There are four coaching vacancies in the NHL -- New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Columbus. It's nice to think one of those franchises will be smarter than the rest and come to Pittsburgh for the next man to run its team. Michel Therrien is standing by, ready, willing and able.
"I'm looking for a challenge," Therrien said this week. "If there's an opportunity out there for me, I'm sure I won't disappoint people."
Therrien, 46, didn't disappoint here during his too-brief time with the Penguins. The team was a mess when he took over as coach from Eddie Olczyk in December 2005. It improved by 47 points in Therrien's first full season, going to the playoffs for the first time in six years. It went to the Stanley Cup final in his second season before losing to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.
Still, it came as no real surprise that Therrien was fired after the Penguins -- playing without injured star defenseman Sergei Gonchar -- started slowly the next season. The players looked at him as a difficult coach because he had the nerve to demand excellence from them and often wasn't gentle doing it. "You can't become champions with no structure, no commitment and no discipline," he has said. There's no doubt Therrien lost the players in the end, but that was more of a poor reflection on them than on him. Not that they were going to get fired, of course.
There's a second reason Therrien's dismissal in February 2009 wasn't surprising. No sport treats its coaches with less respect than hockey. That's why Dan Bylsma, who took over for Therrien, probably shouldn't feel too secure despite leading the Penguins to the Cup last season. They underachieved this season and were upset by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs, getting embarrassed in a 5-2 loss at home in Game 7 last week. A slow start next season, when there will be added pressure on the club to rebound and succeed, especially moving into the spectacular new Consol Energy Center, could mean another coaching change for a franchise that, despite being around for 43 years, never has had a coach start and finish four consecutive seasons. That's almost unfathomable, if you think about it.
But back to Therrien ...
The Penguins paid him for this season and owe him again for next season because of a contract extension they did with him after the run to the Cup final. But don't try telling him that he should be happy sitting at his Nevillewood home, doing nothing and getting paid well for it. Taking a year off was fine. But two? No way. He wants to earn his money. He wants to work. He wants to coach.
"I knew I would miss it," Therrien said. "I want to get back in it. I want to prepare training camp. I want to prepare practice. I want to prepare a game. That's my living. I want to do the one-on-ones with the players. I miss the family hockey team."
New Jersey would seem to be the best fit for Therrien. Devils president Lou Lamoriello also believes in structure, commitment and discipline. There was some speculation that he strongly considered Therrien after the 2008-09 season before hiring Jacques Lemaire, who retired after the Devils were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs this season.
Tampa Bay also would make sense for Therrien. The Lightning need a coach to reach star center Vincent Lecavalier, whose goal production has dropped each of the past four seasons from 52 in 2006-07 to 24 this season. Therrien has had considerable success working with star players. It's a safe bet that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would tell you that.
Therrien, who has not been contacted by any of the teams looking for a coach, said he doesn't expect the jobs to be filled until after the Cup final next month. Until a call comes for him -- if it comes -- he'll continue to work full-time as a single dad, raising daughter Elizabeth, who will be a senior at Chartiers Valley High School next year, and son Charles, who will be a junior. Certainly, no one can accuse him of sitting home doing nothing.
"You've got to be patient," Therrien said of the crazy NHL coaching business. "Of course, I'll be ready if the opportunity comes."
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org . Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.