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Canadiens head coach Claude Julien said he wants to be ready when — and if — the NHL season resumes during the coming months.
“I’m prepared if the NHL was to say, ‘okay, we’re gonna get back’, (but) again I specify that I don’t want to come back if there’s a risk involved,” Julien said Tuesday during a conference call from his summer home in Ontario. “Let’s say it’s safe to come back. I’m anticipating that if it’s June or July, they try to finish the season. Whether it’s a playoff or a March Madness, whatever they decide, I want to be ready.”
The 2019-20 season was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic on March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining. While there has been speculation about when the NHL might resume playing and what format would be used to determine a champion, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told NBCSN Tuesday that it “may not be possible” to finish the season. While Bettman said there were many options on the table, it was the first time he has suggested the season might be over.
“The biggest thing for me is to adjust to what I’d be doing during the summer to stay on top of hockey and preparing,” said Julien. “I don’t know the answer (to when we’ll be paying again) but, if all of a sudden things get under control and they reach the point they decide to finish the season, I want to be prepared. I’m doing everything to stay on top of our team, to stay on top of our game.”
That means watching videos, talking to members of his staff and individual players as well as communicating with some of his fellow head coaches.
“Once a week, we have some coaches who call each other and chit-chat,” said Julien. “It’s not something we get to do during the season. We do get together at the draft, but the draft obviously is not happening and this is a chance or us to do those sort of things.”
Julien has coached through the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, but he noted that the virus is different kind of crisis because it’s ongoing and “there are a lot unknowns.”
“The big thing was for the players to go home,” said Julien. “There’s an adjustment period there, a lot of new stuff for everyone. My priority was to tell the players: ‘Take care of yourselves. I want to see you when we start up again.’ We have to take things in a serious manner.”
Julien said all of his current work is based on the season resuming. He and his staff are looking at “videos and seeing where the team has to improve.
“We have to keep ourselves sharp mentally,” said Julien. “At some point, someone is going to say training camp is starting, and I don’t want to be scrambling when that happens.”
There have been a number of suggestions as to how the NHL would handle playoffs and there is one scenario that could benefit the Canadiens, who had virtually no chance of advancing to the post-season when play was halted. There is a proposal for an abbreviated tournament format involving the top 12 teams in each conference, a scenario that might allow Montreal — which was 12th in the East — to sneak in.
Julien noted that many of the Canadiens’ problems this season stemmed from injuries. But the roster could be different in July, when the Canadiens might be able to welcome back players who suffered what had been considered season-ending injuries.
That group includes defenceman Victor Mete, who was out with a broken foot, and winger Tomas Tatar, who has a shoulder injury. Then there’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who suffered a spleen injury while playing for the Laval Rocket in the AHL. Julien said Kotkaniemi has returned to Finland to recover, but could be an important player for the Canadiens in the future.
There is one area where the Canadiens are looking ahead and that’s the question of who will be backing up Carey Price next season. Julien said one of goaltender coach Stéphane Waite’s tasks will be to evaluate the goalies in the organization to see if there’s anyone who is close to filling that role and, if there isn’t, to identify potential free agents.
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