Q: I'm a fan of Michel Therrien. He is a good coach. That said, the Pens seem stale, uninspired and, at times, look like they're lacking direction. Is Therrien's act wearing thin, and is he being tuned out by more than a couple of players? I don't think Ray Shero will hesitate to make a change come February should the Pens continue like this.
Chris Heintzelman, St. Clairsville, Ohio
MOLINARI: Your perspective on the Penguins' apparent lack of fire for much of this season is shared by a lot of Q&A readers, and is eerily reminiscent of sentiments many fans expressed in the weeks leading up to the firing of Eddie Olczyk as coach just over two years ago.
The take here hasn't changed since then, either: These guys are well-paid professionals who should not require external motivation to give an honest effort every time they report for work. Neither Therrien nor Olczyk -- or any other coach at this level, for that matter -- should be responsible for infusing players with the incentive to play like they actually care about the outcome.
Everyone -- from the world' greatest athletes to the folks who staff the drive-through window at the local fast-food joint -- has a bad day at work now and then, and even elite talents like Sidney Crosby are going to go through games when things just don't work. However, that doesn't excuse a lack of effort/interest and if Crosby can give everything he has every time he goes over the boards, why can't the same be expected of his teammates?
That said, just about every coach has a fairly limited shelf life -- remember, there was a time when Olczyk was a near-folk hero, because he kept a team with American Hockey League-caliber talent competitive long after it had been eliminated from playoff contention in 2004 -- and after two years on the job, it's hardly out of the question that some of Therrien's players would be starting to grow numb to his message and methods.
It certainly is too early to reach such a conclusion, but it's a valid issue to raise. The obvious caveat, of course, is that just over a year ago, there was a groundswell of public opinion that Therrien had to be replaced if the Penguins were to compete for a playoff spot. Shero, whose patience has become the hallmark of his time as general manager, flatly rejected the demands to fire Therrien, and was rewarded with a 105-point season, while Therrien earned a place among Coach of the Year finalists.
The Penguins clearly shouldn't expect to match when they did in the second half of 2006-07 this season, but their strong finish then underscores the merits of a GM not acting in haste when making personnel moves. It's entirely possible that Therrien will lose his job if the Penguins fail to make the playoffs, but it's hard to imagine Shero acting before the off-season unless things would begin to completely unravel during the next few weeks. Waiting until summer not only would dovetail with Shero's management style, but would greatly expand the field of candidates available to take over the job.