Claude Julien has been a successful NHL coach for some time now. However, most of his victories came from his ten-year tenure behind the bench as the Bruins head coach, a position he held from 2007 until his firing last week.
There was talk of Julien landing in Las Vegas, and getting a chance to guide the expansion Golden Knights through their first NHL season. The prognosticators have overshot their target by about 2,500 miles to the south and west.
That’s right, ‘massholes. Claude’s heading north, to that team that wears red and blue, with a logo that makes no sense. I mean, what is that, a tiny “H” inside a bigger “C”?
Sorry to all my Canadian readers, but forgive me if I’m a little butthurt. Claude Freakin’ Julien is going to be the next coach of the Montreal Canadiens, the team he was geared to hate for an entire decade.
We’ve seen this in Boston before. Our best comparison to the Julien situation might have unfolded back in 1997, when a Red Sox fireballer decided he’d had enough of the Hub, and chose to toss for the Blue Jays instead. Roger Clemens wasn’t fired, like Julien, but he still found himself on the way across the border after ten years in Boston (a sequence which, oddly, is exactly the same as Julien’s).
The more bitter Sox exodus came after the 2005 season, when Johnny Damon (resident idiot and beard specialist) cut his locks, facial hair, and soul on his way down I-95 to join the New York Yankees. Damon was never exactly praised in Boston again. And while we’re on the subject of red being substituted for navy, let’s not forget Jacoby Ellsbury, who conveniently fled town after winning the 2013 World Series with the Sox.
At a time when there’s so much to be happy about in Boston, however, this one hurts a bit. Julien put out competitive teams every single year he was in Boston. In fact, the Bruins have not had a losing record since 2006-07–the year before Julien took over (overtime and shootout losses are not included). In those ten winning seasons, Julien and Co. only missed the playoffs twice, in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Twice, Julien’s squad won at least 50 games, and during the glorious 2010-11 season, Claude brought home Boston’s first Stanley Cup in 39 years. The run of success has gone largely unappreciated in Boston, as the Red Sox and Patriots have been churning out championships on the regular.
Julien should be lauded for his efforts, and deserves success elsewhere. But he went to the Yankees of hockey. And for that reason, he’ll probably hear some boos in his return to the Garden next season (if you can believe this, if Julien had been hired just four days prior to today, his first game for the Habs would have been at TD Garden.) But he shouldn’t feel ashamed. That’s just what Bostonians do to heroes gone down the rival’s path.
Bruins fans are smart. They know their hockey, and they understand that such a move makes sense not only for Julien, but for the Canadiens organization. In fact, the sheer wherewithal to recognize that a head coaching change was in order, for a first-place team, is remarkable.
So, if Bruins fans heckle in Claude’s return next season (or in the postseason, if the stars align), I hope Claude is ready to take the heat. Because no matter how much sense a new job might seem, the history of Boston sports rivalries will surely put an angered spin on things. Clemens, Damon, and Ellsbury know this all too well.