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Claude Julien hiring doesn't shock Canadiens legends

Serge Savard, Larry Robinson know all about pressure of winning in Montreal

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Montreal Canadiens defense legends Serge Savard and Larry Robinson know the rollercoaster of emotions, preoccupation and even obsessions in the hockey-mad market that paved their road to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

So it was with unique insight that the two watched the latest turmoil in Montreal, when coach Michel Therrien was fired and replaced with Claude Julien on Tuesday.

Savard and Robinson are career hockey men, working in the front office, behind NHL benches and developing young talent after their own playing careers were done.

Savard served as Canadiens general manager from 1983-95, engineering their two most recent Stanley Cup championships in 1986 and 1993. In 2012, he counselled owner Geoff Molson during the latter's search for a new GM, an exercise that would finally lead to Marc Bergevin.

Robinson worked with the New Jersey Devils as coach, assistant coach and adviser to then boss Lou Lamoriello, leading the Devils to their 1995 and 2000 Stanley Cup wins. He also coached the Los Angeles Kings between his stints in New Jersey and for the past five years has played an influential role in player development for the San Jose Sharks.

Like the rest of the hockey world, Savard learned late Tuesday afternoon of Therrien's firing.

"I wasn't surprised," he said. "I have nothing against Therrien, but in that situation I think Marc made the right move, especially when you had a coach like Julien who was available. Marc had an option and he didn't hesitate. I think it was the right time. You have to do something when things are going bad like they are. 

"The same thing happened last year and they didn't recover," Savard added of the Canadiens' swoon in 2015-16 that saw them not make the Stanley Cup Playoffs following an 18-4-2 start.

"The Canadiens have a few new players (in offseason acquisitions Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov and Andrew Shaw), so there's no reason not to do well. I think a move like this will probably shake up the house."

Savard said Julien will benefit from "knowing the Canadiens very, very, very well, upside-down," the incoming coach having started his NHL career in Montreal between 2003-06.

"I think it's the best move that Marc has made in a long time," Savard said. "I really think Julien will turn things around. It's the whole atmosphere. This team is much better than what they've showed the last three or four weeks. It's the same team that was [13-1-1] to start the season."

Robinson expressed surprise more by the timing of Therrien's firing than by the move itself.

Video: Arpon Basu on the Canadiens' coaching change

"The Canadiens are still in first place (in the Atlantic Division), it's not very often that a coach is fired when they're in first. But if you start losing…" Robinson said from his home in Florida.

"I was kind of surprised when Julien was fired in Boston but there have been rumblings there the last two years anyway, people saying he's on thin ice. I think Claude Julien is a [heck] of a coach. I'm sad for Therrien because the coaching fraternity is a tough place and I hate to see anybody fired. But I'm also happy for Claude in that he was able to get a job right away. He's a good man, the League needs good coaches like that."

A coach can indeed "lose a room," Robinson said of the idea that players simply quit buying into a system and stop putting out full effort, though he wasn't saying that necessarily was the case in Montreal.

"I think it happens," Robinson said. "I'm sure if the coach is, for lack of a better word, a bit of [a jerk], guys are going to get together and moan and complain and not play well for him. That's why it's so hard to be a coach -- you have to find that fine line of having discipline and yet still gain their respect and have them playing for you and not against you. 

"There definitely is always a fine line. It's not always about X's and O's. It's like a family. You have to be able to put out fires and motivate and everything else that goes along with it."

A coach's key players, Robinson said, "have to be on your side and willing to cover your back. You have to have good assistants and good people around you. You can't please everybody. There are 23 players and you can only dress 18 and two goalies, so somebody is going to be [unhappy] somewhere along the line. 

"It's not an easy job, it took its toll on me and it's taken its toll on other people," said Robinson, who stepped away from the Devils bench consumed by stress and unwilling to put his health at risk. "Unfortunately, a coach is hired to be fired. As they say, it's so much easier to replace one person than it is 18 or 20."

Hockey during his playing days wasn't what it is now, Robinson said, in large part because of the better-educated players of today, the progress of game analysis, agents, endorsements and the like. It all serves to change, and in some ways complicate, a coach's life.

"A lot of players never had agents in my day. A select few did but everybody else didn't know what the heck was going on," Robinson said. "Whatever the GM offered you, you said, 'Yeah, that's great,' as long as you had a job. 

"It's not that way now. Everybody knows what everybody else is making and for how long, and there are even restraints on how much you can earn with the salary cap."

What surprised Robinson most about Julien signing on with the Canadiens was that he's landing with a division rival of the Bruins while his chair is still warm in Boston.

"But I guess it all depends on how everything is handled," he said. "The Bruins are getting rid of a salary by letting Claude go to Montreal. It's not always about the person, sometimes it's just about the business."

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