He might not be behind the bench of the Montreal Canadiens these days, but coach Claude Julien continues to work at finding ways to improve his team.
Julien is using this unexpected pause in the NHL season “trying to stay up to par with what’s going on.” He admits that he has no clue what the balance of this season will hold after the NHL paused the season on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. So he’s preparing for every possibility.
The Canadiens are 31-31-9, 10 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.
“I’m doing a little bit of everything to stay on top of our team, stay on top of our game,” he said. “I’ve chatted with a few players. That’s the way I’m staying on top of things right now. I don’t want to just totally disengage myself from it. If I do, I’m not going to be prepared if at some point, whether it’s May, June, July, I don’t know when, they decide to come back and finish the season or get ready to do something different.
“I need to be prepared. What we’re doing right now as a staff is continuing to work on our team game. As coaches, we’re watching video, looking at different things that we need to look at. We’re continuing to try to improve our team and at the same time keep ourselves sharp mentally with what’s going on.
“I don’t want to be scrambling. I want to be ready, so I’ve told our staff to make sure we stay sharp, make sure we keep watching video, make sure we keep attacking the areas we talked about attacking to make ourselves better.”
Julien said he’s mostly preparing for a resumption of this season. Should that not happen, he’ll change his focus to work on getting his team ready for 2020-21.
“I’m not going to look too much into next season until they tell us this season is done and over with,” he said. “I really have to have that approach. Throughout the whole year, we look at different scenarios. We look not only at the present but the future.”
Julien was coaching Hamilton, then the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate, in 2001 when the 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S. changed the world’s landscape. He was coaching the Boston Bruins in 2013 when that city’s historic marathon was fatally bombed. Now, he’s with the Canadiens during the global coronavirus pandemic.
“This is much different,” he said. “That’s not to downplay the other things, they were huge events. They did change the world but we’re talking now about a virus that’s spreading. It’s not a one and done kind of thing when you’re trying to get the people who created those situations. We’re talking about a virus here. There’s a lot of unknowns, a lot of question marks.”
Julien hasn’t yet been reaching out to a large group of his players, saying he understands the huge adjustment faced by everyone, including many who have young families.
“There’s a lot of new stuff for everybody to digest right now,” he said. “My priority has been, ‘Take care of yourself first and foremost because if you don’t … I want to see you again when we start.’
“I get where the League is coming from [with the pause]. There’s no doubt that people are going to be starving for sports at some point [but] I’m going to respect and support whatever decision they come up with. At the end of the day, I need to be ready for whatever scenario the NHL comes up with. They have a tough job ahead of them trying to figure this out because it changes every day.”