Claude Julien to return next season behind Canadiens bench, GM says
Marc Bergevin backs head coach despite team being out of playoff position
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin says that he will keep Claude Julien as head coach for next season.
Bergevin gave Julien his vote of confidence in interviews Tuesday on TVA and RDS from the NHL general managers' meeting in Boca Raton, Fla.
"Claude Julien will be at training camp in the month of September," Bergevin told RDS. "I believe in the message he's giving to our players. It's certain that the season we've had has been a difficult one. We all have to take responsibility, Claude, myself, the players. Our goal is, essentially, to be better in September next season so we can be in the playoffs."
Julien, who is in the third year of a five-year contract, is in the midst of his second stint as Habs head coach. He succeeded Michel Therrien partway through the 2016-17 NHL season.
The Canadiens have a record of 30-28-9 while enduring two eight-game winless streaks this year.
Montreal is nine points out of both an Eastern Conference wild-card playoff spot and third place in the Atlantic Division.
Dubas happy with Leafs' response
Kyle Dubas avoided a knee-jerk reaction following one of the most embarrassing defeats in Toronto Maple Leafs' history.
Although it's a small sample size, his players have started to reward their general manager's patience.
Dubas largely stood pat at last week's NHL trade deadline in the wake of a stunning 6-3 loss to Carolina — and two other pathetic efforts ahead of Feb. 24 freeze — that saw Toronto fall to a 42-year-old Zamboni driver pressed into service as an emergency backup goalie after the Hurricanes lost both their netminders to injury.
A sporting laughingstock across North America and in a battle for their playoff lives, the Leafs started to claw back with a gutsy 4-3 road victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
WATCH | Former Zamboni driver stuns Leafs:
But already down defencemen Morgan Rielly (broken foot) and Cody Ceci (sprained ankle), Toronto subsequently lost steadying influence and locker-room conscience Jake Muzzin for a month with a broken hand to further deplete an already-thin blue line and push the likes of rookies Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren even further up the lineup.
That's when Dubas — who periodically shares inspirational articles or messages throughout the organization — dusted off an old favourite, posting a version of "The Story of the Chinese Farmer" to his official Twitter feed.
<a href="https://t.co/1f4yr9jEu0">https://t.co/1f4yr9jEu0</a> <a href="https://t.co/z2qq2ws7Nz">https://t.co/z2qq2ws7Nz</a>—@kyledubas
The message was this: it's impossible to know the ramifications of a situation, good or bad, before coming out on the other side.
"Especially last week when everyone is trying to paint a picture of doom and gloom, I think it's important to remember that until you go through everything, you don't know what the consequences are going to be one way or another," Dubas said. "It's just a great reminder."
The Leafs went out the next night and picked up another road win against the Florida Panthers, the team chasing them for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, and grabbed a third straight victory Saturday back home against the Vancouver Canucks.
WATCH | Leafs extend win streak to 3 games after Hurricanes loss:
Sandin and Liljegren have stepped up along with Travis Dermott and Justin Holl, and even Martin Marincin, in the absence of Rielly and Ceci, who are both getting closer to returning, and Muzzin.
But Dubas stressed the team as a whole, which opened a three-game road trip Tuesday in San Jose with a five-point cushion on the fading Panthers, has rededicated itself following the Carolina debacle.
"A lot of [the young defencemen] hadn't played in these roles before," said Dubas, who re-acquired depth defenceman Calle Rosen from Colorado at the trade deadline after dealing him to the Avalanche in July's Tyson Barrie-Nazem Kadri swap. "It has been nice to see them step up and perform really well."
The Leafs were basically locked into a matchup with the bruising Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs at this time last year — they would fall in seven games for the second consecutive spring — but Toronto could face a number of teams with different styles in 2019-20 if they do indeed qualify for the post-season dance.
"It's exciting," Dubas said. "It doesn't let us get too transfixed on one opponent ... just focus on being at the best we can and being ready for whatever opponent's ahead of us."
McDavid or Draisaitl? Holland can't pick
Ken Holland doesn't have a vote.
And if he did, the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers wouldn't be able to pick between Leon Draisaitl or Connor McDavid in the Hart Trophy race.
"Co-winners," Holland joked to reporters. "They're both great players and they're both having great seasons."
Even that's an understatement for the Oilers' stars.
Draisaitl leads the NHL with 107 points, while McDavid was second with 94 heading into Tuesday's action despite missing six games last month with a quad injury.
The duo torched the Nashville Predators for 10 points in Monday's 8-3 victory — Draisaitl had four goals, including a hat trick in the third period, and an assist, while McDavid scored once and set up four others.
WATCH | McDavid, Draisaitl light up Predators:
"They're just really starting to come into their prime," said Holland, in his first season with Edmonton after a long tenure in Detroit. "On an every-night basis, they're obviously the two guys that are going to impact our team."
They also present an interesting dilemma when it comes to the Hart Trophy, which is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and awarded annually to "the player judged most valuable to his team."
But with Draisaitl and McDavid at the top of the scoring race and the Oilers looking primed for a return to the playoffs, how can you pick one over the other? And if one wins, where should the other slot in on a ballot?
It's a conundrum writers will have to wrestle with from now until the end of the schedule, but what's clear is Draisaitl has taken his game up another notch in 2019-20.
"He made a leap last year," Holland said. "He was the first player in six years to score 50 goals and 100 points in the same season [in 2018-19]. Whenever you do something that nobody in the league has done in the previous five seasons, you've made a leap.
"He's backed up last year's season and taken another step."
That included the six-game stretch without McDavid where Draisaitl had four goals and 12 points to lead Edmonton to a 3-2-1 record minus its captain.
"He stepped up, we needed him," Holland said. "We were counting on him to take a step up and he certainly did that."
Winning the Hart Trophy would be the first NHL award for Draisaitl.
McDavid, meanwhile, already has one, and he has twice grabbed the Art Ross Trophy as the league leader in points. He also owns a Ted Lindsay Award for league MVP as voted on by fellow players.
But it's not like McDavid is Draisaitl's only competition. David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, among others, also have a strong case.