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Michel Therrien not spared this time

Unlike last season, fired as coach with improved Canadiens struggling

by Arpon Basu @ArponBasu / Senior Managing Editor

MONTREAL -- "It's on me."

Those three short words hung in the Montreal air like a haze all summer, and the man who said them at the end of last season did everything he felt he needed to do to back them up.

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin refused to put the blame for a horrific 2015-16 season on anyone but himself and most definitely did not put it on his coach, Michel Therrien.

With the city clamoring for a coaching change in light of a collapse from a 17-4-2 record when goaltender Carey Price was lost for the season because of an injured right knee to a final mark of 38-38-6, Bergevin did not flinch.

He stood by his coach and went to work.

Video: Arpon Basu on the Canadiens' coaching change

Bergevin traded defenseman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators on June 29 for defenseman Shea Weber. He traded center Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals to make room for forward Andrew Shaw, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. He signed Alexander Radulov to a one-year contract on July 1, a move that looks like perhaps the best free agent signing of the NHL offseason.

His stated goal in making those moves was to prevent a collapse like the one the Canadiens went through last season, no matter who was injured, no matter what.

In his mind, Bergevin did his part. Then Therrien had to do his.

As a result, Therrien clearly entered the 2016-17 season with a much shorter leash. After the Canadiens started the season 13-1-1, the injuries began to hit them and the losses mounted. Again.

The Canadiens went 18-18-7 after that 13-1-1 start, and Bergevin couldn't sit idly and watch the same thing happen.

On Tuesday, Bergevin fired Therrien.

The rival Boston Bruins' firing of Claude Julien a week earlier must have set things in motion. The same day Julien was fired, Feb. 7, the Canadiens lost 4-0 at the Colorado Avalanche. It was a performance that could not have sat well with the GM because the Canadiens looked so listless against a team sitting so far in last place in the NHL standings.

The next day, the Canadiens had a day off in Arizona, and Bergevin reportedly met with his leadership group of left wing Max Pacioretty, Weber and Price. Therrien was not present.

It was the type of meeting that happens all the time, Pacioretty said the day after, before the Canadiens faced the Arizona Coyotes, a game that showed more signs of trouble. The Canadiens won 5-4 in overtime behind two goals and two assists by Pacioretty, but Montreal blew a 2-0 lead and then a 4-3 lead before getting a goal from Alex Galchenyuk to win it.

The Canadiens lost their next game, 4-2 at home against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday, and lost 4-0 at the Bruins on Sunday, the third time they were shut out in five games.

Video: NHL Now: Canadiens fire Therrien, hire Claude Julien

The signs were all there for Bergevin to see and, with Montreal on a five-day break, he got permission from the Bruins to talk to Julien and hired him Tuesday.

It represents Bergevin's ultimate card to play, but it can't be his last.

While the roster he provided Therrien was improved from a season ago, there are still holes to fill. The addition of Radulov has shored up Montreal's forwards, but more scoring up front is needed.

The Canadiens were one of the top scoring teams in the NHL earlier in the season when role players like Paul Byron and Torrey Mitchell were filling the net. Entering play Tuesday, they had dropped to 11th in the NHL at 2.83 goals per game.

The loss of Subban has made Montreal's defense less mobile, and that is another area Bergevin may attempt to improve before the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. ET on March 1.

But even if Bergevin doesn't do any of that, if he stands pat before the deadline and sticks with the players he has, he still improved his team Tuesday.

It is not a knock on Therrien to say that Julien represents an upgrade. Julien won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Bruins and took them to the Cup Final in 2013. He was a member of Canada's championship coaching staffs at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

In a way, hiring Julien is the natural progression of what Bergevin began last summer.

There is little doubt the Canadiens' window to win a Stanley Cup is directly linked to Price's contract, which expires at the end of next season. So when Bergevin traded Subban for Weber, a trade that may look less advantageous to the Canadiens as the years go on but which can be justified now, it appeared he was looking to take full advantage of that window being open.

Replacing Therrien with Julien on Tuesday should be viewed in the same light.

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