Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien gives instructions during practice in Brossard, Que., Tuesday, July 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Julien energized by Canadiens’ busy off-season: ‘I expect us to make the playoffs’

Julien energized by Canadiens’ busy off-season: ‘I expect us to make the playoffs’

Claude Julien glanced down at some notes towards the end of his nearly hour-long video conference call with reporters Thursday.

The Montreal Canadiens head coach was promptly asked — tongue firmly planted in cheek — if what was in front of him included the team’s roster, and if so, if he felt like sharing his line combinations and defence pairings.

“It’ll change tomorrow,” Julien, without revealing anything, shot back with a grin.

After a busy off-season loaded with significant moves, he wasn’t joking.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Julien said. “A lot of different things we had looked at to improve our team has been taken care of.”

Montreal’s makeover via trade and free agency included the addition of bruising winger Josh Anderson, sniper Tyler Toffoli, defenceman Joel Edmundson and backup goalie Jake Allen.

Those pieces join a stable of veterans led by star netminder Carey Price, captain and rugged blue-liner Shea Weber, and the emotional, tone-setting Brendan Gallagher up front.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s youngsters like centres Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who both fully introduced themselves to the rest of the NHL with standout performances during the league’s summer restart, and incoming Russian defenceman Alexander Romanov.

Securing a capable No. 2 option behind Price to lighten the future Hall of Famer’s workload was crucial in Julien’s eyes, but so was adding more skill, size and muscle on the back end and up front with Edmundson and Anderson, and scoring prowess in Toffoli, a former 30-goal man.

“I really like everything (general manager Marc Bergevin) has done,” Julien added. “He’s given us an opportunity to be real competitive.”

But with that comes heightened expectations for a team handed a lifeline as the 24th of 24 entrants included in the resumption of the league’s pandemic-delayed 2019-20 campaign.

The injury-hit Canadiens were playing out the string when the schedule was halted because of COVID-19 in March, but showed what that version of the group could do when healthy by upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins in the August qualifiers before forcing the Philadelphia Flyers to six games in a gritty, sometimes-nasty first-round series.

Instead of simply hoping to qualify for the post-season, the bar has been raised significantly.

“I expect us to make the playoffs, no doubt about it,” Julien said. “We’ve made our team that much better that we should expect to make the playoffs.

“Now if by mid-season, I’ve lost half my team to injuries, I guess those things change. But other than that, we should definitely be a competitive team that should be able to make the playoffs.”

The 60-year-old Julien, who was rushed to hospital in Toronto following Game 1 against the Flyers and subsequently had a stent inserted into one of his coronary arteries, is feeling good and looking forward to figuring out where all the puzzle pieces fit on a roster that all of sudden has plenty depth.

“It’s going to be hard honestly, even for us as a coaching staff, to say this is line No. 1, this is line No. 2, this is line No. 3,” he said. “At the end of the day, it will be whoever’s producing. Whoever’s playing the best will be your best line on that specific night.”

One forward no longer in the mix is Max Domi, who was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Anderson. After the deal, Domi suggested there was a breakdown in communication as he was demoted to Montreal’s fourth line in the post-season.

Julien said Thursday his door is always open, but it’s also impossible to please every player all the time. The coach added the emergence of Suzuki and Kotkaniemi meant that Domi — the team’s leading scorer with 72 points in 2018-19 before slipping to 44 last season — became a trade candidate to address other needs.

“It’s not so much that it didn’t work out,” Julien said. “Max became, I guess, a little bit expendable because we had those guys do so well. At the same time we’re able to get a big player that we really needed on the wing in Josh Anderson in exchange for him, so Max was such a good player we were able to get a good player in return. That’s just hockey.

“Nothing to do with personal (issues) or anything else more than trying to improve our team.”

Julien, who coached the tough, physical Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup victory in 2011 before making the final again in 2013, said Montreal’s overall improvements give him options he didn’t have previously.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Julien said. “I like the fact that I can move guys around. And it’s not like one line is going to get better and the other one’s going to get weaker. If I make a change, probably all lines will have an opportunity to get better.”

But by getting better as a team and setting a minimum requirement for success, the temperature in a hockey-mad market where he’s on his second tour behind the bench is certain to rise dramatically.

“Pressure is what you make of it,” Julien said. “I don’t look at it as pressure, but as an opportunity. We should be good enough to make the playoffs.

“And we should thrive on the opportunity.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2020.


Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A heavy police presence was on scene on Dec. 28, 2017 following the shooting death on Bates Road in Abbotsford of Alexander Blanarou, 24, of Surrey. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Three men charged with Abbotsford shooting death of Surrey man

Alexander Blanarou, 24, was killed in a rural area on Dec. 28, 2017

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Hit-and-run driver knocks pedestrian into ditch in Abbotsford

Woman was walking in area of Harris Road and Riverside Street on Monday

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Abbotsford residents gather in the Clearbrook area on Monday to demonstrate against what they say is unfairt treatment by the Indian government to farmers in the Punjab region of that country. (Maan Sidhu photo)
Abbotsford residents gather to protest unfair treatment of India farmers

Locals believe new bills will devastate small farms, demand farmers be allowed to protest peacefully

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
32 family members respond to Abbotsford care home’s plea for staffing help during COVID-19 outbreak

Menno Home asks for relief workers for food service, laundry and housekeeping

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

Mirandy Tracy, left, and Tara Kurtz are two Langley mothers who are organizing a "sick out" for Tuesday, Dec. 1 to protest COVID conditions in schools. They're calling for masks and smaller class sizes, among other things. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Politician, labour leader throw support behind student Sick Out day

Langley parents started the movement to keep kids home on Dec. 1 as a protest

A family emerged with a purchase at the Tannenbaum Tree Farm at 5398 252 St in Aldergrove on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Christmas tree season is off to an early start

People are ‘bored’ with staying home due to COVID-19 and want to decorate early, farm owner believes

B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A convoy of seven pickup trucks, six of which were hauling boats, makes its way around the Chilliwack Law Courts on Dec. 1, 2020. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
First court date for Fraser River anglers ticketed during demonstration fishery

Convoy of trucks circled the courthouse in downtown Chilliwack Tuesday honking their support

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

Most Read