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The man for the job

Marc Bergevin describes process behind acquiring Claude Julien

by Steven Nechay @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

BROSSARD -- Spring training isn't here yet, but Marc Bergevin used a baseball term on Wednesday to describe the hiring of Claude Julien.

"It's a real home run for us," explained the Canadiens general manager, who brought Julien -- a former head coach with the club between 2003 and 2006 -- back into the fold with a five-year contract on Tuesday. "He's the man for the job both short-term, and long-term. He has a vision for this team that Geoff Molson and I truly believe in."

Video: Press conference: Bergevin on hiring Claude Julien

Julien's career speaks for itself. The longtime Bruins coach, who also spent time behind the bench in New Jersey, brings a 538-332-10-117 regular season record to Montreal. He led Boston to a Stanley Cup in 2011, and made it back to the Finals for a second time just two years later, in 2013.

"I'm convinced that in hiring Claude, we are getting one of the best coaches in the NHL. In my estimation, he's the best man to reach our goal. Claude has proven his worth," underlined Bergevin, during a press conference at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard. "He's demanding and firm, but fair, which is what players need from a coach today."

While Boston and Montreal have long been storied Original Six rivals, it was while working for the same team this summer that the Habs GM got to know Julien better.

"I met Claude, and spent a bit of time with him in Toronto during the World Cup. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe that when you meet somebody, you can get a good feel for them within 30 seconds. When I met Claude, I felt right away that he was a good man," recalled Bergevin, who along with Julien, was part of Team Canada's championship brass at the recent international tournament. "He's a man of integrity, with an impressive track record. He was here before as a rookie coach, before winning a Stanley Cup in Boston. He coached in Boston for almost 10 years, so he's learned a lot. Montreal -- as we all know -- is a tough market, but just as [Michel Therrien] came back and did very well, there's no doubt that Claude will as well."

Indeed, Julien's two-time predecessor did well in leading the Canadiens to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons back in Montreal, going as far as the Conference Finals in 2013-14.

More recently though, he watched the club go 3-6-1 in its last 10 games, and 1-4-1 so far during the month of February.

"We were just not playing our game. We were not the same team as early on -- there was something missing," continued Bergevin, whose move comes a year after the Habs missed the postseason for the first time since 2011-12. "The team's performance showed me that something was not right, and a change needed to be made."

That the change came at the top, and not on the ice, was a vote of confidence in the players themselves to be able to turn the tide.

"I think we have strong leadership. Just to name a few guys, [Shea Weber], [Carey Price], [Max Pacioretty]… they've all stepped up at different points. Right now obviously, if the team had performed differently, I wouldn't be standing here. But at the end of the day, it will be up to them to step their game up to another level," stressed Bergevin. "We have strong leadership, good veterans, and some young guns incoming. The mindset hasn't changed -- it's make the playoffs, and then once you're in, anything is possible."

And just as the mindset hasn't changed, neither has the opinion surrounding the man who dedicated his last five years to the club.

"Michel is a fighter. He's fought for everything he has, and he fought for this team until the very end," concluded the Habs GM. "We had a good conversation on Tuesday. It wasn't easy, but it was the right decision for the team. I still have a lot of respect for Michel, nothing's changed in that regard."

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