Push the system. Push the players -- even if that means publicly questioning their fortitude or privately berating them.
"My recipe's always the same," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said yesterday.
"I want to win, and I want to win badly."
In his four months with the Penguins, Therrien apparently convinced not only the players but also the club's brass, including CEO Ken Sawyer.
When Sawyer announced that the team was severing ties with longtime general manager Craig Patrick and looking to a "next generation" of leadership, he said Patrick's replacement would be expected to retain Therrien.
"I'm very happy with what Michel has done," Sawyer said. "He's our coach for next year."
After Therrien was promoted from the club's top minor-league team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins, Dec. 16 to replace Eddie Olczyk, the team went 14-29-8.
It was last in the Eastern Conference at the time of the coaching change, and it finished in the same spot, second-to-last overall in the NHL.
But at 8-9-2, the Penguins were close to .500 over their last 19 games and took a sense of optimism into the off-season.
"When I came here, I wanted to make a change," Therrien said. "I wanted to make an impact about our philosophy as a team. There were some things that needed to be approached with our team, with the direction the team was going."
To effect that, Therrien sometimes would call out players or units of players, accusing them of uninspired play.
"I think we did it the hard way -- you had to be hard -- but we became a family, and that's the most important thing for me," he said.
"They enjoyed coming to the rink. They enjoyed that it was starting to work as a team. They enjoyed playing in a system. When they played together, like we did most nights, the image of the Pittsburgh Penguins started to change. This is something I wanted. We're relying on a team concept, and we did it with young players."
The young team -- many had played for Therrien in Wilkes-Barre -- credited Therrien's system for what they perceived as improvement toward the end of the season.
Therrien favored structure over the creativity Olczyk preached in areas such as breakouts.
"Michel came with his system and, once the guys got used to playing with it, I think everything kind of started to get better for everybody," goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said.
Defenseman Ryan Whitney said having Therrien and his system back bode well.
"When we come to training camp and coach Therrien is here and we all know the system, it's going to mean a lot," Whitney said.
One of the few older veterans on the team also got comfortable with the system.
Sergei Gonchar, who overcame a horrendous first half to finish eighth among NHL defensemen with 58 points, said late in the season that he preferred the structure of Therrien's system to the freedom he and the forwards had under Olczyk.
"It's kind of easier to read and find the holes," Gonchar said.
Therrien said despite the Penguins' record, he is as proud of what the club did as he is of the Baby Penguins' 21-1-2-1 record at the start of this season, of taking the 2001-02 Montreal Canadiens to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, and of taking Granby of the Quebec Major Junior League to the Memorial Cup championship in 1995-96.
"It's a pretty special season," Therrien said.
He has two things on his short-term agenda -- adding an experienced assistant to the staff and doing a self-evaluation.
"I'm going to sit down next week, and I'm going to say that I did what I had to do," Therrien said.Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
No matter who the next Penguins general manager is, Michel Therrien will be the team's coach.
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Shelly Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721.