The Montreal Canadiens began the 2021 season as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. But the tides have turned for the Habs, leading the franchise to fire head coach Claude Julien on Wednesday.

Claude Julien Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens fired head coach Claude Julien after the team cooled down from its hot early season start. (Image: Winslow Townson/AP)

The Canadiens also fired associate coach Kirk Muller, and promoted Dominique Ducharme to interim head coach.

Losses to Senators spell end for Julien

Montreal began the season with a 7-1-2 start, putting the team near the top of the North Division and in what seemed like a certain playoff position. The Canadiens have won just two of their eight games since that time, falling to fourth place in the North.

Most recently, Montreal lost back-to-back games in shootouts against the Ottawa Senators, who sit in last place in the North Division. That appeared to be the last straw for Canadiens management.

“I would like to sincerely thank Claude and Kirk for their contributions to our team over the past five years during which we worked together,” Canadiens general manger Marc Bergevin said in a statement. “I have great respect for these two men whom I hold in high regard.”

Bergevin expressed confidence that the coaching change could spark the Habs for the rest of the shortened, 56-game season.

“In Dominique Ducharme, we see a very promising coach who will bring new life and new energy to our group,” Bergevin said. “We feel that our team can achieve high standards and the time had come for a change.”

At the moment, the Canadiens still sit in the final playoff spot in the North Division, as the top four teams from each division will make the postseason. The hot start launched Montreal into the ranks of Stanley Cup contenders, and FanDuel Sportsbook rates the team as a +1500 pick to win the title this year, good for seventh-best in the NHL.

Canadiens remain threat for deep playoff run

Montreal came into the season with high expectations, thanks in large part to a flurry of offseason signings. Bergevin acquired quality players to add depth at every position, including forwards Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, as well as backup goaltender Jake Allen.

The 60-year-old Julien took over as the Canadiens’ coach late in the 2016-2017 season, compiling a 129-113-35 record since that time. He began his coaching career with the Habs back in the 2002-2003 season, before coaching the New Jersey Devils for one year. He then spent a decade with the Boston Bruins, winning the Stanley Cup with that franchise in 2011. Julien led Montreal to the playoffs twice in the past four years.

Despite sitting in fourth place, the Canadiens remain the +400 second choice to win the North Division. They trail only the Toronto Maple Leafs (-250), who stand as one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup at +800 odds.