Analysis: Therrien should top list of in-season coach replacements
Michel Therrien wasn't a perfect NHL coach, but he should rank atop the list of any in-season replacement candidates.
There is no indication he does, though. It's puzzling, considering even his harshest critics among former Penguins players privately confided this week that Therrien knows hockey. To paraphrase one of his former players: Therrien knows pucks, but he doesn't always know how to deal with people.
That criticism is fair, and even acknowledged by Therrien. A few days after his firing on Feb. 15, 2009, Therrien said his objective with the Penguins was never to be beloved by players.
He wanted their respect. He had it, at least in terms of his strategy.
He would command respect again if given a chance to step behind a bench.
Reports of potential openings with New Jersey — despite general manager Lou Lamoriello's claims to the contrary — and Buffalo should excite Therrien. He is still being paid by the Penguins and can often be found at Consol Energy Center serving as a first-year pro scout for Minnesota.
Lamoriello has long been a presumed fan of Therrien, of whom he spoke in complimentary terms to the Tribune-Review in May 2008 by praising the former Pens coach for his commitment and patience in helping change the franchise's "culture."
Therrien's record with the Penguins speaks for itself. Throw out the mess he inherited when he replaced former coach Eddie Olczyk; Afterward, he went 121-76-24, with a 15-9 playoff mark and a trip to the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.
His last season with the Penguins followed a tumultuous offseason that featured heavy roster turnover, a training camp-disrupting trip to Sweden and the loss of top defenseman Sergei Gonchar for all but one game he coached.
Therrien never has offered any of those reasons as an excuse for the Penguins' underachievement in the months before his dismissal. However, general managers with future coach openings would be wise to consider those circumstances.
They should consider this, too: All evidence suggests Therrien is better with people now than at any point in his career. At Consol, he has appeared relaxed, often jovial, and appreciative of his opportunity with Minnesota.
Therrien said he was thought he "was close" to landing a coaching job last summer.
His cigarettes-and-Diet Coke breath should be the whiff of fresh air for any team making a change before this summer.
By the numbers
Center Jordan Staal has not played this season, and the Penguins are 6-5-1. He will miss the next six weeks after undergoing surgery Tuesday to repair a broken right hand. The club's record in past long stretches without their top stars follows:
Injuries: Shoulder strain; bruised foot
2009-10: Oct. 30-Nov. 14; March 17-20, March 22-April 3
Injury: Separated shoulder
2008-09: Oct. 4-Feb. 14
Injury: High ankle sprain
2007-08: Dec. 8-Feb. 28
Injury: High ankle sprain
2007-08: Jan. 19-March 4, March 12-27
Eye on the enemy
An NHL Insider offers insight on the Penguins' opponents for the week ahead:
Dallas Stars (Away, 8:30 p.m. today) : "This team is top-heavy with offensive forwards, so stay out of the penalty box. Kari Lehtonen is showing signs of becoming the goalie he was projected to be when drafted second overall in 2002."
Anaheim Ducks (Away, 10 p.m. Friday) : "They have a bit No. 1 line with Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. There is no way around it; their success rides on the shoulders of that line."
Phoenix Coyotes (Away, 9 p.m. Saturday) : "Theirs is a team that relies on the entire group for success. They have no real stars, but they are deep and experienced. As a team, they are structured well defensively."
Penguins share their thoughts on risk:
Craig Adams : "Probably what it means to me is making a play or doing something — or maybe not doing something — that puts your team in a position you don't have to. There are certainly times for risk, but we don't want to put ourselves in those situations. Those times• Maybe when we're down three goals in the third period."
Ben Lovejoy : "It's something I don't want to take. I'm out there to play a simple game, be defensive. If I'm taking risks, then I'm not doing my job. A recent one I wish I wouldn't have taken• Not recently, but there are some plays I'd like to have back. I don't think they came from risks."
Brent Johnson : "Maybe for a goalie that isn't great at playing the puck and him going out and playing it is pretty risky. Leaving it out for your (defensemen) isn't as risky, but then again, the more you play it, the better you get — so it's less risk. I would think risk is subjective to a goaltender."
Ones to watch
Players to keep an eye on this week:
LW Jamie Benn, Stars : He is a smart and composed puck-moving forward who makes the players around him very dangerous.
D Cam Fowler, Ducks : He has a broken nose, but if he plays, he'll impress as a puck-moving defensemen with good wheels. He is going to be a good one.
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Coyotes : He is another from the line of Swedish smooth-skating defensemen with a great hockey IQ. He is a future top-pairing defenseman.