On Feb. 24, the Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Claude Julien and associate head coach Kirk Muller. The decision came directly after the Canadiens lost two games in a row to the last-place Ottawa Senators. Julien, who had been with the Canadiens since 2017, was immediately replaced by assistant coach Dominique Ducharme, who has been with the Canadiens for two seasons. The replacement of Claude Julien was a necessary move—his coaching decisions did not hone the skills of his players.
Hours after dismissing Julien and Muller, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin thanked the coaches for their service, but emphasized the need for change.
“I would like to sincerely thank Claude and Kirk for their contributions to our team over the past five years during which we worked together,” Bergevin said. “I have great respect for these two men whom I hold in high regard. In Dominique Ducharme, we see a very promising coach who will bring new life and new energy to our group. We feel that our team can achieve high standards, and the time had come for a change.”
On March 2, following Julien’s departure, goaltending coach Stephane Waite was dismissed after eight years with the Canadiens. Waite helped Carey Price develop into the star goaltender he is today—but Price’s recent lacklustre performances indicates that change is necessary and will hopefully reinvigorate the goaltender.
Price, who took home gold in the 2007 Ice Hockey Junior World Championships, the 2014 Winter Olympics, and the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, is the backbone of the current Canadiens team. In July 2017, Price signed an eight-year, 84-million-dollar contract extension with the Canadiens, becoming the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL. With such a high salary, the Habs expect a lot from their goaltender. From Prices’ 45 goals against in 17 games, it was clear that Waite was not effectively coaching Price.
Ducharme, who was hired to create the spark necessary to win games, is off to a bad start—the Canadiens have lost six of their past ten games. Losing streaks are becoming a standard for the Habs: In 2019, they suffered two eight-game losing streaks, and lost seven games in a row after winning the first in 2017. Later, in their last 34 games of the 2017-2018 season, they only managed nine wins.
While the Habs had promising performances at the beginning of this season, winning five of their first seven games, the team has entered yet another losing streak. Their current 13-8-7 record places the team fourth in the North division, putting them in playoff contention. However, the fifth place Calgary Flames are only four points behind, and have beaten the Canadiens in three of their past four meetings. It is possible that the transition is responsible for the continuous losses, and the Habs will begin winning more consistently once they settle into a new routine.
This is a crucial season for the Habs to make it to the playoffs. Time is running out for stars like Carey Price and Shea Weber, who are nearing the end of their careers, and key players like Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, who have contracts set to expire this year. As the Flames close in on fourth place, Ducharme must lead the Habs to wins immediately. With half of the shortened season underway, the Canadiens need to secure victories to gain the confidence necessary for the playoffs. Playing in a less competitive division with only seven teams, all of which they have previously beaten, gives the Canadiens a better chance of making the playoffs, and the team must not let this opportunity slip through their fingers.