Firing Michel Therrien the Right Move, but Far Too Late

Nicholas CaseCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2009

When you think of Michel Therrien, you think of the coach who coached the Pittsburgh Penguins to the fourth biggest turnaround in NHL history one season and took them two games from winning the Stanley Cup Finals the next. This is a fact that cannot be overlooked by any means. His contributions to the team will not go unappreciated.

What is being overlooked by all who question the move to fire Michel Therrien is the most damning evidence of all: At the time of his firing, the Pittsburgh Penguins had gone 12-19-2 since the start of December. 

It didn't seem so bad as their record start (14-6-3) helped pad the overall stats, but even then that was misleading. In more than half of those games they either trailed going into the third, blew leads, or were forced to make incredible comebacks to get even a point. 

The best examples of each extreme was the remarkable meeting against the Red Wings, when they were down 5-2 and stormed back to win the game 7-6 in OT.

The opposite end of the spectrum is the Nov. 6 game against the Edmonton Oilers.  Dominating for 30 minutes, up 5-0, they stayed back and played conservatively. The final score was 5-4, with Edmonton scoring four unanswered goals and nearly taking the game back.

Michel Therrien was good for what he was: a transitional coach who got the most out of young players. Halfway through last season, when Evgeni Malkin and Ty Conklin took the team on their backs, the team became more than him and outgrew him. It was then that a change should have been made.

People will point to a depleted roster as to why Michel Therrien has failed. Those people are wrong. This same team was in the playoffs last year with a very similar roster before the Hossa trade.

Who was playing on Crosby's wing then? Numerous people were tried, including Jordan Staal, Ryan Malone, Mark Recchi, Colby Armstrong, Eric Christensen...the list goes on. 

Before the deadline the Penguins consisted of forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarkko Ruutu, Georges Laraque, Petr Sykora, Adam Hall, Gary Roberts, Colby Armstrong, Jeff Taffe, Ryan Malone, Max Talbot, Tyler Kennedy, Jordan Staal, defensemen Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney, Darryl Sydor, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi, Kristopher Letang, and goalies Marc-Andre Fleury and Ty Conklin.

That team was in the playoffs despite missing Sidney Crosby, Gary Roberts, and Marc-Andre Fleury for large portions of the season, not to mention Ryan Whitney playing essentially on one foot.  Replacements Chris Minard, Connor James, and Nathan Smith filled in large portions of the season, and they were in the playoff hunt the whole time.

Last year's team lost Ruutu, Malone, Roberts, Hall, Laraque, and Conklin. They were suitably replaced with Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Miroslav Satan, and Eric Godard.  They also were without Whitney and Gonchar for large portions of the season. They still started the year with a roster of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Matt Cooke, Ruslan Fedotenko, Miroslav Satan, Pascal Dupuis, Petr Sykora, Maxime Talbot, Eric Godard, Jordan Staal, Bill Thomas, and Paul Bissonnette at forward, Hal Gill, Kris Letang, Mark Eaton, Alex Goligoski, and Rob Scuderion on defense with Marc-Andre Fleury and Dany Sabourin in net. 

Looking at both rosters, I find the offense much more dependable and potent in this year's roster, the defense downgraded by the lack of Gonchar and the goaltending even. 

All things considered, the team the Penguins had this year is better than the team they had last year going into the season.  Michel Therrien just did not use them properly.

His inability to be flexible and find a puck-possession game that did not involve being gritty after the team clearly became finesse was his downfall.  His being unwilling to change the breakout from a defense-to-defense to center breakout despite his two best puck-moving defensemen being out (which he knew about in advance) was what led to his firing. 

His one-track coaching abilities were what damned Michel Therrien to the unemployment line. His 12-19-2 record from Dec. 1 until his firing was just extra proof of his inabilities.

I'm glad the bleeding was stopped.  The Band-Aid should have been applied much sooner.