3 candidates to consider if the Montreal Canadiens decide to make a coaching change

Dec 5 2019, 6:30 pm

The Montreal Canadiens picked up a desperately-needed victory on Tuesday night. Their 4-2 win over the New York Islanders at Bell Centre snapped an eight-game winless streak.

Despite that skid, the Canadiens are still only one point out of a playoff spot with two thirds of their schedule left to play. But that stretch still raised some serious concerns about this team, particularly when it comes to their play in their own end.

The Habs’ penalty kill is still a mess. Their 74.1% success rate is the second worst in the NHL. They’re allowing 3.46 goals against per game, the fourth highest total in the league. They gave up 38 goals during their eight-game losing streak, an average of nearly five per game.

When a team has a $10.5-million cap hit invested in a goaltender, those surely aren’t the kind of numbers they expect to have. Carey Price’s stats so far — an .899 save percentage and 3.13 goals against average through 23 games — aren’t pretty. The 32-year-old may not be the goalie he once was, but his team’s play in front of him also hasn’t helped much.

After a 4-0 lead against the New York Rangers on November 23 turned into a 6-5 loss, head coach Claude Julien said the Habs had to get better defensively.

At some point, though, general manager Marc Bergevin has to begin wondering if Julien is capable of getting them to play better defensively.

Over parts of four seasons in his second stint in Montreal, Julien’s record is 101-87-28. When he was hired to replace Michel Therrien during the 2016-17 season, he helped them get the Habs get back on track, going 16-7-1 down the stretch and finishing first in the Atlantic Division, though they lost to the Rangers in the first round.

Julien’s first full season back in Montreal in 2017-18 was a 71-point disaster. Last year was better, but they stumbled a bit down the stretch and ended up missing the playoffs again.

It’s also worth noting that the Boston Bruins missed the playoffs in Julien’s final two full seasons with them. In fact, a team coached by Julien for a full season hasn’t made the playoffs since 2013-14.

While the heat is on Bergevin, it’s on Julien as well.

Could Bergevin consider making a coaching change before watching another promising start to a season go down the drain? If so, here are some candidates who may be considered.

1. Joel Bouchard

  • NHL head coaching experience: None. Currently the head coach of the AHL’s Laval Rocket.

Joel Bouchard, 45, played parts of 11 NHL seasons as a defenceman. He’s now in his second season coaching the Canadiens’ AHL team, the Laval Rocket. Prior to that, Bouchard served as head coach of the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada for four seasons.

Bouchard hasn’t had a ton of success in Laval so far, with a record of 42-43-15. But the organization knows him well at this point, and may think the Rocket’s lack of success has more to do with the players than the coaching.

The Montreal native also checks a key box when it comes to coaching the Canadiens: He speaks French.

2. Kirk Muller

  • NHL head coaching experience: Carolina Hurricanes (2011-12 to 2013-14). Currently an associate coach with the Montreal Canadiens.

Another internal option would be Kirk Muller, who has served as an associate coach with the Canadiens since 2016. At the time many people thought Muller could ultimately end up being the successor to Therrien, though the Habs opted to instead hire Julien when he was made available.

Muller also served as an assistant coach for Montreal from 2006-2011 before being hired to coach the Milwaukee Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators. After just 17 games with the Admirals, Muller was hired to coach the Carolina Hurricanes.

Muller didn’t have much success with the Hurricanes, going 80-80-27 and missing the playoffs in all three of his seasons there, though he should probably only shoulder so much of the blame for that. Muller’s tenure there came in the midst of a long stretch of Carolina not having very good teams.

In addition to all of the years he’s already spent behind the bench in Montreal, Muller was also a captain and Stanley Cup champion with the Canadiens in his playing days. He may not be completely fluent in French, but he’s long been part of the Habs family, so perhaps that could be overlooked.

3. Guy Boucher

  • NHL head coaching experience: Tampa Bay Lightning (2010-11 to 2012-13), Ottawa Senators (2016-17 to 2018-19)

Guy Boucher has served as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators, and his tenure with each team was eerily similar.

In his first season with the Lightning in 2010-11, Boucher took a team that had missed the playoffs the previous three seasons all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. But they missed the playoffs the next season, struggled again the following year, and Boucher ended up being fired before even completing his third season in Tampa.

In his first season with the Senators in 2016-17, Boucher again took a team that had missed the playoffs the previous year all the way to Game 7 off the Eastern Conference final. But the Sens fell off significantly over the following two years, and Boucher again was fired during his third season with the team, though most people would probably agree that a lack of talent was a much bigger issue than coaching in Ottawa.

Boucher also has experience in the Canadiens organization. He served as head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs when they were Montreal’s AHL affiliate in the 2009-10 season. Boucher enjoyed great success with the Bulldogs, leading them to a 52-17-11 record during the regular season and coming one win away from taking them to the Calder Cup Final. This led to him being hired to coach the Lightning.

If the Habs hired Boucher, they’d do so hoping he could provide them with the same kind of immediate spark that he did with the Lightning and Senators. And, yes, Boucher speaks French.

Jack WeberJack Weber

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