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What's fair for Pens' Therrien?

| Friday, July 18, 2008

In some ways, it feels like Penguins coach Michel Therrien just got here.

But get this: If Therrien lasts all of next season, he will, unbelievably, own the longest coaching tenure in the franchise's 40-year history.

That would be 297 games -- a little more than three-and-a-half seasons -- and would top Ed Johnston's second run behind the bench, which lasted 276 games in the mid-1990's.

What's it mean?

Well, for one thing, it means the Penguins have had some fairly forgettable coaches. They also haven't been real patient, but that's life in the gate-driven NHL, which goes through coaches the way Cameron Diaz goes through boyfriends.

Without the mega national television contracts other leagues share, it's hard for many NHL clubs to exercise patience. More than a third of the league (11 teams) has changed coaches in the past year. The Penguins didn't, but their 47-point improvement in 2006-07 netted Therrien a measly one-year extension last summer.

Now, coming off a trip to the Stanley Cup final and with the roster apparently set, it's time to take care of the coach in a fair and reasonable manner.

Therrien has one year remaining on his deal. The sides are negotiating an extension. He made $675,000 last season, well below the highest-paid NHL coaches, and is slated to make $750,000 this coming season. That still isn't close to the best-paid men in his profession. Many are way past the $1 million mark.

Detroit coach Mike Babcock just signed a three-year deal worth $1.5 million annually. Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock signed for three years at $1.33 million per season. Toronto signed Ron Wilson to a four-year deal that various reports have pegged at more than $1.4 million annually.

So, what's fair for Therrien, who still has worked only three NHL seasons start to finish but has enjoyed tremendous success over his two full years here?

A two-year extension worth around $1 million per season sounds right.

That would give Therrien three years, total, on his deal, plus a nice raise. It wouldn't put him near the top earners, but the Penguins don't need to match those salaries.

Those who believe Therrien merits a contract of five years or longer aren't being prudent.

First off, that would be financially irresponsible, because the Penguins would be on the hook for the money if they were to fire Therrien.

Besides, what's wrong with keeping a little pressure on the coach• A two-year extension doesn't let him get too comfortable.

Therrien's record -- 207 points over the past two seasons -- speaks for itself. People wondered if he was the guy to lead this team to a Stanley Cup, and that question remains, but he went a long way toward silencing his critics. The Penguins fell two wins short of beating a better team in the Stanley Cup final.

Alleged player unrest appears to be a dead issue for now, after the signing of defenseman Brooks Orpik. The popular line, as Orpik headed into free agency, went like this: "He's gone, because he hates the coach."

Orpik doesn't like Therrien. It's true. But he did take less than his market value to stay, so how bad could it be?

And who says the coach needs to be liked?

Players improve under Therrien. The team wins a lot. He should be rewarded fairly, though not extravagantly, for what he has accomplished thus far.

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