he's coaching if that is required.


Douglas Gelevan is a national award-winning journalist who has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. In addition to his role as host of CBC Montreal Weekend News, Doug also covers community sports and sports news.

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