It’s been three seasons and (probably) three strikes on making the playoffs since Claude Julien returned to Montreal, but he’s not out just yet.
According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin confirmed on Tuesday that Julien will be returning as head coach for the 2020-21 season. This is despite another disappointing year that has the Habs well back of a playoff spot with a month left in the season.
Long interview with Marc Bergevin today. He said that his coach, Claude Julien will be back next season @CanadiensMTL
— Renaud Lavoie (@renlavoietva) March 3, 2020
Julien’s second stint with Montreal since replacing Michel Therrien during the 2016-17 season has been defined by disappointment. He managed to get them into the playoffs that year but lost to the New York Rangers in the first round. The team hasn’t been back to the postseason since.
While Tuesday’s vote of confidence from Bergevin ensures some stability for the Habs this offseason, questions surround whether or not it was justified.
Since Julien returned, the Canadiens simply haven’t been very good. After a sixth-place finish in the Atlantic Division in his first full season back, last year saw the team just barely miss out on the postseason with 96 points. As such, the improvements were expected to continue in 2019-20. That has not happened.
According to The Athletic, Montreal hasn’t had more than a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs since November. Right now their chances are listed at a minuscule 2 percent.
There are several things you could point to as excuses. Prospects like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling didn’t take the steps forward that many expected them to. Injuries have taken their toll, with Shea Weber one of a few players that have missed time. The team has also had a nasty habit of blowing leads.
While there’s obviously nothing much you can do about injuries, those other two factors come down to coaching. If there were signs of improvement despite the results that’d be one thing, but the team clearly has not been getting better in the past few years under Julien.
Bergevin is also far from blameless. Despite Montreal missing the playoffs in back to back seasons and struggling for most of this year, he’s been mostly content to sit on his hands when it comes to making deals in the trade market. He’s now facing an offseason where the team has a lot of work to do to turn things around.
To the players’ credit, they came out and delivered one of their best performances of the season on the road against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night in a 6-2 win. If there’s such a thing as playing for your coach, this was it.
Julien and Bergevin might still be around this fall, but that doesn’t make their seats any less hot. Next year already has the look of a make-or-break season for their futures in Montreal.