Bylsma named coach as Pens fire Therrien

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Penguins general manager Ray Shero describes Dan Bylsma as "one of the up-and-coming coaches" in hockey.

He's also the new coach of the Penguins.

Mr. Shero fired Michel Therrien as coach last evening and replaced him with Mr. Bylsma, a former National Hockey League tough guy who has been coaching the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.

Mr. Shero said he made the change now because "I didn't like the direction in which the team was headed." Mr. Therrien lost his job less than a day after the Penguins lost, 6-2, in Toronto, a game in which they allowed six unanswered goals after taking a 2-0 lead in the first period.

It was perhaps the lowest point in what has been a disappointing season for the Penguins, who would not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs if the season ended today. The Toronto game appeared to have an impact on the timing of Mr. Therrien's firing, but it's not clear how significant it was.

"It wasn't so much the outcome," Mr. Shero said. "It was how the game was played that I was disappointed in."

The Penguins have 25 games remaining and are five points out of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. Closing that gap and qualifying for postseason play for the third consecutive spring is the primary reason Mr. Shero made the switch.

"That's our goal," he said. "That's been our goal."

Mr. Bylsma (pronounced BYL-zmuh) will coach the Penguins for the first time at 2:08 p.m. today, when they face the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. During a conference call last night, he spoke repeatedly of wanting to play a style that takes full advantage of the "speed and skill" of his team.

"We need to force teams to deal with the quality of players we have at every position," he said. "To get the opportunity to coach a team with this much talent and this much possibility, it's a great thing. It's a great chance for me."

Mr. Bylsma, 38, has the job on an interim basis and a decision on whether to give the position permanently probably will not be made until after this season. If Mr. Shero decides to look outside the organization at that time, Nashville assistant coach Brent Peterson figures to be on the top of his list of candidates.

Mr. Bylsma, who joined the Penguins' organization as an assistant to then-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton coach Todd Richards in 2006, is in his first season as a head coach in the AHL.

The Baby Penguins were 35-16-1-2 under him and ran their current winning streak to eight games with a 5-2 victory against Worcester yesterday.

"Dan is a very bright guy," Mr. Shero said. "He's very good with the players. He's demanding and firm, but he's also a guy who's fair."

Mr. Therrien, whose first NHL job was as coach of the Montreal Canadiens, compiled a 135-106-31 record as coach of the Penguins.

The highlight of his tenure came last spring, when the Penguins earned the regular-season championship of the Atlantic Division and reached the Stanley Cup final, where they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games.

Those successes earned Mr. Therrien a three-year contract. And, it seemed at the time, considerable job security.

"I'm not sure where it went wrong," Mr. Shero said. "It's been a tough year for us all."

Mr. Therrien oversaw the Penguins' practice in Syosett, N.Y., yesterday afternoon and said or did nothing to suggest he believed his job was in jeopardy.

He could not be reached for comment last night.

Two members of Mr. Therrien's staff, Mike Yeo and Gilles Meloche, will retain their positions under Mr. Bylsma, while Tom Fitzgerald, who has been the team's director of player development, will join the coaching staff as an assistant.

Andre Savard, an assistant under Mr. Therrien, will be assigned to another position in the organization.

Mr. Shero planned to meet with Penguins players late last night to discuss the coaching change, and said that people throughout the organization bear responsibility for the way the team has struggled this season.

"We're all accountable," he said. "I'm accountable. This is my team. ... The players are accountable as well. We're in this together."

He added that no player had approached him to urge that a coaching change be made.

Mr. Bylsma noted that he is familiar, at least to some degree, with the players he'll begin coaching today because he has interacted with them during training camp.

"I certainly know them, and they know me," he said, adding that he won't have to "tell them how to say my last name."

Whether that name becomes one of the most celebrated in franchise history, or nothing more than a footnote, will be determined by how the next two months play out.

Mr. Bylsma, by most accounts, might have benefited from additional training in the minor leagues, but clearly has no reservations about moving into the NHL at a relatively early point in his coaching career.

"This is something I anticipated to do at some point," he said. "To me, this is a great opportunity."

Dave Molinari can be reached at . First Published February 16, 2009 5:00 AM


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