Claude Julien On A Short Leash?

General Managers manage, players play and coaches… well, they’re supposed to coach. Marc Bergevin the GM went and robbed the Arizona Coyotes by acquiring Max Domi and giving away a player that lasted one season in the desert. Domi delivered by finishing his first season at the top of his new team’s list in scoring, with a breakthrough season which saw him get 72 points while making the difficult transition from winger to centre at the NHL level. Claude Julien took a while to understand but finally, he’s starting to coach.

You see, up until the last two games, the team’s best offensive player had been spending the vast majority of his time with Artturi Lehkonen and Jordan Weal on his wing. It’s not the first time that we question some of Julien’s decisions as we did it last year, but this one took the cake. Name me one other coach in his right mind who would play his best offensive player with third and fourth liners? Alexander Ovechkin has Nicklas Backstrom, not Lars Eller as his centreman. Patrice Bergeron has Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on his wings. And the list goes on.

In the meantime, the Canadiens’ most consistent player and the biggest offensive threat to his opponents, Jonathan Drouin, was proving doubters wrong as he was carrying a struggling Jesperi Kotkaniemi and helped Joel Armia to his best start of a season in his career. It took nine games for Julien to realise that maybe, giving offensive wingers to Domi would take a load off the Tatar, Danault and Gallagher line. In my opinion, that’s way too long to react and reward your top-end players for their hard work.

Yet in spite of that, Domi finds himself tied for the team’s lead in points with 10 in 11 games. But he was finally rewarded by getting Drouin and Armia on his wing and this line is as predicted: a secondary threat to the opposition. So if we can see it as fans, what took so long for the coaching staff to detect it as well?

Julien on a short leash?

Let’s get one thing clear here: Claude Julien is a good coach. All we have to do is to look at his winning record in the NHL and his Stanley Cup ring as an undeniable proof. However, look at what the Boston Bruins did since they fired him and went with a younger and more progressive coach. In Montreal, Julien adapted for half a season last year before reverting to his old conservative self, rewarding bottom-six type players. This season, he’s back to his old tactics again and it’s costing the Canadiens some crucial points.

Domi and Drouin finally reunited

As crazy as this may sound, there’s a reason why Bergevin went out and hired the top two French Canadian coaches available two summers ago. Dominique Ducharme is helping bring a wind of fresh air in Montreal as a new assistant-coach. He’s learning on the fly under Julien and it seems like he’s not too far from taking over from the dinosaur mentality.

In Laval, Joel Bouchard is doing an outstanding job at developing young talent, something that wasn’t done under Sylvain Lefebvre. He too has a different approach, one based on open communication with his players, a style and a coach which Rocket’s players are raving about.

I strongly believe that teams will come knocking on the Canadiens’ door for one, or perhaps even both Ducharme and Bouchard in the next few months. And when that time comes, it won’t be worth risking losing one, or even both young hockey minds to keep the old guy at the helm.

Many fans, most of whom still hold a grudge against the GM for the Subban trade, think that Bergevin’s job is on the line. It is my humble opinion that they are barking up the wrong tree and that it’s Julien who is on his last days, weeks, months as the Habs’ headcoach, particularly if the team misses the playoffs. And once this team is under a different leader behind the bench, watch this team take off!

In the meantime though, let’s enjoy seeing the young guys develop into future young stars. Don’t forget that Domi and Drouin are only 24 and the likes of Nick Suzuki, Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Cole Caufield, Cale Fleury, Josh Brook, Jake Evans, Alexander Romanov, Victor Mete, Jesse Ylönen, Cayden Primeau and company will be joining them in driving this bus to bigger and better things. The future is bright folks… but it may take a younger leader behind the bench to bring the team to the next level. Go Habs Go!

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Drouin Proving Doubters Wrong

It’s June 15, 2017. All is rather quiet in the hockey world as teams are preparing for the upcoming NHL Draft being held at the United Center in Chicago. Suddenly, a bomb blows up in Montreal, when the Montreal Canadiens announce that they have acquired disgruntled left winger Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lighting, sending 18 year-old defenseman prospect Mikhail Sergachev the other way. The 22-year-old from Ste-Agathe, Quebec was coming home… but as it is a regular occurance in Montreal, not everyone was happy.

The Canadiens immediately turned around and signed Drouin to a five year contract extension worth $33 million. Habs General Manager Marc Bergevin was obviously thrilled about being able to land a young, top-notch local talent.

“When you have the chance to get your hands on a player of Jonathan’s talent at a young age, it’s very important. This opportunity probably hasn’t been available to me in five years. Plus, he’s a kid from here, so for me it was a decision I had to make. Giving up Sergachev was not easy, but acquiring Jonathan was a chance we couldn’t pass up.”

Since the trade, Sergachev has managed 78 points in 159 games with the Lightning, most of which on the power play while playing on the third pairing. Drouin has since played 163 games in the Canadiens’ uniform, racking up 105 points (33 goals) including a career best 53 points last season. But he went dry in the last third of the season with only seven points in his last 26 games, including a four points game against the Detroit Red Wings on February 26th. So when he had a slow start during preseason games a few weeks, many were calling for him to be traded and it didn’t take long to hear trade rumours involving Drouin. This prompted Habs’ head coach Claude Julien to come to the defense of his young veteran on September 27th:

“Give him a break! There are 25 players on this team. For one reason or another, he’s the centre of attention. He’s like other players. He’s trying to find his touch. It’s the same reality in every team. The most important is that our guys be ready for the season opener.”

Making an impact

And that’s exactly what Drouin has done since the very first game of the season. He has been the Canadiens’ most consistent forward in the team’s first five games, accumulating six points and being an offensive threat every game. His work ethics is irreprochable and his confidence has returned. Playing mostly with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Joel Armia, this line has been very productive, Armia having the best start of his career with a team leading three goals (tied with Max Domi).

After the game against the defending Stanley Cup champions St. Louis Blues, a game won by the Canadiens 6-3, an emotional Drouin received an amazing support from the fans gathered at the Bell Centre during his post-game interview. Remember when Carey Price received the same support and was close to tears? These guys are human beings and they care, folks!

Say what you will, this trade was and will be good for both teams and Drouin is working hard on his game. We see him often being the first man back in his zone and he’s still young. You can’t teach talent but you can teach positioning, playing without the puck and that’s what Drouin and the coaching staff are doing. It will eventually pays off… if we’re patient enough to wait a bit to reap the benefits. It seems like it’s starting this year. Go Habs Go!