Shortly after arriving in Barnard, however, Julien had a change of heart about something else.
He originally had planned to decline all coaching offers until the end of the season. But when Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin called, Julien brought his pause to an end.
“Had it not been an ideal situation, I think I would have refused or not taken it,” Julien said during a conference call Wednesday. “Great organization, great people, a lot of potential, great team. Everybody says it’s some of the best fans in the world, too.
“Everybody gets excited to play in Montreal. It’s something that appealed to me. It came quicker than I expected. I’m certainly ready for the challenge and looking forward to it.”
Even though Julien has coached the Canadiens before, he has game-planned against them for the last 10 years. His mixed use of pronouns underscored the suddenness of the change.
“They’re a good team,” Julien said. “We all know they have the best goaltender in the world. They’re solid in the back end. That’s not to say we don’t have to fix and make our team better.
“There’s a lot of talent up front. I know the talent has been a little bit dried up as far as scoring goes. We’ve got to fix all those things. That’s my job. I’m here to fix and tweak and do things to put this team back on track.
“They’ve got good skill. They skate well. They have a good balance of grit and skill and size.”
Julien is in Montreal for a second time (he was coach from 2002-06), reinforced with the security of a five-year contract. His new deal absolves his former employer of the year-plus he had remaining on his deal.
Julien is a rink rat. His job is to fix the ailments of the first-place Canadiens, starting with straightening out goaltender Carey Price. But he’s also intent to rinse and spit out the disappointment of being sacked after a 10-year run in Boston.
At the time of his dismissal, the Bruins were the best possession team in the league. They had scored 20 goals in their last five games. By their count, they were allowing fewer quality chances than before. But on the morning of the Patriots parade, general manager Don Sweeney told Julien he was out.
“I’d been in the office the day before, really looking to fix things and get us back on the winning track,” Julien recalled. “The next morning, I found out. It’s not a shocker, but I don’t think I was necessarily expecting it.”
Julien has been fired three times, including once by the Canadiens. Being a veteran of the experience did not make it easier. If anybody knew how Montreal’s Michel Therrien felt about being shown the door, it was Julien.
“I’m a guy that was let go a little over a week ago,” Julien said. “I know the feeling when you’re let go. It’s not a fun feeling. It’s not something you like to go through. We know how much it affects not only you but your family.”
Julien watched only part of the Bruins’ 6-3 win over San Jose last Thursday. He did not watch their 4-3 win over Vancouver Saturday. That was by design.
“I didn’t think it was healthy at the time,” Julien said. “I needed to bring my head to another area. By not watching was probably the best way.”
The Bruins fired Julien for several reasons. Sweeney and Julien did not agree on the quality of the top-heavy roster. Sweeney wanted to see whether Bruce Cassidy, long considered Julien’s successor, could help the team get back in the playoff chase. Sweeney wanted to get a better read on his roster to help determine future player movement. The Bruins had to show customers that someone had to be responsible for missing the playoffs for two and potentially three straight years.
The Canadiens, meanwhile, were going through their own crisis. Price’s game had fallen off. Their first-place lead had shrunk to 6 points. They were 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.
Bergevin said he was considering a change regardless of Julien’s firing. But when the Bruins dismissed Julien, it accelerated Bergevin’s thinking. Bergevin was convinced of two things: He had to fire Therrien, and he had to hire a coach (a French-speaking one, at that) he considers a superstar.
“I felt Claude was a good man, a man of integrity,” Bergevin told Montreal reporters during a Wednesday press conference. “His track record speaks for itself. He’s been here before as a rookie coach. He left and won a Stanley Cup in Boston. In 10 years in Boston, he learned a lot.
“Montreal is a tough market. But he’s coming back, just like Michel did, and he did very well in his second time around. I have no doubt in my mind it will be the same with Claude.”
The Canadiens are on their break, just like the Bruins. They will reconvene Friday afternoon for their first practice under Julien. They will host the Jets Saturday.
Julien’s new team will not play his former club again this season unless they meet in the playoffs.
“There’s a rivalry that exists between the two organizations,” said Julien, who cited Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask as players who helped him win the Cup in 2011.
“I intend to keep that rivalry going on the ice. Not off the ice. I have too much respect for those players.”
Claude Julien, Canadiens agree to five-year contract
BROSSARD, Quebec -- Barring an ideal opportunity, Claude Julien had every intention of taking the rest of the season off after he was fired as coach of the Boston Bruins on Feb. 7.
A week later, he replaced Michel Therrien as coach of the Montreal Canadiens and agreed to terms on a five-year contract through the 2021-22 season.
During a conference call from his home in Boston on Wednesday, Julien held off answering his first question to address Therrien, who Julien also replaced 14 years earlier when he was hired by Montreal to make his NHL coaching debut.
"I know exactly how Michel feels right now and it's certainly not easy for a coach to go to an organization knowing that he has taken the job of another," said Julien, who has coached 997 games with the Canadiens, Bruins and New Jersey Devils. "And I would like everyone to know that I have always had a lot of respect for Michel. He's a good coach. It's not easy to coach against him, especially when you're trying to get certain line matchups. He's very alert and I have known Michel for a long time and I want to wish him good luck. I'm sure he's going to be return as a coach at some point."
Julien, 56, won the Jack Adams Award in 2008-09 in his second of 10 seasons with the Bruins. Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011, lost in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Final two years later, and won the Presidents' Trophy in 2013-14 with 117 points.
