Friday, July 18, 2008

Penguins still have a big signing to go

As Joe Starkey pointed out, the Penguins still have another important negotiation to take care of this summer (and it aint just Jordan Staal).

It's Michel Therrien, who has just one year left on his contract--and coaches don't like working without a deal for the following season. Therrien was inherited by Ray Shero and most figured in the world we live in where the turnover rate of NHL coaches is very high that it would be only a matter of time before HCMT got the ax.

But a funny thing happened along the way, the Penguins started winning. Therrien did have the good fortune to come along when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin made it to the NHL, but he also had a rapport with much of the base of the team, since he had been the coach of the Wilkes-Barre team since 2003-04. Even today there are nine prospective Penguins (Kris Beech, Rob Scuderi, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Whitney, Brooks Orpik, Maxime Talbot, Dany Sabourin, Ryan Stone and Jonathan Filewich) that played under Therrien at the lower level.

47 wins in the breakout 2006-07 season. 47 more wins in a division winning 2007-08 season. 15 playoff wins in the two years combined. That's a lot of winning.

A lot of people question Therrien's tactics, and it's easy to do so; the man changes his line combinations at a maddening rate, rides players hard, seems to play favorites to give guys he likes (Michel Ouellet) every opportunity to succeed and treats goalies somewhat harshly whether they're former #1 picks or minor league fillers.

But there is a method to the madness. Before Therrien, in the age of Eddie the Broadcaster, the Pens were far too easy a team to play against. They had skill and talent but seemed unwilling to be pushed into getting their hands a little dirty. As we know, that's what it takes to win, particularly in the playoffs. Therrien deserves credit for eliminating the soft mentality, for installing a good defensive system, and for pushing the right buttons most of the time.

The question remains, is he the man to lead the Pens all the way? We don't think it's a matter of the coach. At the NHL level the head coach's main task is to have his boys fully prepared--in game shape and given info about the opponents. The coach can only put the players in position to do well, they must actually execute.

Some say Therrien got out coached in Games 1 and 2 of the SC Finals. We say stick Herb Brooks AND Badger Bob back there and the same would have happened. Detroit was a strong team, at home and executed their game-style flawlessly. Therrien's moves in that series weren't perfect, but some were very good: like putting Talbot on the ice for the final shift of regulation in Game 5. Also Therrien took the spotlight off his guys and put it on himself for bashing the refs and Detroit's clutching and grabbing.

We think Therrien's earned a two year extension. He was the stern voice the team needed a couple of years ago and he has a great rapport with all the players. The media liked to say Orpik often clashed with Therrien and didn't like him at all. Well Orpik took $500,000 less a season to stay with Therrien and the Pens. Two years for Therrien seems about right, it gives him a cushion but he knows he has to get the Pens over the top. If the team regresses or if players tire of his shtick, that could be it.

No comments: