Working as a head coach in the NHL is a very tenuous position of late. On Tuesday, the Montreal Canadiens made the surprising decision to fire coach Michel Therrien and replace him with former Bruins and Habs coach Claude Julien. It was the 39th in-season coach firing in the NHL in the past 10 years. A few times it has led to a Stanley Cup championship. What are the Canadiens’ Sports Interaction odds going forward?
Therrien Replaced by Julien for Second Time
Therrien had to be blindsided by this decision considering Montreal is in first place in the Atlantic Division with 70 points. However, Ottawa, which is tied for second with Boston of Wednesday on 64 points, has four games in hand on the Canadiens. Montreal also hasn’t played particularly well out of the All-Star break with two wins in eight games. A 4-0 loss at NHL-worst Colorado on February 7 wasn’t acceptable. Apparently, the final straw was a 4-0 loss in Boston on Sunday.
The timing makes some sense as the Canadiens are on their “bye” week, next in action Saturday at home vs. Winnipeg. Therrien is the fourth coach fired this season, following Florida’s Gerard Gallant (November), the New York Islanders’ Jack Capuano (January) and the St. Louis’ Ken Hitchcock (early this month). The difference being that those three franchises were struggling and remain out of the playoff field as things stand currently.
Julien was fired last Tuesday by the Bruins, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He had been the longest-tenured coach in the league, an honour that now belongs to Chicago’s Joel Quenneville, who has led the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups. It’s the second time the Canadiens have fired Therrien and replaced him with Julien. It happened 46 games into the 2002-03 season. Julien led the team to 32 points in 36 games as Montreal missed the playoffs. He lasted through the 2005-06 season.
However, Julien won’t get to face his former Bruins team in the regular season as Boston and Montreal have finished their season series. A playoff matchup is very possible. The Bruins have played much better since firing Julien and replacing him with assistant Bruce Cassidy.
Montreal is the first team to make a coaching change at least 58 games into a season while also leading its division since the 2007-08 Ottawa Senators. Bryan Murray replaced John Paddock after 64 games that year. The Sens went 7-9-2 under Murray, finished second to Montreal in the old Northeast Division and lost in the first round of the playoffs in a sweep to Pittsburgh.
In-Season Coaching Change Can Improve Odds
Sometimes an in-season coaching change can spur a team to the Stanley Cup. Last season, the struggling Penguins fired Mike Johnston in December. Sidney Crosby & Co. took off under his replacement, AHL coach Mike Sullivan, and of course won the Cup.
In December 2011, the Los Angeles Kings fired Terry Murray. Assistant John Stevens took over as interim coach for just four games and then Darryl Sutter became the full-time replacement. He led the Kings to the Cup and remains in Los Angeles.
In February 2009, the Penguins fired Therrien and replaced him with minor-league coach Dan Bylsma, who led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup.
Montreal Canadiens Futures Odds & Predictions
Montreal remains the second-biggest division favourite on Sports Interaction NHL odds at -250 to take the Atlantic Division. The Habs could have two season-defining stretches remaining in the regular-season. Their longest road trip remaining is four games, which starts March 4 at the Rangers. Visits to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton follow. After that, seven of the next eight are at home, including three games vs. Ottawa (one on the road). Montreal is +550 to win the Eastern Conference and +1000 to win the Stanley Cup.
The Senators are +350 to win the Atlantic and Boston way down at +1400. Ottawa has a very road-heavy schedule the rest of the way in having played 31 home games and just 23 away. The Bruins would appear to be the biggest threats with their improved play. They are also on the bye week and start a tough four-game Western Conference road trip Sunday. Boston has been a solid road team (14-10-6) but needs to improve upon a 15-13-0 home mark.
The Canadiens will win the Atlantic Division – they have the best goals differential (+15) in the division, which is usually a good indicator – but won’t win the Eastern Conference without a big move by the March 1 trade deadline.