Julien Out, Ducharme In: One Man’s Loss Is Another Man’s Gain

The life span of a coach in the NHL isn’t very long. That’s why, when the opportunity presents itself, it is important to have some sort of success. If you do, someone will give you another opportunity when you inevitably get fired too. Getting fired as a head coach is not a matter of “if”, but rather of “when”. Claude Julien was in his second stint has Habs’ head coach and it has come to an end this morning when Marc Bergevin announced that Dominique Ducharme would take over as Interim-coach. Another casualty is former Canadiens’ captain Kirk Muller who too was in his second chance behind the bench in Montreal. He will be replaced by Laval Rocket’s assistant-coach Alex Burrows.

There have been rumblings for a while amongst fans and medias alike wanting Julien to be relieved of his duties. Last season, the Habs went through not one, but two eight-game winless streaks. Had it not been for COVID-19, the Canadiens would have missed the playoffs… again.

This quote by Shea Weber after the 2-1 win against the Leafs speaks volume.

Pressure

In the off-season, Bergevin made several major changes to his formation on the ice. He:

  • Traded Max Domi for Josh Anderson
  • Traded for and signed pending UFA Joel Edmundson
  • Traded for and extended Jake Allen
  • Signed UFA Tyler Toffoli
  • Signed UFA Corey Perry
  • Signed UFA Michael Frolik
  • Extended Jeff Petry
  • Extended Brendan Gallagher

By doing so, Bergevin not only put the pressure on himself to start winning, but also on his team and his coaching staff. This is the best Habs’ line-up in years and missing the playoffs is out of question. The Canadiens have lost five of their last six games. They are 2-4-2 in their last eight games. In their two wins, they didn’t play well at all. They were lucky to beat Ottawa 2-1 in a game they didn’t deserve to win. And they played one good period, the third, when they came back to beat Toronto also by the score of 2-1.

In a shorten season (56 games instead of 82), that kind of a slump can be just as costly as the eight-game winless streaks they went through last year. Had the Canadiens played well and gone through that slump, I’m not convinced that Bergevin would have fired his coaches. But the fact is that they haven’t played well for eight straight games and something had to be done. He, as the GM, made his changes on ice. The only thing left was the coaching staff.

Huge opportunity

So a new era is starting for the Canadiens, with a younger, more modern and progressive coaching staff. Julien (60) is replaced by Ducharme (47) and Alex Burrows (39) takes over for Muller (55). Not long ago, Ducharme was coaching Halifax in the QMJHL and Team Canada at the World Juniors Championship. Burrows hasn’t been retired for that long and has played against some of the current Habs’ players. He was doing a great job in Laval as Joel Bouchard’s assistant-coach, from whom he has learned.

As I was suggesting just yesterday, the Canadiens named Ducharme as Interim head coach. Basically, he’s on a trial period, a huge opportunity. If he manages to turn things around, the tag of interim will be removed and the job will be his. If he can’t find a solution to bring back the Habs to its winning ways, it will be easier for Bergevin to fire him too, or return him as assistant, at the end of the season and start his quest for a new head coach.

Potantial candidates

I am personally confident that Ducharme will turn things around for the Habs but in the event he doesn’t, there are plenty of quality candidates to pick from during the off-season.

  • Joel Bouchard (Laval Rocket)
  • Pascal Vincent (Manitoba Moose)
  • Bob Hartley (OMSK Avangard – KHL)
  • Guy Boucher (analyst on RDS)
  • Benoit Groulx (Syracuse Crunch)

Let’s not forget that Hartley was interviewed for the position in 2012 when Bergevin took over. Hartley had also interviewed with the Calgary Flames and was offered the position by his long time friend Jay Feaster. Needing an answer from Bergevin and the Canadiens, they could not provide him with an answer at the time as their interviewing process wasn’t completed. Hartley then took security and the job in Calgary.

As you can see, it’s not the quality candidates lacking, and all are bilingual. I know, I know, many don’t believe in that criteria. It’s there regardless so you should resign yourself to it. In the meantime, here’s hoping that Ducharme can turn things around and we get to watch hockey… this summer. Ugh. Go Habs Go!

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