February 15, 2009
At least now we know the answer to the seemingly eternal question this season: What will it take to get Pittsburgh Penguins Coach Michel Therrien fired for his team's uninspired, borderline embarrassing fall from grace this season?
The answer: Five third-period goals from the moribund Toronto Maple Leafs in a 6-2 loss last night, in a game where the long-awaited return of defenseman Sergei Gonchar was expected to boost the team's spirits.
Therrien was fired tonight, replaced on an interim basis by Dan Bylsma, the 38-year-old head coach of AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He'll be behind the bench when the Penguins hit the ice at 2 p.m. EST at the New York Islanders on Monday.
"We believe we need a change in direction and, with 25 games remaining in the regular season, our goal remains to finish strong and qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs," [Penguins GM Ray] Shero said. "Dan Bylsma is one of the bright young coaches in the game and has done an exceptional job as the head coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this season.
"We also would like to thank Michel Therrien for his significant contributions to the Penguins organization."
And Michel Therrien thanks you for the remaining two years and change of his contract extension, Ray ...
Therrien finishes his Penguins head coaching stint with a record of 135-105-32, which included a first-round exit and last season's Eastern Conference championship. There were games this season in which it appeared the Penguins were fighting for his job; conversely, there were nights this season when Therrien appeared powerless to turn the team's fortunes around, and that a change was necessary.
I've never been a Therrien cheerleader. He received more credit than he deserved when the Penguins thrived during Sidney Crosby's injury absence last season. (Malkin and Ty Conklin were the team's true heroes.) His abrasive style was hit-or-miss. His line construction was odd; some of his in-game managment was questionable; and his performance in the finals last season was, at times, desperate.
But Therrien is still a scapegoat for Shero's mismanagement of the roster last summer, and the firing of a coach that was just signed to a three-year contract is indicative of that mismanagement. The Penguins may or may not turn their season around with a new face behind the bench; but at some point the heat needs to fall on Shero for the poorly constructed roster that's now cost Therrien his job.
So the Penguins' 2008-09 season, version 2.0, begins tomorrow afternoon with the team five points out of a playoff spot and with 25 games remaining. Sixteen of those games are against teams currently in playoff seeds.
Is this now Dan Bylsma's team? Shero's quote would seem to indicate it. But all that could indicate is that there won't be some big-name coaching savior walking through that locker room door. Which means, ultimately, is that it's on the players to find a way back to the postseason.
Because Shero decided tonight that the head coach he committed the organization to last summer wasn't the man to get them there.
Much more on this on Monday ...