February 16, 2009
In the hours that have passed since the firing of Michel Therrien was announced, one aspect of this move remains rather audacious: the timing.
Not that it shouldn't have happened after the Pittsburgh Penguins' pitiful, remedial loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs over the weekend; rather, that it occurred well after Sunday practice, with a game against the New York Islanders looming this afternoon, and with three enormously important games (vs. the Montreal Canadiens, at the Philadelphia Flyers and at the Washington Capitals) through Sunday.
You can tell from Marc Andre-Fleury's reaction that the players were knocked on their collective rump roast by the timing of this, and that was GM Ray Shero's intent. It's a shock to the system the level of which could perk up a flatliner.
By the end of Sunday, we'll have a better idea if the Dan "Who?" Bylsma Era has begun in earnest for the Penguins, or whether this team is doomed to fall short of the postseason. In the meantime, a bounty of odd revisionist history, interesting backroom intrigue and blatant pessimism has sprung from the Therrien firing.
Including the rather outlandish "Blame Mario" movement.
When any coach is let go, there's going to be instant analysis of his legacy. Depending on how wrongly one feels the dismissal was, that legacy can sometimes take on mythic proportions.
Take Scott Burnside's piece from ESPN.com last night, in which he joins of chorus of these saying Therrien was a good man who was sacrificed for the sins of others:
Therrien was an easy mark. He didn't have enough chips in the bank. He wasn't GM Ray Shero's guy, having preceded Shero in Pittsburgh by half a season.
He was gruff and combustible and sometimes hard on people around him. And you know what? He may have also saved this franchise.
Oh yeah, winning the Crosby lottery helped, but don't underestimate for a minute the importance of the man behind the bench.
This is a man who took a Penguins organization that was adrift, aimless, shiftless -- and those were the team's good qualities -- when he arrived in December 2005. And he kicked butt. Remember when kicking butt was a good thing in Pittsburgh?
No, but we don't remember a time when preposterous hyperbole didn't find its way in eulogies, either.
Therrien "may have also saved this franchise"? Is that a typo? Look, there's no doubt that Therrien was a competent, challenging and spectacularly average coach for the Penguins. But take a look at the roster for Therrien's roster in 2006 and Therrien's roster in 2008 -- John LeClair and Ziggy Palffy giving way to Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal may have helped a smidgen, no?
At least Burnside didn't Monday Morning Quarterback the Marian Hossa trade, which was a primary reason the Penguins made the Stanley Cup finals last season. David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail appears to do just that in his Therrien column, while somehow attempting to build a case that it's all Mario Lemieux's fault:
One those shortcomings was a scoring winger to play with Crosby. One hour before the trade deadline last February, Shero still did not have that winger despite hours and hours of trying. He had some offers but all were at a big price. And that, the whispers say, is when Lemieux got involved.
One hour before the trade deadline, Pittsburgh lore has it, Shero was told he had to get that scoring winger. No one will say Lemieux ordered the Hossa trade, but he is the only one in management above Shero with the clout to order such a move.
In any event, the Penguins wound up with Hossa, who was headed toward free agency on July 1, and winger Pascal Dupuis. The Atlanta Thrashers wound up with young forwards Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, prospect Angelo Esposito and a first-round pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft.
"DID YOU ORDER THE CODE: HOSSA?!?"
So Therrien was fired because Mario ordered a trade for a player that helped the Penguins get to the Stanley Cup finals, but who chose to sign with the Detroit Red Wings in the off-season. And because, evidently, Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen weren't important enough to submarine the Penguins' Cup run but were important enough to cause this season's flop. Uh-huh.
As the Therrien era ends, the Bylsma one starts today. From Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Mr. Bylsma (pronounced BYL-zmuh) will coach the Penguins for the first time at 2:08 p.m. today, when they face the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. During a conference call last night, he spoke repeatedly of wanting to play a style that takes full advantage of the "speed and skill" of his team.
"We need to force teams to deal with the quality of players we have at every position," he said. "To get the opportunity to coach a team with this much talent and this much possibility, it's a great thing. It's a great chance for me."
Mr. Bylsma, 38, has the job on an interim basis and a decision on whether to give the position permanently probably will not be made until after this season. If Mr. Shero decides to look outside the organization at that time, Nashville assistant coach Brent Peterson figures to be on the top of his list of candidates
Yikes ... already with the replacements?
In reality, this is Bylsma's big chance to be the next John Stevens or Bruce Boudreau. To be the guy who takes over as a "wait-and-see" and ends up earning the job. You know, the Capitals killed a coach in Glen Hanlon before Boudreau took over; so while the Penguins have to shake the label of coach-killers now, it's something that can be shaken.
Of course, if he doesn't make the postseason, it's hard to imagine a scenario under which he'd be the Penguins coach next season. Molinari, in a mailbag column, wrote that "it's pretty well-known that management was budgeting for the revenues from a playoff round, so some pretty powerful people are going to be unhappy if the Penguins fail to qualify."
(Interesting, isn't it, that the financial motivations of playoff revenue outweighed the millions left on Therrien's contract?)
In the end, Tony of The Confluence probably nailed it: Therrien couldn't coach his version of the team anymore, and it was going to be easier to remove the coach than to undo the GM's summer blundering and the systemic problems in its construction.
Much more from Seth at Empty Netters about the firing. We all now eagerly anticipate the Penguins' games this week to see if Therrien's removal made a damn bit of difference; just like we anticipate more scuttlebutt like this to surface (H/T The Pensblog) regarding the various power struggles within the organization.
(UPDATE: You may notice that the link to "more scuttlebutt like this" is now defunct, rather than a piece of gossip spread about a showdown between Malkin and Therrien. Luckily, this person's original post is cut and pasted on the Pensblog for all to read. Funny how the Internet works like that. Boo-hoo.)
The elephants come in from the left, Mr. Bylsma, and please watch out for the bearded lady ...