Penguins part ways with coach Therrien
Players were as surprised as anybody that Michel Therrien was relieved of his coaching duties by the Penguins late Sunday.
"We were shocked," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said from a hotel in the New York area; the Penguins will face the Islanders at 2 p.m. at Nassau Coliseum.
"The mood at practice was pretty down (following a 6-2 loss at Toronto on Saturday), but nobody thought this was coming. We had our usual meetings about that game. Really, nobody that I talked to expected this."
Therrien, who did not return phone calls, was replaced on an interim basis by Dan Bylsma, who was in his first season as a professional head coach with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.
Five games shy of surpassing Ed Johnston's franchise-best 276 consecutive games as Penguins coach, Therrien took the fall for an underachieving club. The Penguins (27-25-5, 59 points) were 10th in the Eastern Conference as of yesterday, five points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
General manager Ray Shero said everybody associated with the Penguins is accountable for the club's struggles after a 12-4-3 start.
Their 15-21-2 record since Nov. 22 — not the loss Saturday at Toronto, in which the Penguins blew a 2-0 lead to finish the season series 1-3-0 against the lowly Maple Leafs — convinced Shero that firing Therrien was his only option.
"I didn't particularly like the direction the team was headed (in)," Shero said. "I've watched for a number of weeks. I didn't feel comfortable."
Therrien was the only coach Shero had known since replacing former general manager Craig Patrick on May 25, 2006. He also was one of the most successful bench bosses in team history, with a 135-105-32 overall record after replacing Eddie Olczyk on Dec. 15, 2005.
A Jack Adams Award finalist as the NHL's top coach for the 2006-07 season, his first full season with the Penguins, Therrien returned playoff hockey to Pittsburgh after a seven-year absence with a 47-point turnaround — the fourth-best single-season improvement in NHL history.
Under Therrien, Sidney Crosby transformed from a heralded rookie to the youngest captain in league history at 20 prior to last season. The Penguins also made the playoffs twice, going 15-10 and coming within two wins of the Stanley Cup last season, losing a six-game final to Detroit.
Shero signed Therrien to a three-year contract this past summer, agreeing to pay him around $1 million annually.
In an interview with the Tribune-Review last month, Shero said Therrien deserved the chance to get the Penguins through "tough times."
"Every time we've gone through it, we've found our way through," Shero said Jan. 22. "That's what I go on. That's what I know. I've got to give the coaching staff some credit. They've found a way the past couple of years.
"I believe we're in the process of finding a way through some tough times again."
The Penguins went 4-4-1 after Shero's quasi-vote of confidence.
Players know this move was made with one objective.
"We were told to try and rediscover the fun and enjoy the game," forward Miroslav Satan said of the message Bylsma delivered at a 10 p.m. meeting last night. "Time will tell if this move works. It's up to us. We all know missing the playoffs is not an option, but I believe we have the team to make the playoffs.
"We can be a great team."
Right wing Petr Sykora said the Penguins have seemed "a little step behind" all season.
"It kind of feels like the team hasn't had the same fire that we did last year," Sykora said. "We're all kind of searching for answers."
Sykora said Therrien's firing is an indication that either those answers will be found, or ...
"Nobody should be surprised if something else happens," he said. "It's all about winning in this league. I wouldn't be surprised at anything. Management is going to do what's best for this team to be successful - and successful for us is the playoffs."
The Penguins are engaged in trade talks with several teams. The trade deadline is March 4.
Bylsma, who was 35-16-1-2 with the AHL Penguins this season, was hired by Shero as an AHL assistant for the 2006-07 season.
He knows many of the players he will coach, and he knows what he wants to see from them.
"I want other teams to deal with our speed and skill," said Bylsma, whom Shero called an "up-and-coming coach in the game."
Assistant Mike Yeo and goalie coach Gilles Meloche were retained by the Penguins to work with Bylsma. Andre Savard, an assistant who worked with the defense, was re-assigned to an unspecified role in the organization.
Director of player personnel Tom Fitzgerald will join Bylsma's staff as an assistant.
Penguins regular-season coaching record: 135-105-32
Penguins postseason coaching record: 15-10
Dec. 15, 2005 — Therrien replaces Eddie Olczyk as coach. Under his guidance, the Penguins go 14-29-8, but finish the season 22-46-14 overall and last in the Eastern Conference.
Dec. 29, 2006 — Penguins begin a 14-0-2 streak that propels them into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
April 19, 2007 — Penguins lose their opening round Stanley Cup playoff series to Ottawa, 4-1.
April 6, 2008 — Therrien leads the Penguins to a 47-27-8 regular-season record and their first Atlantic Division title. It was the team's first division title of any kind since winning the Northeast Division under Kevin Constantine in the 1997-98 season.
June 4, 2008 — Penguins lose the Stanley Cup Finals, 4-2, to the Detroit Red Wings.
July 18, 2008 — The Penguins and general manager Ray Shero announce they agree to a three-year contract extension with Therrien to keep him as coach through the 2010-11 season at a salary approaching $1 million annually.
Feb. 15, 2009 — After a 27-25-5 start to the 2008-09 season, Therrien is fired and replaced on an interim basis by Dan Bylsma.