At around 8 p.m. Sunday evening, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced they relieved head coach Michel Therrien of his duties. In his place, Dan Bylsma, head coach of Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (which is 35-16-1-2 this season), has been named interim head coach.
I don't really know what to think. So I'll do a Pro/Con type thing to provide analysis.
In favor of the firing:
This team just does not consistently play hard each and every night. That's a sign of either the coach failing to motivate his players or the players tuning out the coach. Either way, grounds for dismissal.
Change needed to happen. The Penguins have horribly underperformed and a message had to be sent, and it's easier to fire the coach than 23 players.
Therrien has long had a reputation for being tough on players and difficult to play under. Rumors surfaced that's why Marian Hossa chose not to re-sign and that several veteran players would refuse to waive their no-trade clauses because they don't want to play for Therrien. While GM Ray Shero has said no players asked for a coaching change, personal dealings with players is, in my opinion, Therrien's biggest fault.
His constant line juggling and mis-use of certain players (Alex Goligoski, Janne Pesonen, other skill players being either healthy scratches or buried on the fourth line) caused plenty of head-scratching and second-guessing, particularly how he handled Goligoski and Pesonen.
Not in favor:
Therrien didn't suddenly forget how to coach. Less than a year ago, he coached the team to the finals and was a coach of the year candidate the year before. Now he can't do it anymore?
At some point, the players have to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they want to be a part of a winner. A coach can motivate and talk all he wants, but a player has to decide to take that torch and run with it. If he doesn't, maybe that's a knock on the coach, or maybe it's a black mark on the player.
Players have to execute. Plain and simple. Passing up shots from 10-15 feet away, numerous back-passes in the attacking zone, failure to move people from in front of the defending net, and a host of other things are on the players.
Shero didn't exactly fill the roster with the likes of Jari Kurri or Glenn Anderson. This team is filled with too many role players and not enough young guys who can put the puck in the net. Hell, or old guys.
Injuries are a factor. Call it an excuse if you want, but they are. Yes, there is still talent in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but losing Sergei Gonchar for the season up to this point has been crippling.
While I've been unhappy with some of Therrien's quirks, primarily the line shuffling and failure to even want to use certain players in offensive roles (after Chris Minard was demoted once, he scored a hat trick in the AHL the next game. Yet rarely got top-six duty), I'm not convinced this was the right move. A fire needed to be lit under this team, yes, but this was a coach who had phenomenal seasons the last two.
Lose Marian Hossa and replace him with Miroslav Satan, lose Ryan Malone (who's finally found himself in Tampa) and replace him with Ruslan Fedotenko, a short offseason, key injuries, and this team didn't have a chance of being as good as last season's. Depending who you believe, none of that was Therrien's fault (jury remains out on if it cost Hossa; but if Hossa re-signed, there's a good chance Brooks Orpik does NOT re-sign.)
The timing of this move was also very curious. The move was made at 8 p.m.-ish; the Penguins play Monday at 2 p.m. According to an AP story, Bylsma won't even have a morning skate to meet his team. How can he prepare them for a game? What system will they use? Just how disjointed will they be?
It's possible the firing will save the Penguins' season. It's more likely it won't have any effect and they'll remain out of the top eight. It's possible it would've helped if it was made sooner. Maybe a more up-tempo style suits the Penguins better than Therrien's strict defensive system - which the Penguins weren't playing well anyway.
One thing remains certain: the Penguins still need changes if they want to reach the playoffs. Simply replacing the man behind the bench won't solve all the problems.