Julien became the Bruins' winningest coach in 2015-16, but Boston missed the playoffs for the second straight season. He was 419-246-94 (.614 winning percentage) with the Bruins, including 26-23-6 this season when he was fired with Boston in third place in the Atlantic Division.
One week later, he took over the Canadiens, who lead the Atlantic Division with 70 points but entered its bye week with one win in its past seven games (1-5-1) following a 4-0 loss at Boston on Sunday.
Still reeling from being fired by the Bruins, Julien had just begun a vacation in Vermont when he was contacted by Montreal general manager Marc Bergevin, who first got permission from Boston to talk to him.
Bergevin and Julien got to know each other when they worked on Team Canada's staff at the World Cup of Hockey 2016.
"To be honest, I intended to wait until maybe spring before making a decision," Julien said. "That was my initial reaction when I was fired. But once Marc got in touch with me, I had the opportunity to work with Marc at the [World Cup] and I had a great connection with him. I feel he's a good manager, he's a good person. It's important for me to work for good people."
As an assistant on Team Canada coach Mike Babcock's staff, Julien got better acquainted with Montreal goalie Carey Price and defenseman Shea Weber.
Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov and center Tomas Plekanec played for Julien during his first stint in Montreal, which has not had consecutive wins in 18 games since a three-game winning streak from Jan. 3-7.
The Canadiens are 6-10-2 since then; they have lost consecutive games and have been shut out in three of their past five.
"I think they're a good team," Julien said. "Listen, we all know probably they have got the best goaltender in the world, I would have to say, they're solid in the back end. That's not to say that we don't have to fix and make our team better, but at the same time there's a lot of talent up front. And I know that that talent has been a little dried up as far as the scoring goes lately, but we've got to fix all those things and that's my job.
"I'm here to kind of fix and tweak and do things that are going to put this team back on track, and that's what I intend to do. They've got good skill, they skate well, they've got a good balance of grit and skill and some size, and so basically I think that we're going to make sure that we exploit that and use it to the best of our knowledge and to the best of their abilities."
Julien will be in Montreal on Thursday, though his family will remain in Boston through the end of the season. He will run his first practice Friday before beginning his second stint as Canadiens coach against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday (2 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).
Bergevin quantified Julien as a "superstar" among NHL coaches and called his hiring a "home run" that addressed Montreal's short- and long-term needs.
"We were just not playing our game," Bergevin said at a press conference at the Canadiens' practice facility Wednesday. "We were not the same team as we were earlier on. There was something missing and the team performance for me showed that there was something not right and the change had to be made."
He went to Therrien's home Tuesday and met with him for 20 minutes.
"I believe in my heart he knew," Bergevin said. "It was hard. It was hard for him, and hard for me. Mike is a guy that fought his whole life to get where he is today, and he's a fighter. And that's what makes him a great coach because he does fight. He fights until the end, and he fought until the end. And I told him, 'That's why I respect you and that's why you're going to have success moving forward,' because he's a fighter. And it was not easy, but it's not about me, it's not about Michel, it's not about one player, two players, it's about the hockey team and the Montreal Canadiens, and at the end of the day Michel understands and he was very respectful."
Fans’ reaction mixed over Claude Julien’s newest job
Shocked Bruins’ fans were looking for a whistle yesterday after learning that their home team’s longtime head coach, Claude Julien, was taking over behind the bench for their hated rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.
“I saw it on my phone and said, ‘Are you serious?’ It’s a little bit of salt in the wound,” said Kadir Tirmizey, 21, of Foxboro. “It’s like if (Red Sox manager) John Farrell went to the Yankees. It’s on that level.”
Julien, the Bruins’ all-time winningest coach, led the team to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011. He took the job with the division-leading Habs just a week after he was canned by the Bruins. As they announced Julien’s hiring, the Canadiens sent their current head coach, Michel Therrien, packing.
Brian Callahan, of Wilmington, said he’s “been waiting two years for (Julien) to leave.”
“Maybe we can beat them now?” Callahan said of the Canadiens. “He’s such a bad coach.”
And though some Bruins fans were steamed, others were complimentary of Julien’s successful tenure in the Hub.
“We won a cup. We were close to a winning a second cup, too,” said Jack Mahoney, 56, of Lexington.
Mahoney, who said he’s been a Bruins’ fan his whole life, said Julien would often stop by a Lexington barber shop, where workers called him a “gentleman.”
“He’s got to earn a living.” Mahoney said. “I’m all for it. He might have been, quote unquote, in Boston too long.”
Julien’s new job with the Canadiens comes as the Bruins are six points behind the Habs in the Atlantic Division.
And though the B’s were losing ground before Julien was fired, interim head coach Bruce Cassidy has the team riding a three-game winning streak.
“You can’t fire the team,” said Vicky Cozzolino, 49, of Beverly. “If your team isn’t performing, you have to make a change. They were sucking!”
Cozzolino, however, said she hopes Julien’s move to a despised division opponent will be the spark his former players need to get back on the right track.
“It will create reasons for them to step up and prove themselves knowing they’re not playing for him anymore,” she said.
Longtime Bruins fan Mike McGonagle, of Billerica, said he will always look back fondly on Julien’s time in Boston.
“We’re going to miss him,” McGonagle said. “When he comes back, he’s going to get a standing ovation. He got us a Stanley Cup!”