Canadiens fire Therrien; hire Julien

The Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Michel Therrien Friday after an underachieving season.

"We have decided to make a coaching move," Canadiens general manager Andre Savard said at a press conference at the Bell Centre. "It was a very tough decision, but a decision I think I had to make."

The Canadiens didn't take long to find a replacement. Claude Julien, head coach of the Habs' AHL affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs, was introduced as the team's fifth coach since 1992.

"It's a great honour and a privilege for a guy like myself who grew up in Ottawa wearing a Montreal Canadiens jersey to have an opportunity like this," Julien said.

"When Andre called me and offered me the job, there was no doubt in my mind.

"My ultimate goal here is very simple," said Julien. "It's to help the Canadiens make the playoffs."

Julien will be behind the bench Saturday night when the Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Because the Canadiens share the AHL Bulldogs with the Edmonton Oilers this season, Julien was actually under contract with the Oilers. As compensation, Montreal will send a fifth-round draft pick in 2003 to Edmonton. The pick will become a fourth-rounder if the Habs make the playoffs.

"(Oilers GM) Kevin Lowe called me this morning to congratulate me and wish me luck," Julien said. "I was really well treated by the Oilers. They gave me my first (pro) chance. Kevin Lowe is a classy guy."

The Habs, who are in tough for a playoff spot in the competitive Eastern Conference, fell below the .500 mark (18-19-5-4) after dropping a 4-1 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night.

Therrien's firing wasn't much of a surprise. Since Christmas, the Canadiens have won just two of 12 games and have dropped to 10th place in the East. Montreal has been outshot in 36 of 46 games this season.

Therrien was named the Canadiens' 25th bench boss on Nov. 20, 2000, after spending three seasons as head coach of the club's AHL affiliates in Fredericton and Quebec.

Last season, Therrien led the Habs to the playoffs for the first time in four years. They reached the second round, where they were defeated in six games by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Therrien is the sixth NHL coach to lose his job this season. The San Jose Sharks, Atlanta Thrashers, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets and Colorado Avalanche have all made coaching changes.

Julien, a 42-year-old native of Orleans, Ont., accumulated a 98-88-19 (.524) record behind the bench in Hamilton.

After missing the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2000-01, Julien led the Bulldogs to a seventh game of the Eastern Conference final in 2002. This season, he guided Hamilton to a league-leading record of 33-6-3-3.

Before joining the Bulldogs in April 2000, Julien spent five seasons at the helm of the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he won a Memorial Cup in 1997. That team included many future NHLers, including Canadiens goaltender Jose Theodore.

Julien also led the Canadian national junior team to a bronze medal at the 2000 world junior hockey championships in Sweden. The year before, he won a silver medal as an assistant with the junior team.