GM Shero hopes coaching shift will spark Penguins but don't count on it
So here's your big move, your bold gambit, your urgent deadline deal, perhaps even your last best drastic alteration to the wobbly march of the 2008-09 Penguins.
Waiting on a huge trade? Here it is:
Head coach Michel Therrien dealt into Penguins history for Dan Bylsma, until yesterday the hockey coach of your Baby Penguins.
Months in the rumor stage, Penguins general manager Ray Shero finally pulled the trigger on this one yesterday with the hangover from the Penguins' desultory 6-2 loss in Toronto the night before still buzzing around his skull.
That probably means that Therrien, who shepherded this team to within a couple of wins of the franchise's third Stanley Cup just eight months ago, would still be the coach this morning had the Penguins found a way to protect a multi-goal lead in the latter stages of the
second period Saturday night against the Maple Leafs.
Watching them allow six consecutive Toronto goals instead was apparently more than Shero could take.
"It wasn't so much the outcome as the way the game was played," Shero insisted last night on a hurriedly arranged conference call with hockey journalists. "It's not always so much the score. It's just the direction we were going."
I asked Shero point blank if a player or players came to him with the suggestion that the club could execute a quick U-turn if only Therrien weren't at the wheel, even if reports that the Penguins' locker room has devolved into factions could not be confirmed.
"Absolutely not," said the GM. "Never happened."
That's good to hear. That's grand. Especially since Therrien didn't deserve this. Especially since I'd hate to see him disposed of via the long-standing Penguins tradition whereby the players run off the coach regardless of competence or pedigree.
That would be just too Pittsburgh, wouldn't it?
It's an igloo tradition that the Penguins barely tolerate the coach in the best of circumstances.
Bob Johnson got grudging respect at best until people started skating around with Lord Stanley's bling over their heads, and Scotty Bowman, only the greatest hockey coach who ever lived, was essentially hounded away from practice.
Shero knows as well as anyone the treacherous politics of NHL hierarchy. His father, Fred, won 390 games and two Stanley Cups in 10 seasons coaching the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers, and once said famously, "Athletes don't like to think. You use distractions and surprise to hold their interest."
How interested the Penguins become in showing up for the postseason in the way they've failed to show up to this point will perhaps be on display this afternoon on Long Island, where Dan Bylsma's team takes on the perfectly miserable New York Islanders as a potential first step back toward competence.
"This is the big move," Shero said last night. "This organization, from a player personnel standpoint, probably won't change significantly. The coach of this hockey team is going to see where this is going to take us. Dan Bylsma knows our organization and knows our players. I'd rather do it this way at this point [than hire an experienced NHL coach]. The message to the players is that we're all accountable. We talk to the players about their passion for the game, about their work ethic, their accountability. We've got 25 games left in which to make progress and get into the playoffs."
None of the key players in this souring Penguins drama did Therrien any favors, and Shero's "we're all accountable" is a clear indication that he knows he's among them. Faced with the financial defections of Ryan Malone and Marian Hossa from last year's Eastern Conference champions, Shero's replacements for Therrien's offense -- Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedetenko -- have come up almost comically short, especially on critical shifts in critical games.
But Shero's culpability pales in comparison to Therrien's players.
Marc-Andre Fleury let him down like few others with his squishy goal tending, and superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for all their individual brilliance, have not become the kind of vocal leaders necessary to replace the intangibles brought to this mission by relatively pedestrian and departed talents such as Colby Armstrong and Jarkko Ruutu.
You can posit that this team's energy and motivation are the responsibility of the head coach, and ultimately that's merely undeniable, but Michel Therrien isn't the first great hockey guy to lose control of the Penguins.
"You hear that in pro sports," Shero said. "The coach has lost the team. I don't want to pinpoint that. It was just a feeling that the time was right. Things were just not going the way I wanted them to go."
If Bylsma finds that U-turn lane in a hurry, Shero's big move will be the fulcrum of a new Penguins history. I wouldn't count on it.
First Published February 16, 2009 12:00 am