Monday, February 16, 2009

Penguins Fire Therrien - It's Just Like When The Caps Fired Hanlon Only Way Different

Pittsburgh has fired head coach Michel Therrien and replaced him with Dan Bylsma on an interim basis. So this is just like last year when the Capitals replaced Head Coach Glen Hanlon with the head coach of their AHL Affiliate Bruce Boudreau, right? Well to be sure Pens GM Ray Shero, Ownership and legions of Penguins Fans hope so given the way last season went for Capitals. However if you look at things closely, the similarities end with the fact each team was loosing, fired their head coach and put the coach of their AHL affiliate behind the bench.

First there is the fact the Capitals were in the process of an extensive rebuilding and had Hanlon and crew had several years to put their system in place and it sure seemed like it had taken the Caps as far as it could. The feeling of the Caps from ownership to faithful was one that felt the time had come for reasonable results but last season no one, and I mean NO ONE. expected the Capitals to go deep into the playoffs. Everyone figured the nucleus which was completed by Nicklas Backstrom would take 3 or 4 more years to get things settled in DC. So difference number 1 was that expectations in DC last season were reasonable.

Second, before last season the Caps hadn't made the playoffs let alone gone deep in them for several years. I just double checked and last year, the Penguins coached by this guy went to the Stanley Cup Finals. So it isn't like there isn't reason to think there are other things at issue in Pittsburgh besides Michel Therrien - don't get me wrong, I don't think he's the Phil Jackson of the NHL, ever was or will be, but when you have the talent the Pens clearly have and you don't win, it's not just the coach. (Oh and the guy who I would think of as the Phil Jackson of the NHL - that guy used to be named Scotty Bowman, these days he goes by the name of Mike Babcock. If Bruce Boudreau can keep the Caps together, playing unselfishly, and hold it all together for say 3 or 4 years where the Caps win a couple of Cups, he too will be in that class. No disrespect, I think he might actually do it with the bunch of guys in DC these days but we have a way to go. BTW, I would love to hear Sergei Federov's thoughts on that subject, perhaps Mike Vogel can get that interview after this years playoffs are over.) In any case the difference is the pressure on Boudreau in November 2007 was little to none - the pressure on new Penguins head coach Bylsma is substantial.

Third the experience of both men is markedly different. At 52 when he took the helm of the Capitals, Boudreau had extensive minor league coaching experience and had worked in several NHL organizations. He was in his third year as head coach of the Hershey Bears and had spent nine seasons as an AHL head coach. In addition to the Calder Cup he won in 2006, he had also won the ECHL championship - the Kelly Cup as head coach of the Mississippi Sea Wolves in 1999. In short, Bruce Boudreau had paid a lot of dues, after he won the Jack Adams Trophy last season, the question in may fans minds when they heard his story was "Why didn't someone give this guy a shot as an NHL head coach sooner?" This is meant as no disrespect to Dan Bylsma, the W-B Baby Pens are a well coached team that is playing well a and he may well be a very good coach. Also it's clear some changes needed to be made and it's a lot easier to replace a head coach, or a GM, then it is to totally rebuild an entire team; and what team with Sid Crosby (the guy I love to hate) and Evgeni Malkin would want to start over totally anyway? It's just clear that the coaching experience contrast between Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma is stark. At 38, Bylsma instantly becomes the youngest coach in the NHL and is only five years removed from his playing career with the Ducks. This is his first season as an AHL head coach, and even if the Pens' affiliate in Wilkes-Barre is one of the top teams in the league, it's not nine years and a Calder Cup.

Finally, one has to wonder about how many of the current changes to the Penguins lineup between last season and this season is Therrien's doing vice GM Ray Shero's vice local hero co-owner/chairman Mario Lemieux's. There's probably more then enough to go around and I'd guess Therrien's alleged mercurial personality was part of the reason for his drawing the short straw, given Lemieux owns the team it was a two horse race and the first logical shoe is probably the head coach. All that said I wonder if now we'll get some details as to why the Penguins ever refused to figure out a way to keep Ryan Malone on their team, they certainly miss him now. I've always felt Matt Cooke for Jarkko Ruutu at a salary cap savings of 100K was a very smart move; I even felt that way before Ruutu did his best Mike Tyson impersonation. (And Bettman sends Avery to anger management for saying folks pick up his sloppy seconds - go figure?) I know why the Caps couldn't hold on to Cooke but boy I wouldn't have minded if they figured out a way to hold on to him, I'll take Cooke over Avery or Ruutu any day, plays the same role well, without any of the baggage. I'll also accept that Marian Hossa wasn't going to stay in Pittsburgh no matter what but Malone would have gladly stayed and retired a Penguin, they should have figured out how to make that happen, instead now they need a winger for Crosby otherwise they have to stack both he and Malkin on the first line since Miroslav Satan, good as he is, is only a "poor man's Hossa". When you look at the Penguins salary cap data, the problem is clear - up front - 3 great centermen but no "power forwards" - though Malkin can play that role, it's a waste to put him there. So as you look at the Penguins salary cap situation and you see they have no room this season, little room next season, and no clear power forward on the roster after this July who isn't a UFA, how's that the Coach's fault? Clearly last season was supposed to be "The Year" for Pittsburgh and if not for the Detroit Red Wings, it probably would have been. I guess in the end that's why it's Therrien's head not Shero's that Lemieux opted for, but with no cap room and really nobody they want to deal that anybody wants, how will Ray Shero get more help on the wings for his excellent group of centers?

Well look, I'm a Caps fan so I guess I really don't care. I'm just trying to make my point clear, there is little to no similarity between the Caps move in September 2007 and the Penguins move this past weekend. Anybody who thinks there is hasn't looked below the surface.

Yet another reason it's fun to be a Caps fan this year - it's not fun to be a Penguins fan. Sure means folks on NBC will have more to talk about besides the so called Ovechkin/Semin vs. Malkin/Crosby feud next Sunday thankfully though, eh?


1 comment:

Reed-CK said...

Ray Shero failed to resign "glue" guys that made the Penguins a success last season.
Michel Therrien in a post-game interview once said "Ask Sidney, it's his team"
The Penguins have two of the best players in the world and cannot win on the road.
This isn't a coaching fault, it's exactly as you say, it's all on the players.
If anyone should have been fired, why not Shero? There was a mass exodus from that team after going to the Stanley Cup Finals! That says a lot about the team, if players willingly leave despite being on a team with a good chance for a cup!