- Many Canadiens fans are calling for the firing of Claude Julien but wonder if his replacement must continue in the tradition of French-speaking head coaches.
- As explains Montreal Gazette hockey writer Stu Cowan to MTL Blog, however, there's a business advantage to a Francophone coach.
With the Montreal Canadiens losing 9 out of their last 11 games, Habs fans are pointing fingers and are looking for someone to blame. After last month's historic losing streak prompted a call for the firing of general manager Marc Bergevin, this time, Habs fans are gunning for head coach Claude Julien's job. As with any discussion about a Canadiens coaching change, a fierce language debate has erupted online.
Historically speaking, the Montreal Canadiens head coach has been a French-speaker. After the golden years and the 12 Stanley Cups from coaches Dick Irvin, Toe Blake, and Scotty Bowman, the Habs have employed predominantly Quebec-born or French-speaking coaches.
The reasons behind this are highly debatable and many fans wonder if the team would be better served by hiring a coach based on talent, not the language they speak.
The focus on French-language ability, some fans allege, has led the team to overlook other qualified candidates that could have made it more successful.
For instance, ever since the predominance of the French-speaking Habs coach, the team has only won two Stanley Cups in 35 years. Even worse, the Habs have missed the playoffs four out of the past 10 years and have only made it to the Conference Finals twice.
While many of the Habs teams in the past decade have been lacklustre and often, downright bad, many fans are tired of watching a losing team and are wondering if it's about time the Canadiens embraced a culture shift — not only on the ice but off of it.
In Claude Julien's defence, Sportsnet's Eric Engels points out that the coach is working with a group that's ravaged by injuries to key players such as Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin.
Engels writes that Julien "should be seen as the guy you want at the helm for when this team eventually is where management — and the fans — want it to be."
The reality is, Julien is working with a team full of young talents that have yet to reach their full potential. It's reasonable that there will be some growing pains, considering the circumstances.
Other hockey pundits, however, are not sold on Julien.
To complicate things, the Vegas Golden Knights shockingly fired their head coach, Gerard Gallant, who is widely considered to be one of the best coaches in the NHL. If the Habs were to find a replacement for Julien, surely Gallant would be the logical choice.
Unfortunately in Habsland, logic isn't held in high regard.
Despite his name, Gallant doesn't speak a lick of French. This, for many Habs fans, is the key issue of the team's management.
If they fire Julien, fans worry that the team would hire a potentially less qualified candidate simply because they can conduct a press conference in the langue de Molière.
While much of the Habs language debate is conjecture and often, completely baseless, there is a crucial business element that's important to team owner Geoff Molson.
MTL Blog reached out to the Montreal Gazette hockey writer Stu Cowan to get his perspectives on this uniquely Montreal Canadiens hiring criteria.
"Geoff Molson has decided the team must have a French-speaking coach because he wants him to be able to speak to the majority of the team’s fans in their own language. It’s a business decision and Molson is also in the business of selling beer, which I believe comes into play in his decision," says Cowan.
"A lot of Canadiens fans seem to think it’s a media-driven thing that the Canadiens must have a French-speaking coach. French media members who cover the Canadiens are all bilingual, so it’s not really an issue for them. Having said that, there are some French media columnists who would criticize the Canadiens if they hired a coach who couldn’t speak French."
"There are qualified French-speaking coaches out there," he assures.
"As Red Fisher used to say when the Canadiens were struggling: 'Show me the players.' The lack of talent has been a bigger problem in recent years for the Canadiens than what language the coach speaks."
But is there really an impetus for the Habs brass to fire Claude Julien? According to the public, now that Gallant is available, the Habs would be stupid if they didn't fire Julien.
No one knows what will happen, but clearly, Julien is under the microscope with the fans. Whether or not that's the case with Habs management remains to be seen.
There are still fans who are on Julien's side, however. And by all accounts from Habs management, the coach's job seems safe.
Though as in life, nothing comes guaranteed in the NHL.